Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has ordered an immediate cessation of relations with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after the regional body asked the government to suspend construction of Brazil’s $17 billion Belo Monte dam in April.
The Belo Monte Dam, scheduled for completion in 2015, has been a source of considerable controversy in recent months as indigenous communities, environmentalist groups, and celebrities like Sting and director James Cameron have opposed the project. The dam could flood an estimated 195 square miles of the Amazonian rainforest along the Xingú River and displace some 50,000 people. In February, a federal judge blocked construction for failing to meet specific environmental conditions.
On April 1, the IACHR issued interim measures asking the Brazilian government to immediately suspend its licensing process for the dam after receiving a petition from NGOs last November. The IACHR recommended that the Brazilian government consult with the affected groups before proceeding with the project, undertake measures to protect local tribes, and make environmental and social impact statements available in local indigenous languages. If the recommendations go unheeded, the IACHR could open a case against the Brazilian government in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.
The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by calling the IACHR’s recommendations “precipitous and unwarranted”, submitting a 52-page response that defended the dam to the IACHR in late April. Minister of Defense Nelson Jobim said the regional organization’s request to halt construction would be “returned the way it came” and other officials have confirmed that construction on the dam would continue.
“The request is absurd. It even threatens Brazilian sovereignty,” said Senator Flexa Ribeiro, president of a senate subcommittee that presides over the dam.
The Belo Monte Dam would be the world’s third largest and, according to Brazilian officials, could provide electricity to 23 million homes. Recently, Brazilian mining company Vale agreed to pay $1.4 billion for a stake in the consortium responsible for building the dam. Work has already begun on the project, including the clearing of rainforest and construction of access roads.
Meanwhile, the IACHR, an independent human rights body under the Organization of American States, could lose up to $800,000 in contributions to cover its operating expenses this year. President Rousseff has ordered Brazilian envoy to the OAS Ruy Casaes to remain in Brasilia rather than travel back to Washington, D.C. to take up his post.
Human rights groups in Brazil say that the government’s recent dispute with the IACHR weakens regional protections for human rights that the country has signed on to for decades.
“Belo Monte is one more project that ignores what the people of this region think. They weren’t heard. It’s the model of the military dictatorship,” said Roberta Amanajás, a lawyer from the Paraense Society for the Defense of Human Rights.
Photo: International Rivers @ Flickr.