Brazil faces human rights probe over Amazon hydropower dam

Regional commission forces official response to alleged abuses at Belo Monte hydro plant in Para state

Brazil's Itaipu dam on the Paraguay border was built in 1984 (Flickr/ alobos Life) Follow Central Itaipu Binacional

The Itaipu dam in south-west Brazil border is one of the country’s largest and was built in 1984 (Flickr/ alobos Life)

By Alex Pashley

Hydro giant Brazil must address claims one of the world’s biggest dam projects violates the liberties of local populations.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opened a case last month on the US$13 billion Belo Monte hydroelectric plant in the country’s north, after environmental lawyers said it would be a “disaster” for communities.

The dam under construction will divert one of the Amazon’s major tributaries, flooding swathes of rainforest and displacing over 20,000 people, says NGO International Rivers.

Indigenous protestors voice their opposition to the Belo Monte dam in 2011 (Flickr/ Pedro Ribeiro)

Indigenous protestors voice their opposition to the Belo Monte dam in 2011 (Flickr/ Pedro Ribeiro)

Brazil produces the bulk of its electricity from hydro and government plans to build more dams in the Amazon Basin, seeing it as a clean way to power the economy.

Critics say Belo Monte, proposed since 2000, represents a stop-valve for a series of projects that will disrupt rivers, condemning indigenous communities and wildlife.

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The commission’s decision to set up the probe after a four-year review was a “victory for all the affected communities” who “remain strong and determined in their search for justice and reparation,” said Raphaela Lopes, a legal representative at Justica Global in a Thursday statement.

But the window to stop the project is closing. Builders are filling the first reservoirs at the site, which will have the capacity to generate up to 11,000 megawatts of electricity when it is expected to open in 2019.

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