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English Report

The repression against the Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB), started when they began to denounce the Brazilian energy model, in which residential consumers pay up to seven times more than large corporations. In 2005, 10 people from MAB were arrested, 109 were being sued, and 20 were wounded during mobilizations. In 2006, four people were arrested, 130 were being sued, and 25 were wounded during mobilizations.

The United Nations confirms the denunciations of the Movement of Dam-Affected People

Leandro Gaspar Scalabrin*

On March 14th, 2006, the Special Representative[1] of the United Nations (UN), Hina Jilani, released her preliminary report about the promotion and protection of human rights in Brazil[2]. March 14th marks the international day of the struggle against dams.

Hina Jilani visited the state of Santa Catarina, where she met the Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB), and heard about their situation, especially about the human rights violations in the Campos Novos Dam.

In her report, Hina Jilani underlines that MAB constitutes a benefit for and adds value to Brazilian democracy. This public recognition from a representative of the UN adds to the manifest of the National Conference of Bishops in Brazil (CNBB), in a moment when MAB is suffering a great deal of repression[3]:

“We denounce the violence with which MAB people are treated, victims of the implementation of hydroelectric plants in the name of promoting “progress.” The Movement of Dam-Affected Peoples – MAB has been holding manifestations and protests to call attention to the reality they face.

When people affected by dams protest, they are demanding respect for basic rights of an entire community. And their protests are treated with violence.  We are worried about this situation. We denounce the arbitrary violence committed against people affected by dams.”

         According to the UN report, MAB and other social movements “developed methods of social action and participation, and are developing strategies that diminish the possibility of violence”.  On the other hand, the majority of mainstream media in Brazil projects MAB as a “gang.” On July, 2006, the newspaper Estado de Minas published an article that described MAB as “a radical group, suspected of a sabotage plan.” The sources of this publication were supposedly the Brazilian Secret Service (ABIN, P2). The repression against the Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB), started when they began to denounce the Brazilian energy model, in which residential consumers pay up to seven times more than large corporations[4].

Criminalization has increased after MAB began to denounce the rises in energy price (more than 400% over the last 10 years). They also denounced social and environmental impacts from hydroelectric plants that are being constructed to benefit large, energy-intensive companies[5]:

“Large companies benefit from the fact that the cost of energy does not include social or environmental costs.  Most products that Brazil exports today are electro-intensive, which means that we are transferring abroad a social and environmental discount.  It is necessary to understand that, for instance, when the paper-consuming industries and cellulose industries buy our products for cheaper prices, this is not due only, or perhaps principally, as we are led to believe, to our competitive business in this area, but rather because of the social and environmental debt that has gone unpaid.  ...It is as if the affected populations, with their losses, were subsidizing the largest consumers of energy.”[6]

         This situation was confirmed by the UN report, which concluded that “a large part of the violence against human rights defenders is rooted in conflicts over land and for the protection of the environment, and this violence is committed by powerful private individuals, who in certain circumstances, have benefited from their relationships with state and local authorities”.

         In fact, powerful groups such as those which built the Campos Novos Dam, the consortium ENERCAN, composed by the companies Companhia Paulista de Força e Luz (CPFL), Companhia Brasileira de Alumínio (CBA) and Grupo VBC (Votorantim, Bradesco, and Camargo Correa) – which is also the builder of the project – is responsible for human rights violations at dams in Brazil. In this case, the violations were denounced to the OAS – Organization of American States – as well as to the United Nations, demanding that the companies[7] recognize the rights of more than 600 affected families.  

         The petition also refers to the report by Hina Jilani, which says:

“In an attempt to achieve social, economic, cultural, and environmental rights, seeking to expose violations of human rights and put an end to ongoing impunity, these human rights defenders are at great risk. Their right to life, liberty, and personal safety continues to be threatened.”

         Six months after the publication of the report, the Bishop of Xingu, Dom Erwin Krautler, 67, who denounced serious problems in the construction of the Hydroelectric Plant of Belo Monte[8], declared to Isto É magazine that he was receiving death threats for his involvement in the fight against the dam.

