Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon

by Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)
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Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Riverine Community -Altamira
Riverine Community -Altamira

Early this month Marcella (AIDA fellow attorney) and I traveled to Altamira, the area most affected by the Belo Monte dam. We were there to attend the annual strategy meeting of the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, group of local communities we support in this case, where local leaders gather to evaluate the challenges presented during the year and plan coordinated strategies to confront them. During our visit we also met with our regional partners.

During the meeting we made a presentation on lessons learnt from the Belo Monte case in preparation for Belo Sun (mining project, which seeks to mine indigenous lands already impacted by the construction of the Belo Monte dam), showing the importance of documenting impact information. We also presented tools on protecting environmental defenders.

Making the most of our visit we also conducted interviews and monitored the current situation of Altamira and the communities affected by Belo Monte, and now also by Belo Sun. We met with several environmental defenders and social organizations and documented the situation in the region. In addition to the impacts of both projects, there is growing concern about the threat of land invaders and deforestation of the Amazon.

As part of our visit we held a meeting with our local partner ISA, which reported on the current status of the Belo Sun project. The new construction project already has an approved Environmental Impact Assessment, and is only on hold due to legal actions by the Public Prosecutor's Office, but this will not last long. There is concern about the situation of local indigenous communities because publicly, they are recognized as the ones who "have the project stopped" and that is a high risk factor.

Along with our partners we are coordinating next steps focusing on a report on how Belo Sun will affect Human Rights of the communities already affected by Belo Monte. We will present a projection of the possible impacts of the mining project and evaluate, with scientific support, the existing Impact Assessment.

We are also planning to bring the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to the case and the Human Rights violations derived from Belo Sun. The Indigenous communities fighting to defend their land and their rights are and will always be at the center of our work and their protection our priority.

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Belo Monte. Photo courtesy of Antonia Melo.
Belo Monte. Photo courtesy of Antonia Melo.

AIDA and partner organizations requested a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights where civil society organizations demonstrated how measures adopted by the administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are undoing decades of human rights protections in the country in an effort to halt further rollbacks, and to demand a reversal of the government’s actions that are currently threatening indigenous communities.

Last May, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) heard how measures adopted by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro have rolled back protections for human rights in the country, creating a dangerous situation for indigenous communities and violating Brazil’s international obligations to protect human rights.

The hearing formed part of the Commission’s 172 Period of Sessions, which toke place in Kingston, Jamaica.

During the hearing, we detailed how reforms made by the Bolsonaro government in matters of law, public policy, foreign policy, and other areas, violate the preservation of indigenous communities’ way of life in the country. The case also shows how those reforms violate communities’ rights to life, culture, food, a healthy environment, clean water, and the delimitation of their ancestral homelands, among others.

The government has diminished legal and administrative protections for indigenous communities through the following actions:

  • The transfer of key functions from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Increased precarity for employees at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources.
  • Weakening of the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity and of the process for granting environmental permits.
  • The threat of exposing indigenous lands to the dangers of mining.
  • Measures adopted by the Ministry of Environment that fragment the legal order that guarantees minimum conditions for the protection of the environment and indigenous rights.
  • The transfer of authority for the demarcation of indigenous lands from the National Indian Foundation to the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • The threat of withdrawing Brazil from international treaties like the Paris Agreement and others valuable agreements to protect the environment and human rights.

In addition to these rollbacks, we asserted that the situation has been aggravated by increased deforestation, encroachment on indigenous lands, and violence against environmental and human rights defenders.

At AIDA we continue to support the local organizations defending their lands and their rights, and by presenting their cases at the Commission’s hearings allows us to bring international attention to the issues.

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For more than month, the Amazon has been ravaged by a large number of fires in Brazil and neighboring countries. This unprecedented number of fires aggravates the climate crisis and, with it, the threat of increasingly harmful natural disasters.

As a response, AIDA has called for the governments of the Amazon basin to adopt urgent measures to stop the fires. AIDA’s Brazilian attorney, Marcella Torres, participated on a televised panel to discuss the impacts of the fires and to raise awareness of the situation. In addition, we called on citizens and the international community to pressure the governments of Brazil and the other countries of the region to reverse course and effectively protect the Amazon, its biodiversity, and the people who depend on it.

The consequences of these fires are particularly devastating for the biodiversity of the area and for the communities that inhabit it, making this a situation that requires increasingly urgent and effective actions.

The Amazon holds 20% of the Earth's unfrozen fresh water and is home to a quarter of the world's species. In addition, the Amazon jungle releases about 20% of the oxygen we breathe and stores 90 to 140 billion tons of carbon dioxide, regulating the global climate. The international scientific community has emphatically pointed out that the destruction of tropical forests causes 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.

For this reason, the Amazon ecosystem is vital for mitigating the climate crisis. The current fires demonstrate that the Amazon is now more vulnerable than before due to a combination of factors, including increased droughts, deforestation, unsustainable use of soil and subsoil, and development projects.

The Belo Monte Dam is one of the projects making the rainforest more vulnerable. That’s why we’ve worked relentlessly to support the indigenous communities fighting against it. As one of the biggest development projects in the Amazon, it’s impacts and the importance of our fight is now more relevant than ever.

Scientific evidence demonstrates that hydropower projects are a significant source of greenhouse gases—CO2 and, particularly, methane—and they have a significant role in aggravating climate change.

