Unfulfilled Promises of Prior Consultation for Brazilian Indigenous

Unfulfilled Promises of Prior Consultation for Brazilian Indigenous

Rick Kearns
3/31/12

Indigenous Peoples in Brazil are getting international and national support for their rights to be consulted about any projects or businesses to take place in their lands, but the government is still not complying with already signed accords.

In the beginning of March, indigenous struggles took several turns.

First, Brazil was cited March 2 by an international agency for failing to adequately consult with Indigenous Peoples on a number of major projects and then, six days later, Brazilian officials announced they would be complying with the treaty-that they had already signed promising prior consultation-except in the cases of the controversial Belo Monte and Jirau dam projects.

Both of these mega-projects, as well as continuous conflicts between indigenous people and logging and ranching interests, have resulted in massive displacement, death and injuries to indigenous throughout the nation.

Then one day after, on March 9, the government’s announcement a coalition of indigenous communities published an open letter to President Dilma Rousseff, accusing the government of again failing to consult them on the hiring of the new leader of the government’s indigenous affairs bureau; which is also a violation of the signed treaty.

This ambiguous news sequence began on March 2nd when the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) issued its 2011 worldwide report on the status of many labor related issues. Brazil is one of many countries that signed the treaty, pledging to abide by its rules. In the indigenous section of the report Brazil was cited for, among other things, violating Convention 169 which guarantees Indigenous Peoples the right to free, prior and informed consultation over projects that affect their lands and rights.

The ILO committee noted that Brazil had taken some steps towards notification however, “…ad hoc consultation on certain measures may not be sufficient to meet the Convention’s requirements and that the communities affected should participate even in the preparation of environmental impact studies. On the strength of the documents and information supplied by the Government, the Committee takes the view that the procedures carried out so far, while extensive, fall short of the requirements set in Articles 6 and 15 of the Convention…and that there is no evidence that they enabled the Indigenous Peoples to take part effectively in determining their priorities.”

The ILO criticisms echo those of indigenous and other allied activists in regards to the Belo Monte Dam project and others. This lack of prior consultation was also noted by Brazil's Federal Public Ministry (MPF) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States.

Less than a week later, on March 8th, the minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Gilberto Carvalho said that the country will not stop building works such as the hydroelectric Belo Monte and Jirau dams, but will move to adopt the model proposed in the consultation Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), of which Brazil is a signatory.

"We seek to improve our methods, we know there is a historical debt to Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities for many violated rights. We are doing everything to move, evolve and enforce such rights," said Carvalho.

The minister also commented on the reports showing that indigenous communities were not adequately consulted about the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant.

"We believe that there has been consultation. It might not have been perfect. We want for the next projects, to do consultations under the [Convention] 169,” Caravalho stated.

"It is clear that it would be much better for the Government to sit back and not do [the hydroelectric] Jirau, Santo Antônio and Belo Monte projects, perhaps in a new development model in which we weren't using electric power or air conditioning, but that is not the reality of Brazil," he added.

Then, on March 9th, the Joint Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (JCIPB) published an open letter to President Rousseff citing yet another instance where indigenous people were not consulted regarding the naming of the head of the country’s federal indigenous agency, known as FUNAI in Brazil.

“Our indignation is given by the fact that, while we were meeting to discuss the participation of Indigenous Peoples and their organizations in the process of regulatory mechanisms of Free, Prior, and Informed consent, provided for in ILO Convention 169, we obtained unofficial information that there is already a person to occupy the position of president of Funai, and that they would be named soon. This is Marta Azevedo, wife of former National Secretary of Social Articulation of the Presidency, Mr. Paul Maldos and consultant for the Socio-Environmental Institute – ISA. This statement expresses a blatant violation of Article 6 of ILO Convention 169,” the letter stated. The soon-to-be appointed president mentioned in the letter, Ms. Marta Azevedo, was described as a “personal friend” of former FUNAI President Marcio Meira and, according to the indigenous advocates, Meira “…demonstrated to us a constant violation of prior consultation and of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The member organizations that signed the letter included the Joint Committee of Peoples and Organizations of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo; the Joint Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Pantanal and Regiao; the Joint Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of the Southeast; Joint Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of the South; the Great Assembly of the Guarani People; and the Coordinating Committee of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon. These six organizations represent most Indigenous Peoples in the nation.

As of press time there had been no official response to the groups’ letter.

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