October 19, 2011
Judge Selene Maria de Almeida concluded that the 2005 decree that authorized the dam is illegal because Congress failed to carry out a consultation process with communities that will be affected by the dam. The consultation process is a right guaranteed to indigenous communities under Brazil's constitution.
A statement from International Rivers and Amazon Watch, groups campaigning against the dam, explains Almeida's ruling:
Almeida’s decision cited the need for Brazil to comply with its commitments to ILO Convention 169 and other international agreements that require free, prior and informed consent among indigenous peoples regarding projects that significantly affect their territories and livelihoods. Almeida’s decision spotlights a major gap between domestic and international legal frameworks regarding indigenous rights and their effective implementation within current practices of dam-planning and licensing in Brazil.
A section of the Xingu River as viewed by Google Earth.
Judge Almeida concluded that the Brazilian Congress should have also based its decision concerning authorization of Belo Monte on the conclusions of the project’s environmental impact assessment, including anthropological studies on its consequences for indigenous peoples.
Amazon Watch says that despite the recent rulings, the case is far from over. It will likely end up in Brazil's Supreme Court.
Belo Monte has proven extremely controversial. The $11-17 billion project, which would block most of the flow of the Xingu River and inundate thousands of hectares of rainforest, has been fiercely opposed by indigenous groups and environmentalists. Critics say the dam will operate well below capacity for much of the year when river levels are low. It will also disrupt fish migration patterns, affecting local livelihoods.