The policies, rhetoric and actions of Jair Bolsonaro's government have the same impact, actively dismantling due protection of the Amazon and its indigenous peoples. His administration intensified recent attempts to undermine Brazil’s progressive legislation on environmental protection and human rights - especially those of indigenous peoples, quilombolas (descendants of African slaves), family farmers and other traditional populations. They irresponsibly promote the expansion of the agricultural, livestock and extractive frontier in the Amazon, resulting in increased deforestation and the consequences we are witnessing today.

Because of this, we have publically demanded that our region’s governments take concrete actions to:

  • Strengthen institutions and environmental norms,
  • Immediately suspend rhetoric that encourages deforestation and the destruction of the Amazon,
  • Stop the indiscriminate expansion of the agricultural, livestock and extractive frontier in the area,
  • Adopt proper land use and planning,
  • Ensure the existence and restoration of ecosystem life cycles, and
  • Control deforestation and conserve the Amazon with the financial and technical support of multilateral international cooperation.

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Photo: Pedro Prado / FARPA / CIDH (CC BY 2.0)
Photo: Pedro Prado / FARPA / CIDH (CC BY 2.0)

Last November, AIDA accompanied a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on a visit to the Mïratu Village, located in the Paquiçamba indigenous region in the state of Pará, Brazil. Mïratu is one of the indigenous communities affected by the Belo Monte Dam. It was the first time the Commission has visited that area.

During their visit to the region, the Commission heard testimonies from indigenous people and fishermen who are fighting to maintain their traditional way of life despite damages including: the death of thousands of fish; the pollution of the Xingú river; forced displacement from their lands without adequate relocation; and the development of culturally inappropriate projects. The Commission also heard from representatives of Altamira, the city nearest the dam.

Village leaders reported that those damages have disproportionately affected women and children, and expressed that they were especially concerned over next year’s scheduled implementation of a plan to manage the flow of the Xingú River. Known as a consensus hydrogram, it would divert the water that indigenous and riverine communities, as well as plants and animals, rely on to survive.

Commissioners had the opportunity to confirm the severity of the impacts and understand the urgent need to revise the criteria used to define the residual flow that the Xingu must maintain in order to guarantee the subsistence and culture of indigenous and riverine communities in the Vuelta Grande region.

Overall, Brazil has been one of the largest violators of the human rights of indigenous communities. In their meeting with the Commission, the Brazilian Indigenous Communities Organization (APIB) presented these cases and expressed its concern over the current political landscape, in which a discourse of hatred and racism has been growing, even among government institutions.

Commissioner Antonia Urrejola Noguera, IACHR Rapporteur for Brazil, said that in Brazil, indigenous communities “suffer from frequent incidents of violence and lack of attention from public services, in addition to increased difficulties and obstacles surrounding claims to their lands,” while presenting the Commission’s preliminary conclusions.

Concluding its visit to the country, the Commission urged Brazilian authorities and society in general to recognize, address, and quickly resolve repeated violations of the human rights of indigenous communities. The Commission emphasized the case of the Mïratu indigenous community, affected by the environmental damages caused by the construction of the Belo Monte Dam.

We’d like to highlight the importance of the Commission’s historic visit to Mïratu Village, and recognize the negative impacts that the Belo Monte Dam has had on the human rights of the people of the Xingu River basin. It is now up to the government of Brazil to adopt the decisions and recommendations of the Commission, complying with the rule of law and protecting the people of their country.

With the current administration’s extremely questionable decisions that signal the weakening of guarantees for indigenous peoples in Brazil, the Amazon, and the environment as a whole, demonstrating progress in international institutions and a respect for the rights of indigenous communities—in cases like the Xucuru, the Xingu, and Guyraroka peoples—, is of critical importance to strengthen rule of law in Brazil.

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Photo by Amazon Watch / Maira Irigaray
Photo by Amazon Watch / Maira Irigaray

In January, we called on the United Nations to help us defend the rights of indigenous and traditional communities affected by the Belo Monte Dam. 

We sent a report to the United Nations Rapporteurs on the Human Rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, rights of indigenous peoples, and human rights and environment about new facts related to the risk situation of these communities of the Xingu River basin.

Early this year, a new hydrological system will be implemented: the Consensus Hydrograph will reproduce the seasonal rhythm of filling and drying that characterizes the natural water flows of the Xingu River.

It will gravely impact the socio-environmental diversity of an area called Volta Grande do Xingu.

We wrote the Rapporteurs requesting their input and recommendations on measures that Brazil should take in order to avoid the implementation of the Hydrograph.

We believe their comments can help contribute to an open dialogue and solutions that favor human rights. 

We wrote because the new system will entail the violation of the right to safe drinking water, life and integrity, and will additionally threaten the possibility of cultural survival of indigenous peoples and traditional communities from various villages located in the Volta Grande.

Other rights that are threatened include: the right to food, the right to health, the right to the environment, the right to the continued practice of their way of life and the right to collective property of land and natural resources.

We believe now is the time for international dialogue, considering the urgent need to resolve this issue, and the irreversible threat to their rights.

Thank you for your continued support for the people of the Xingu River basin, as we seek to protect them from further damages. 

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Organization Information

Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @AIDAorg
Project Leader:
Astrid Puentes
Lima, Brazil
$18,235 raised of $20,000 goal
 
397 donations
$1,765 to go
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