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Amazonian Tribe Brings an Epic Battle for Indigenous Rights

Amazonian Tribe Brings an Epic Battle for Indigenous Rights to the United Nations

Munduruku leader denounces lack of consultation and violations of land rights in Brazilian government's Amazon dam boom

Geneva, Switzerland – In a stirring event at the 29th United Nations Human Rights Council, indigenous leader Ademir Kaba Munduruku denounced the Brazilian government's escalating rights abuses in its rush to build an unprecedented series of hydroelectric dams across the Amazon. Much of 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.

Mr. 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 hydroelectric dam. The demands of the Munduruku leader were reinforced by a court sentence issued last week ordering the administration of President Dilma Rousseff 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, 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 in the Tapajós River basin, 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."

Today's side event, entitled "Dams and Indigenous Consultation: Concrete Proposals to Stem Rights Violations in the Brazilian Amazon" also featured Prosecutor Felício Pontes of Brazil's Federal Public Ministry (MPF), a constitutional watchdog. Pontes critiqued both the lack of prior consultations and the use of a legal mechanism known as "Security Suspension" (Suspensão de Segurança) that allows chief justices, upon request from the government, to indefinitely suspend legal rulings in favor of indigenous peoples' rights based on allegations of supposed threats to national security.

"We are demonstrating that the MPF 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."

In his ruling prohibiting licensing of the São Luiz do Tapajós dam until indigenous peoples have been consulted, Federal Judge Ilan Presser asserted, "One cannot ignore that the intention of ILO 169 and Article 231 of [Brazil's] Constitution is to uphold the right to consultation so to preserve and promote multiculturalism rather than producing a colonial 'assimilationism' and 'integrationism,' imposed by the will of dominant culture ... which runs a serious risk of culminating in ethnocide."

Bianca Jagger, longtime advocate for the rights of the Amazon's indigenous peoples, and Founder and President of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, closed today's event in Geneva, stating: "I am speaking here today to support the Munduruku people, represented by Ademir Kaba, and the other Amazon tribes and communities. I call on President Rousseff's Government to halt the construction of destructive mega-dams in the Amazon and comply with Brazil's obligations under ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to guarantee free, prior and informed consultations and consent among all indigenous peoples and traditional communities whose livelihoods and cultures would be irreparably affected by these projects."

Prior to today's event, a coalition of Brazilian and international groups, including France Libertes (Fondation Danielle Mitterrand), 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 Security Suspension has allowed the construction of the polemic Belo Monte mega-dam to proceed in spite of these violations.

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