Rights group urges halt to Brazil dam in Amazon

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2011 5:23 PM
Rights group urges halt to Brazil dam in Amazon

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is urging Brazil's government to halt work on a massive hydroelectric dam in the heart of the Amazon rain forest until it deals with concerns of the region's residents.

The commission's April 1 cautionary message said Brazil should stop the Belo Monte dam's licensing process until its developers consult with indigenous groups and other people in a culturally adequate way, give them access to environmental impact reports and adopt measures meant to protect their lives.

Indigenous groups celebrated Tuesday over the commission's recommendation.

"I am very moved by this news," Sheyla Juruna, an indigenous leader of the Juruna community in Altamira, said in a statement. "Today more than ever I am sure that we were right to expose the Brazilian government _ including the federal judicial system _ for violations of the rights of indigenous peoples."

The commission, which is an organ of the Organization of American States, issued its caution in response to a complaint filed in November by indigenous communities in the region that would be flooded by the dam.

Such messages are sent in urgent cases with a threat of irreparable damage to people, commission spokeswoman Maria Isabel Rivero said. The measure is not legally binding, however, and the commission cannot enforce it in any way.

The commission said people affected by the dam project should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns in a "free, informed, and culturally adequate" way.

To this end, the environmental impact report done on the project should be made available to these communities in an accessible format and in their own languages, the commission said. Finally, the project should include measures to protect the lives and health of indigenous groups who live in voluntary isolation in the area, it said.

Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Relations said the request was unjustified. Brazil has acted in an "effective and diligent" manner to respond to demands by environmentalists and local communities, the ministry said.

When permission to build the dam was granted by Congress, it came with a requirement to consult with people in the affected area. The federal agencies in charge of environmental and indigenous issues carried out the necessary impact reports and gathered comments from the indigenous groups affected, the ministry said.

In March, a construction consortium began preparing land where the $11 billion dam will be built after a court overturned a lower court's decision to stop building.

If completed as currently planned, Belo Monte would be the world's third largest dam, designed to produce 11,000 megawatts of electricity.

The government calls it a source of clean, renewable energy to fuel Brazil's growing economy. But residents say it would devastate the ecosystem and alter the way of life of approximately 40,000 people who live there.

Opposition to the dam has attracted a number of prominent celebrities, including film director James Cameron and rock star Sting.