A Brazilian federal court ruled Wednesday that work on a dam [Belo Monte backgrounder] being constructed on the Xingu River in the Amazon jungle may continue. The Federal Court of the First Region [official website, in Portuguese] had ordered that dam construction cease [JURIST report] until indigenous groups are consulted and given access to environmental impact reports, but the court reversed that decision in a 2-1 vote [AP report], upholding the decree issued by Para state authorizing the dam's construction. Maria do Carmo Cardoso, a court judge, held that the indigenous communities are entitled to be consulted, but the law does not say that this must be done before approval of the work [AFP report]. When completed the $11 billion, 11,000-megawatt dam will be the world's third largest behind China's Three Gorges dam and the Itaipu, which straddles the border of Brazil and Paraguay. The project is expected to employ 20,000 people directly in construction, flood an area of 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) along the Xingu river and displace 16,000 persons. Environmentalists and indigenous groups say the dam will devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of as many as 40,000 people who live in the area to be flooded. The government says the dam will provide clean, renewable energy and is essential to fuel the South American country's growing economy. The federal prosecutors' office in Para plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Last month JURIST Guest Columnist Pedro Sousa [official profile, in Portuguese] of Carneiro de Almeida & Pires Advogados wrote [JURIST comment] that the Belo Monte dam violates the constitutional mandate to protect indigenous peoples and the environment. In September the Malaysian Federal Court [official website] unanimously ruled against indigenous people [JURIST report] challenging a similar hydroelectric dam. The indigenous people argued that they received inadequate compensation for the Sarawak government's seizure of their land to build the dam. The judges stated that if the plaintiffs were not satisfied with the amount of compensation then that is a matter for arbitration, not for the court. In December 2010 the US government pledged to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [JURIST report], a non-binding UN treaty expressing support for the rights of indigenous peoples. The US was the last member to lend its support to the treaty. In August of that year UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called on governments to improve the living conditions of indigenous peoples [JURIST report] and support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.