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Indigenous do not have right to free, prior and informed consultation on Amazon dam, rules Brazilian court

Indigenous communities do not have the right to free, prior and informed consultation on the Belo Monte dam because its infrastructure and reservoirs would not be physically located on tribal lands, ruled a Brazilian court.

The decision was immediately denounced by groups contesting the legality of the dam, which will flood some 40,000 hectares of rainforest, displace more than 10,000 people, and block 80 percent of the Xingu river, one of the Amazon’s mightiest tributaries.

“Today’s decision by Judge Cardoso proves that there is no independent judicial system in our country,” said Sheyla Juruna, a leader of the Juruna indigenous community located near the Belo Monte Dam site, referring to Federal Judge Maria do Carmo Cardoso, who cast the deciding vote in today’s decision. “With political pressure and money, the government gets anything it wants. We have no more illusions about the government and judiciary’s respect for the Brazilian Constitution when our rights are at stake. Judge Cardoso can be sure that we will never forget the harm she caused us today. This vote will weigh against her forever.”

 A section of the Xingu River as viewed by Google Earth.
A section of the Xingu River as viewed by Google Earth.

In reaching her decision, Cardoso argued that the project’s impact studies and an environmental license, would “fully mitigate any possible harm on indigenous communities,” according to International Rivers, an NGO fighting the dam.

International Rivers noted that Cardoso stated that “indigenous peoples should consider themselves ‘privileged’ to be consulted about large projects that affect their livelihoods.”

Cardoso’s justification for her decision surprised Ubiratan Cazetta, head of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office in the state of Pará, where the Belo Monte Dam is under construction.

“To suggest that consultations with indigenous peoples can take place after the authorization of a project like Belo Monte is disrespectful to the point of absurdity,” said Cazetta in a statement. “We firmly believe this is not the spirit of the Brazilian Constitution and international human rights agreements, such as ILO 169, that hold the status of law in our country. Consultations are not a privilege; they are a question of survival for indigenous peoples that is assured by the Constitution and that cannot be abolished by the judiciary.”

Cardoso’s decision overrides an earlier ruling by the same court which concluded the dam would have substantial downriver impacts on the Arara, Juruna and Xikrin Kayapó indigenous peoples which are dependent on the river for fishing and navigation.

Belo Monte is backed by Brazilian government energy companies; Vale, mining giant; Bertin, one of the largest meat processing firms; and nearly a dozen other companies. The vast majority of Belo Monte’s funding comes from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).

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