PR – Indigenous Leader Condemns Brazilian Government's Rights Abuses at UN

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Speakers highlight violations stemming from Amazon dams at Human Rights Council

Sonia Guajajara (APIB) and Alexandre Sampaio (AIDA) denounce indigenous rights violations at UN event in Geneva
Sonia Guajajara (APIB) and Alexandre Sampaio (AIDA) denounce indigenous rights violations at UN event in Geneva
Photo: Christian Poirier (Amazon Watch)

Geneva, Switzerland: In a groundbreaking event at the 25th United Nations Human Rights Council, the national coordinator of Brazil's Association of Indigenous Peoples (APIB) Sônia Guajajara exposed an alarming disregard for indigenous peoples' rights by the Brazilian government as it rushes to promote an unprecedented wave of large dam construction across the Amazon Basin with devastating impacts on their territories and livelihoods. In her testimony, Ms. Guajajara argued that the violation of indigenous rights to prior consultations concerning the federal government's dam-building plans has set a troubling precedent for the rule of law and the future of Brazil's indigenous peoples.

The side event, entitled "Indigenous peoples' right to consultation on large dam projects in Brazil," also featured Alexandre Andrade Sampaio, a Brazilian lawyer with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). Sampaio critiqued the use of a legal mechanism known as "Security Suspension" (Suspensão de Segurança) that allows chief justices, upon request from the government, to indefinitely suspend legal rulings in favor of indigenous peoples' rights based on allegations of supposed threats to national security. Among the most egregious use of this legal artifice – that was originally created during Brazil's military dictatorship – is the suspension of court decisions on the illegality of large hydroelectric dam projects such as Belo Monte, where the federal government has failed to ensure indigenous peoples' right to prior consultations, as enshrined in the Brazilian constitution. According to Sampaio, the Security Suspension also constitutes an obstacle to Brazil's compliance with international agreements concerning free, prior and informed consultation and consent (FPIC), including Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), ratified by the Brazilian Congress in 2002, and the 2007 UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

"The alliance of economic interests and political power represent a major crisis for the implementation of indigenous rights in today's Brazil," said Ms. Guajajara. "However, the government cannot deny its responsibility to the Brazilian Constitution, nor to international conventions."

"Clearly, the Security Suspension violates human rights. However, the very people that could dismiss it are the same ones who personally benefit from its existence," said Mr. Sampaio. "That is why it is important for the international community to turn its eyes to this matter and request the Brazilian government adopt effective measures that lead to the respect of human rights."

Joint declarations were submitted to the UN General Assembly by a coalition of Brazilian and international groups, including France Libertes (Fondation Danielle Mitterrand). In discussing growing threats to indigenous rights, both documents highlight the Brazilian government's plans to build a massive complex of up to 29 large dams along the Amazon's Tapajós River and its tributaries in the next 10 years. Lesser-known than the controversial Belo Monte project on the neighboring Xingu River, the Tapajós complex would provoke flooding and other devastating consequences for indigenous peoples and other traditional populations both upstream and downstream of planned dams, including elimination of migratory fish that are a dietary staple and a basis of local economies. The federal government's rush to construct a series of large dams in the Tapajós region, in the absence of prior consultations with indigenous peoples, has led to growing protests from local tribes, such as the Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaká people.

"We are watching a dark history repeat itself on the rivers of the Amazon where Belo Monte's tragedy threatens to be reproduced on the Tapajós," said Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch. "While the Brazilian government claims to respect its indigenous peoples, it is in fact working to dismantle their rights and open their lands and rivers to unconstrained exploitation."

Prior to the side event, the delegates met with Ambassador Regina Dunlop of Brazil's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in order to present their grievances. While the Ambassador stated that the information would be more relevant if presented to government representatives in Brasilia, Ms. Guajajara and Mr. Sampaio countered that these criticisms are frequently ignored by government decision makers until problems are exposed in international forums, such as the United Nations.

"Brazil's reputation is at stake on this international stage," said Sônia Guajajara. "We are here to bring visibility to the unacceptable prejudice and discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples and to demand that it stop."

The side event in Geneva was organized by France Liberté (Fondation Danielle Mitterand) with support from Amazon Watch and International Rivers.

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