Brazil: Piquiá community fights against mining industry’s human rights abuses

São Luís, Paris — The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Justiça nos Trilhos and Associação Comunitária dos Moradores de Piquiá (ACMP) have released a new report on the mining and steel industry in Açailândia, unveiling the persistence of human rights violations due to actions and omissions by both public and private actors, including Vale S.A, the main iron supplier and transporting company of the pig iron produced by steel mills.

The report provides an assessment revealing the lack of implementation of the recommendations formulated to responsible actors in a 2011 report, as well as encouraging the progress achieved by the community in the fight for accountability and redress. The case of Piquiá is emblematic of the dramatic consequences of a development model that places economic interests over human rights, and should be an incentive to innovate an alternative that enables full enjoyment of human rights for all.

In a context of increasingly loose environmental legislation and a lack of monitoring and penalties, companies are able to operate outside the law. In spite of the acknowledgment of environmental violations by relevant authorities, some steel mills operate without environmental licenses and deactivated structures are left to deteriorate in open air, with irreversible consequences for the environment and surrounding communities.

To add insult to injury, companies’ financial contribution for measures of redress is almost non-existent. To date, there has not been any formal acknowledgment of their responsibility for the human rights violations documented. This leaves the door open for violations to persist.

“Companies behave under the principle that people do not know their rights and are not organised to fight for them. We chose not to accept the role of second class citizens that companies would like to impose us, this is why we have achieved some victories. The case of Piquiá demonstrates that Mariana and Brumadinho were not isolated cases but the result of a pattern of behaviour that needs to change urgently.”

Joselma Alves de Oliveira, Associação Comunitária dos Moradores do Piquiá

The report demonstrates that the health of the over 7,500 Piquiá residents continues to deteriorate due to persistent pollution and other associated risks, despite the progress achieved by relocating 312 families of Piquiá de Baixo (approximately 1,110 people), with the start of construction work in November 2018.

Our organisations argue that none of the 39 recommendations was fully implemented, while 74.4% saw no progress whatsoever, meaning that all human rights violations documented in 2011 have remained without comprehensive redress.

“As long as redress measures provided by companies continue to be exclusively in the objective of avoiding social, economic and reputational sanctions, and the Brazilian State is unable and unwilling to monitor and sanction these violations, Brazil will fall short of the OECD standards for responsible business conduct.”

Maria Isabel Cubides, globalisation and human rights desk, FIDH

Public institutions have showed lack of capacity and willingness to strategically address the issues derived from environmental pollution. On the contrary, they have acted only passively and insufficiently in reaction to pressure from public demonstrations by affected people.

The main measures of progress have been possible thanks to the work of the community, whose members have spearheaded efforts. The role of human rights defenders has been key in the fight for full redress. The State must provide guarantees of a safe environment conducive to the defense of human rights.

In light of the limited progress, this report is not only a denunciation of the situation, but also the departure point for more action. Further advocacy and communication efforts will allow for greater international visibility to the case in order to prevent such violations from occurring again.

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