By Marcella Ribeiro | Legal Advisor, Human Rights and the Environment
This year AIDA has been supporting indigenous and riverine communities affected by the Belo Monte dam in Brazil facing the impacts of COVID-19. These communities have been particularly vulnerable to the ongoing pandemic and we have worked to expose their situation.
From the moment the pandemic reached Brazil, we have been compiling and disseminating information about the differentiated impact COVID-19 has on the indigenous peoples of the Xingu region. We created and sent various international alerts about the situation of the communities, which the governments have failed to address and which continues to threaten their right to health and integrity.
The communities affected by Belo Monte, due to the impacts of the construction of the dam, have become dependent on external support to have access to food, water and income sources. In the face of the pandemic, the necessary isolation to protect indigenous health became an obstacle to meeting their basic needs. In addition, the current state of dismantling of indigenous institutions in Brazil and the national government's policy did not allow for the development and implementation of a plan to protect the health of indigenous people, a much needed plan that would guarantee them adequate care and that would protect them from agents that transmit the virus.
AIDA exposed before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, how the mining activities, deforestation, and invasion of indigenous lands, together with the anti-environmental policy of the Brazilian government, became the channels of transmission of the COVID-19 for indigenous peoples in the region, and that continues to be a threat to their lives.
Note: you can find the alert (in Spanish) sent to the IACHR in this link -- https://aida-americas.org/es/recurso/alerta-a-la-cidh-sobre-la-situacion-de-pueblos-indigenas-de-brasil-ante-el-covid-19
By Marcella Torres | Legal Advisor, Human Rights and Environment
Maira Irigaray - Amazon Watch
Today I want to share great news on our work representing communities affected by Belo Monte:
On May 13, the Norwegian oil fund, managed by the public bank Norges Bank Investment Management and considered the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, excluded twelve companies from its investment portfolio for ethical reasons, including Brazil's Eletrobras for its participation in the Belo Monte hydroelectric project.
The fund follows the recommendations made each year by the Council on Ethics to ensure that investments meet certain criteria. In this case the Council’s recommendation was due to the participation of the Brazilian state-owned company in the project, which is associated with serious human rights violations against indigenous peoples.
AIDA - as part of a joint civil society effort - informed the Council of the situation of the indigenous and riverine populations affected by the project, its social and environmental impacts, the operational situation of the dam, and the current status of national and international legal actions brought against the project.
The Council noted that the Belo Monte project, run by the Norte Energia consortium - of which Eletrobras is a part - caused "greater pressure on indigenous lands, the disintegration of the social structures of indigenous peoples and the deterioration of their ways of life" with the forced displacement of some 20,000 people.
We believe the Council's decision should be applauded because it discourages the continuation of unsustainable and ill-named development projects that threaten the survival of indigenous and traditional peoples, as is the case with Belo Monte.
It is essential that banks, international financial institutions and monetary funds take into account the likely impacts of the projects they finance. Supporting socially and environmentally sustainable projects instead of initiatives that prioritize economic benefit over the protection of human rights and the environment demonstrates responsible and ethical investment.
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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Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)