         The UN report also described the repression against human rights activists: “When human rights activists organize themselves, they are accused of forming gangs, and when they mobilize into collective action to protest against human rights violations, they are accused of creating public disorder.”

In 2005, 10 people from MAB were arrested, 109 were being sued, and 20 were wounded during mobilizations. In 2006, four people were arrested, 130 were being sued, and 25 were wounded during mobilizations.

         In relation to the position of the Brazilian legal system in such cases, the UN report recommends that there should be: “critical adjustments in the role of the judicial system, so that the social policies of the State outlined in the Constitution, are more likely to be implemented. In this context, constitutional interpretations and judicial actions need to guarantee not only equal respect for economic, social, and cultural rights, but also the removal of any conflict in respect to the implementation of the diverse rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

         The recommendations, unfortunately, are not being taken into account.  On July 3rd, 2006, in Nonoai, Rio Grande do Sul state, in a public assembly held to discuss the criminalization of the populations affected by dams in the Rio Uruguai basin, a county judge handed out a daily fine of R$ 350,000.00 against the MAB[9], when the company had to pay a R$10,000.00 fine.

         In relation to the physical violence practiced by military police of various Brazilian states against dam-affected peoples, the UN representative said:

“I am especially worried about the use of “non-lethal” arms, such as rubber bullets, by security forces in their operations during mobilizations. I documented serious allegations of violence against human rights defenders and abuse of power from the military police.”

At the same time, those responsible for human rights violations still enjoy impunity. For example, the company Engevix S/A, responsible for the largest environmental damage caused by a dam in the south of Brazil, continues to act with impunity in the electric sector, as a partner of hydroelectric plants in the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná.  Recently, it signed contracts with these states to sell energy until 2011.

Currently, the government has plans to build 1443 new dams in Brazil. So, the people affected by dams need to continue organizing as a movement and fighting to guarantee their basic rights: food, shelter, work, and education for their children. In this process, it’s likely that there will be conflicts with the government, the police, and principally with the corporations. 


* Leandro Gaspar Scalabrin is a member of the Human Rights Sector of the Movement of Dam-Affected People.

[1] Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders in Brazil. 

[2] Her mission in Brazil occurred between December 5th and 21st of 2005.  

[3] MAB faced a wave of repression that resulted in the arrest of 10 activists in the state of Santa Catarina, and in the beating by military police of the movement protestors.

[4] In the last offer of electric energy (offer A5 – October 2006) the Megawatt-hour (MWh-equivalent to 1000 KW) was sold to distributors at an average price of R$120.86 – to be paid in 2011, while the residential consumer paid an average of R$500.00 per MWh.

[5] Aluminum, cellulose and steel plants consume 30% of the electric energy produced in Brazil, and their production is oriented towards export.

[6] VAINER, Carlos. Social and Environmental Impacts of Dams: who should pay the debt? Rio de Janeiro: IPPUR, 2005.

[7] Despite all of the efforts of ENERCAN, on June 19th, 2006, the company lost control of the spill in the dam tunnels, when the spill reached 4573 m3/second, causing the complete emptying of the plant’s reserves.  The spill occurred due to the mad rush of the company to sell energy to its buyers, as in February of 2006, when the spill was controlled, instead of the group investigating the event more deeply, they opted for the refilling of the reserve, as civil engineer Francisco Fernando Quintanhila revealed as consultant to ENERCAN, on June 2nd, 2006: “At the end of February 2006 the spill was totally controlled.  There was a meeting with specialists on March 3rd, 2006, where it was decided that as the flow of water was small and easily pumped, the reserve should be refilled.  The idea was to meet the quota of energy already agreed upon by ANEEL and the buyers.”  The spill had been foreseen, but the population was never warned. 

[8] The dam will affect indigenous populations, the Amazon forest, and the human rights of the riverside populations of the Xingu River. 

[9] The fine was given to MAB activists because they protested against the construction of the Dam of Chapecó Falls, which divides the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.