Human Rights: The first to be forgotten by economic development

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Global Justice (JG) express their concern over the numerous human rights violations committed as a result of development projects in Brazil and urge the Brazilian authorities to demand from corporations full respect and protection of human rights.

Yesterday, a hearing called by the Maranhão State Public Prosecution Service was held. It dealt with the process of resettlement of the 320 families from the community of Piquiá de Baixo, Açailândia municipality, which has suffered for over twenty years from environmental contamination caused by local steel mills. Representatives from four state departments, Açailândia municipality and the Maranhão State Steel Industry Association (SIFEMA) attended the meeting. Vale failed to attend. Vale is the largest mining company in the world, and only a few blocks away it celebrated the arrival of the world’s biggest ship, produced on order by South Korean company Daewoo. However, and despite its absence — criticized by all those present —, the meeting allowed an agreement to be reached between Açailândia municipality and SIFEMA, according to which in the next 30 days the site chosen for the resettlement of the Piquiá de Baixo community will be compulsorily purchased. The meeting also resulted in the establishment of a timeframe for the holding of the next set of hearings, aimed at monitoring the resettlement plan, including the urbanization and infrastructure plan. There will also be specific meetings of the Public Prosecution Service and the Ombudsman with Maranhão state authorities and with Vale, for them not to be able to deviate from their responsibilities and to make concrete commitments, within defined dates, with a view to resolving the problems of the community.

On 18 May, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Justiça Global (JG) and the Justice on Tracks network published the report "How much are human rights worth in the steel and mining industry?", which analyses the damage to health caused by the activities of Vale and related companies linked to the communities of Piquiá de Baixo and the Califórnia settlement in Maranhão. The report demands that the company and its partners put an end to environmental contamination in the region. The publication was presented in São Luis, Brasília and Rio de Janeiro to representatives of the Federal Public Prosecution Service, the National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), the Human Rights Department of the Presidency of the Republic and the ministries of Health, Environment and Mines and Energy, as well as equivalent authorities at the state and municipal levels. This elicited significant repercussion in the national and international media. Nevertheless, Vale refused to meet with representatives of our organizations.

On the other hand, today, the FIDH sent an Open Letter to President of the Republic Dilma Roussef with the purpose of manifesting its profound disagreement with the rejection by the Brazilian government of the precautionary measures emitted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for the suspension of the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant, a project whose consortium Vale joined with a 9% stake, worth US$1.45 billion. The precautionary measures emitted by the IACHR request the suspension of the construction of Belo Monte, in the state of Pará, until the due consultations with the indigenous communities to be affected are held, and until measures are adopted to protect the lives, health and personal integrity of their members.

It is extremely worrying that the Brazilian State does not adopt measures necessary to prevent, impede and condemn human rights violations committed by transnational companies involved in the implementation of mega development projects and that, rather, it privileges and even legitimizes the activities of these corporations to the detriment of the right to health, to a healthy environment, to personal integrity and to life of the communities that live in the territories where such projects are supposed to be built.

Whilst reminding the Brazilian State that it should guarantee an economic development that fully respects human rights, we urge the Brazilian authorities to comply with the precautionary measures emitted by the IACHR, suspending the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant, as well as investigating the human rights violations committed by companies of the mining/steel production chain and ensuring that affected persons and communities be compensated.

In general, we urge the Brazilian State to exert greater control over the activities of transnational corporations and their impacts, specifically when it comes to social and environmental matters, as well as to guarantee communities’ right to prior, free and informed consultation in accordance with the country’s constitutional and international obligations.

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