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
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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We're proud to present to you our newest report, Behind the Dams: BNDES Investments in Belo Monte and Hidroituango.

In it, we analyze the application of existing international standards for hydroelectric plants through the lens of two of the most important investments in the history of the Brazilian National Development Bank: Hidroituango (in Colombia) and Belo Monte (in Brazil).

The analysis reveals evidence and offers conclusions and recommendations to the Bank, as well as to the organizations and communities involved. They are concrete elements to help improve the future performance of the financial institution. 

We hope that these contributions strengthen the dialogue with the BNDES, and facilitate the identification of options toward greater compliance with the values the bank has adopted, particularly those of transparency and social and environmental responsibility.

The investigation concludes that the BNDES has initiated important efforts to improve its performance policies and avoid major risks and negative impacts on human rights and the environment. However, the changes made thus far are insufficient.

As such, it is recommended that the Bank: increase clarity about the existence and application of socio-environmental policies; adopt new policies regarding the analysis of socio-environmental impacts of hydroelectric plants and standards for projects in conflict zones; properly apply banking secrecy, in alignment with international human rights standards; and demonstrate openness to dialogue and an effective grievance mechanism.

If changes are not made in time and as part of the evaluation and implementation of investments, risks and losses could continue and even increase. The risks are not so distant, as was evidenced with the Hidroituango Dam in 2018. The Belo Monte Dam, without having entered into full operation, has caused significant damages that could have been avoided. These lessons can help the Bank and the people affected by the projects ensure that the investments have greater benefits.

It’s worth mentioning that, although this research in focused on large dams, the analysis, conclusions and recommendations can be applied to various sectors, thereby increasing the reach of the suggested improvements. They are important calls for the incorporation of real improvements into the ways banks operate through project support.

Links:

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

By next year, the management plan for the flow of the Xingu River could be implemented.

But that plan—endorsed when Belo Monte was authorized—would leave the indigenous and riverine communities of the area without the water they need to survive, and places the fish and the forests at risk of extinction.

That’s why we sent a report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights detailing the plan’s serious socio-environmental risks. In it, we requested that the Commission urge Brazil to stop the plan’s implementation and create an alternative plan that guarantees biodiversity and protects the communities’ ways of life.

Called a Consensual Hydrogram, the plan establishes the volume of water that will pass through a specific part of the river, called the Vuelta Grande, and the part that will be diverted for energy production. It is intended to artificially reproduce the natural flow of the river in times of flood and drought.

The report sent to the Commission details scientific and social evidence that demonstrates that the water levels proposed in the plan are significantly lower than the historical river flow and do not guarantee that fish and alluvial forests can survive in the short- and medium-term.

The evidence—which includes information from both the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources and community monitoring—also shows that some aquatic species, such as chelonians, can only feed and reproduce with minimum flows of 13,000 cubic meters per second in times of flooding, and that the volume proposed for the dry season could make the river unnavigable.

In 2016, with water levels higher than those proposed, the Juruna people were already reporting the mass die-off of fish.

We sent the report to the Commission as part of our formal complaint against the Brazilian State for the human rights violations caused by the dam’s construction.

In May, together with partner organizations, we presented our final arguments in the case, evidencing damages already caused, including the forced displacement of indigenous and riverine communities, the massive death of fish, differentiated damages to men and women, and threats to the survival of the communities.

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We did it! We’re proud to say we recently submitted the final arguments in our case against Brazil before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In them, we demonstrate the damages Belo Monte has caused to indigenous and traditional communities, and residents of Altamira, the city closest to the dam. We’re working for them—to bring the government of Brazil to justice.

“Human rights violations are a daily occurrence for those of us affected by the dam,” explained Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, a citizens’ collective formed in the face of the dam’s implementation. “It’s urgent that our petition before the Commission advance to sanction the government and guarantee our rights.”

We argue that the damages to local communities resulted from a severe lack of foresight and inadequate evaluation, as well as from failure to comply with the conditions for operation established by the government.

The many risks denounced prior to the dam’s construction have since become long-term damages—many of which have affected men and women, and youth and the elderly, in different ways.

Our report documents the displacement of indigenous and traditional communities forced to leave their territories without adequate alternatives, placing their cultural survival at risk.

Among the affected populations are communities dedicated to fishing, who have not yet been compensated for the loss of livelihood. The dam has caused mass die-offs of fish and, although authorities have imposed millions in fines, the report demonstrates that the underlying problem has not been resolved. Local communities now have limited use of the Xingu River as a source of food, sustenance, transportation and entertainment.

We have also noted—among other serious harms—the disappearance of traditional trades, such as brickmakers and cart drivers, and of traditional cultural practices. Women, for example, have stopped giving birth in their homes and must now go to a hospital, a reality that has drastically worsened due to the oversaturation of health and education services in Altamira caused by the recent population surge.

Our case is now in the hands of the Commission.

They will prepare their own report, concluding whether or not human rights violations occurred as a result of the Belo Monte Dam. If violations did occur, they may issue recommendations for remediation.

If Brazil fails to respond, the case may be referred to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which has the power to issue a ruling condemning Brazil.

The completion of this report brings us—and, more importantly, the communities we represent—one big step closer to achieving justice for the many wrongs committed in the name of the Belo Monte Dam, and energy development in the Amazon.

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Organization Information

Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AIDAorg
Project Leader:
Astrid Puentes
Lima, Brazil
$19,494 raised of $20,000 goal
 
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