After fighting destructive Amazon dams at home for many years, indigenous leader Ademir Kaba Munduruku brought his people’s struggle to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 24. At an event organized by International Rivers, Amazon Watch and France Libertés, Ademir Kaba denounced the Brazilian government’s escalating abuses of indigenous rights in its rush to build an unprecedented series of hydroelectric dams across the Amazon. His criticism focused on the government’s repeated violations of the rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consultation and consent (FPIC) regarding dam projects that would devastate traditional lands and ways of life.
Ademir Kaba also condemned the Brazilian government’s refusal to demarcate a Munduruku territory known as Sawre Muybu, slated for flooding by the massive São Luiz do Tapajós Dam. The demands of the Munduruku leader were reinforced by a court sentence issued a week earlier ordering the government to refrain from issuing an environmental license for the mega-dam in the absence of prior consultation with indigenous people and other threatened communities.
In his testimony, Ademir Kaba highlighted the Munduruku’s determination and innovative tactics to defend their rights and livelihoods in the face of destructive dam projects. The largest and most vociferous tribe on the Tapajós River, the Munduruku have organized a series of high-profile protests against their government’s abuse of indigenous rights, including an occupation of the controversial Belo Monte Dam in 2013.
In January 2015, the Munduruku delivered a protocol outlining how the Brazilian government should conduct a culturally-appropriate process of FPIC, as enshrined by the Brazilian Constitution and International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169.
“We’ve come to the United Nations to emphasize our government’s obligation to comply with ILO 169, a convention respected by many countries that has never been put into practice in Brazil,” affirmed Ademir Kaba. “We demand sincere and transparent dialogue about these dam projects, without lies and deception. This consultation should respect our right to decide and our power to veto projects that impact indigenous and riverine territories.”
The Geneva event also featured Prosecutor Felício Pontes of Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry, a government watchdog. Pontes critiqued both the lack of prior consultations and the use of a legal mechanism known as “Security Suspension” that allows chief justices, upon request from the government, to indefinitely suspend legal rulings in favor of indigenous peoples’ rights based on alleged threats to national security.
“We are demonstrating that our Ministry is not neglecting its defense of the Amazon’s indigenous peoples,” stated Felicio Pontes. “The dozens of lawsuits we have filed instead show that the Brazilian government is violating their rights through the indiscriminate use of a military dictatorship-era legal instrument called Security Suspension.”
“Ademir Munduruku’s visit to Geneva highlights how indigenous peoples in the Amazon are increasingly aware of their rights and demanding that their voices be heard. They will not stand idle while their rights, territories and livelihoods are steamrolled by poorly-conceived dam projects that do not make social, environmental or economic sense” commented Brent Millikan of International Rivers.
Prior to today’s event, a coalition of Brazilian and international groups, including France Libertés, submitted a declaration to the UN General Assembly calling on the Brazilian government to respect rights and an independent judiciary. The declaration details how the systematic violation of the indigenous right to FPIC violates the Brazilian Constitution and ILO 169, while the Security Suspension has allowed the construction of the destructive Belo Monte Dam to proceed in spite of these violations.
The Tapajós Basin is a jewel of the Amazon, home to an incredible array of plant and animal biodiversity. A mosaic of protected areas and indigenous lands, the basin is home to approximately 820,000 people, including 10 indigenous groups, and more than 300 fish species. The Tapajós and its major tributaries are threatened by an unprecedented series of massive dams and industrial waterways that would flood national parks, indigenous lands and other protected areas.