Brazil: UN expert Visit Prompts Renewed Hope for Amazon Community Suffering from Mining Abuses

On the occasion of the visit of Baskut Tuncak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, FIDH, Justiça Global and Justiça nos Trilhos call on the Brazilian government and companies to assume their responsibilities and comprehensively redress the environmental and human rights violations that the community of Piquiá has been experiencing for more than three decades.

Between Saturday, 7 December and Monday, 9 December, the UN expert is in the state of Maranhão; this includes a field visit to Piquiá (Saturday 7), where inhabitants have faced disastrous health impacts caused by environmental and noise pollution emitted by the mining and steel industry. Although the abuses have been denounced for years, they remain unpunished. Subsequent to the visit, the rapporteur will question the state and federal authorities about the case of Piquiá today (Monday 9) in the capital of the state of Maranhão and later this week in Brasilia.

"We hope that this visit will give greater international visibility to the case of Piquiá, which has been long ignored by the government. We count on the rapporteur to pressure the authorities to reinforce and effectively implement existing environmental legislation. But we also ask him to deliver a strong call to Vale, Viena Siderúrgica, Gusa Nordeste, Aço Verde Brasil and Cimento Verde Brasil (the last three being part of Grupo Ferroeste) to repair the damage caused and immediately align with existing regulations," said Sandra Carvalho, vice president of FIDH and coordinator of Justiça Global.

The Special Rapporteur, whose mandate is to monitor the harmful impacts generated by hazardous substances and wastes, is in a position to alert UN bodies about the violations found in the community of Piquiá, and formulate recommendations.

For decades now, the population of Piquiá has stood up for its rights and fought for its dignity, day after day. In spite of the violations and a context of scarce resources and limited support, the community has not surrendered. It managed to organise and to obtain the resources necessary to be relocated to a new settlement called Piquiá da Conquista, where a future far from pollution is being built. However, there is a risk that the political context in Brazil, especially the budget cuts targeting social programs adopted by Jair Bolsonaro’s government, could directly affect the conclusion of the relocation process.

"As long as the community of Piquiá continues to face health problems due to air pollution and continues to be exposed to toxic and hazardous wastes resulting from the steel companies’ improper management, there will be no comprehensive redress. The UN expert’s message must also demand guarantees of non-repetition, so that future generations in Piquiá can enjoy their right to a healthy environment," said Danilo Chammas of Justiça nos Trilhos.

Today, we firmly demand that the Brazilian government ensure the prompt conclusion and implementation of judicial decisions in favor of families negatively affected by the mining, pig iron and steel industry and guarantee effective reparations. Investigative procedures must also be initiated and sanctions imposed on individuals and legal entities responsible. Companies must be given a strict timeline to align their practices with existing legal norms, and provide guarantees of non-repetition. Finally, relevant companies must take the necessary measures to protect families from toxic waste and immediately stop operating without a license.

We expect that the Special Rapporteur’s visit will serve to put Piquiá back in the public eye and on the decision-making agenda. Tuncak will hold a press conference on 13 December 2019 at 14:00 in Brasilia, where he will share his preliminary observations. The Special Rapporteur will present a full report with his analyses and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020.

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