Federal Public Prosecutors Appeal to Supreme Court to Maintain Suspension of Belo Monte

Chief Justice will need to reconsider decision or allow vote by full Supreme Court

Brasilia, Brazil – The Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office (Ministério Público Federal - MPF) filed an appeal today with the Brazilian Supreme Court to stop construction of the Belo Monte Dam until consultations are held with indigenous people affected by the project.  Construction was allowed to continue last week due to an injunction issued by Chief Justice Carlos Ayres Britto that suspended an earlier decision of a regional federal court (TRF-1). The appeal requests that Ayres Britto reconsider his decision; if he does not agree, the case will be examined by the plenary of the Supreme Court.

The appeal to the Supreme Court was signed by the two highest authorities of the Federal Public Prosecutors' Office, Roberto Gurgel and  Deborah Duprat.  They maintain that, according to the Brazilian Constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), indigenous people should be consulted by Congress prior to any decision that may affect their survival, as in the case of construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu river.

The MPF’s appeal also states that the complaint mechanism used by President Dilma’s Attorney General to call for the previous decision of the TRF-1 to be overturned by the Supreme Court is legally flawed, since it relates to an interim decision by former Chief Justice Ellen Gracie. According to the MPF, "the complaint seeking to confirm the legality of the Congressional authorization of Belo Monte, in the absence of consultations with indigenous peoples, could only have been made by the plenary of the Supreme Court, not by a unilateral decision from the Chief Justice".

 "A unilateral injunction by the head of a court can never be made against a court decision about the merits of a case.  By the same token, it is legally impossible for a complaint like the one filed by President Dilma’s Attorney General to call for suspension of a federal court decision on the merits of the case" stated the public prosecutors, who consider entirely legitimate the decision of the regional federal court (TRF-1) regarding the need for consultations with indigenous peoples, prior to Congressional authorization of  a project.  That court decision on August 14th overrode previous injunctions in favor of dam proponents and forced stoppage of construction of Belo Monte.

Gurgel and Duprat highlighted the fact that the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 established new principles of citizenship among indigenous peoples that were blatantly disregarded by the Congress when it approved a legislative decree in 2005 that authorized Belo Monte. "The goal of the Constitution’s framers was to empower indigenous communities, conceiving them as subjects and not as objects of state action, and to allow them to fight for their rights in all spheres," they said.

"It is inconceivable in a democracy with due legislative process that Congress would make a decision, with direct and profound impacts on an indigenous community, without so much as ensuring that this ethnic group has the right to speak, to at least have the possibility of influencing members of Parliament whose decisions will affect their destiny" stated the MPF appeal. "The notion that consultations with indigenous peoples can be conducted after a project has been authorized is entirely inconsistent with the principals of self-determination guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution  and ILO Convention 169."

Adapted from the MPF press release in Portuguese.

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