Brazilian Judicial Abuses Questioned on Anniversary of Military Coup

Human rights commission hears case questioning state use of dictatorship-era legal device

Amazon Watch, AIDA, International Rivers, Justiça Global

For more information, contact:

Rania Batrice at +1.510.394.2041 or rania@amazonwatch.org


Washington, DC – Marking the 50th anniversary of Brazil's military coup, Brazilian community representatives and their legal advocates questioned President Dilma Rousseff's administration last week at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) over its flagrant use of a legal mechanism that dates to the country's dictatorship (1964-1985). The speakers argued that the law allows for Brazil's chief justices to arbitrarily overturn legal decisions that protect the environment and rights of indigenous and traditional peoples who are threatened by powerful economic interests.

Known as "Security Suspension” ("Suspensão de Segurança”), this legal artifice permits the federal government to request the suspension of judicial decisions based on supposed threats to national security and the country's "social and economic order”. The device has notably been used to suspend lawsuits that favor the indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent, allowing for notorious projects such as the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam to proceed in violation of the Brazilian Constitution and international conventions. Decisions based on "Security Suspension” may not be overturned until the final phase of court appeals, effectively blocking due process of the law and paving the way for controversial mega-projects to proceed as fait accompli.

Indigenous leader Josias Munduruku, who represents one of the Amazon's largest remaining tribes, traveled to the hearing to denounce Brazil's plans to construct a complex of mega-dam projects on the Tapajos river and its tributaries, which threaten to bring devastating impacts on their lands and livelihood.

"We are suffering the consequences of the dams that are being built on five of our rivers,” said Josias. "Federal prosecutors filed a lawsuit to stop the Tapajós dams, but the government overruled the court's decision using Security Suspension, allowing the projects to continue in spite of the fact that we were not consulted.”

Federal judge Célia Bernardes mirrored these concerns, speaking on behalf of the Brazilian Association of Judges for Democracy, whose decision on the lack of prior consultations of the Munduruku and other indigenous peoples was overturned by "Security Suspension”, permitting controversial dam projects to proceed in violation of the law.

During the hearing, representatives of the Brazilian government argued that Security Suspension has been used only to defend the public interest, including that of indigenous peoples. However, there was no mention of the specific cases raised by the delegates.

Judge Célia Bernardes countered the government's point, stating: "Security Suspension differs from other legal tools as it permits the chief justice of a regional court to override rulings based on exclusively political and economic arguments, without considering judicial opinions.”

"Employing broad and subjective criteria, Security Suspension violates the American Convention on Human Rights and destroys any chance for the effective protection of human rights in the Brazilian legal system," said Alexandre Andrade Sampaio, a lawyer with the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). "Security Suspension is in flagrant violation of the rights to due process and access to justice, specifically cited in Articles 8 and 25 of the Convention."

"Security Suspension is a dire remnant of Brazil's military dictatorship that prevents the judiciary to act independently and impartially," affirmed Edward Baker, a lawyer with Global Justice. "When it comes to mega-projects that are directly linked to state policy for economic growth, the Brazilian judicial system has been used in order to deny, or simply disregard, the rights of the affected populations."

Today's hearing before the IACHR the Organization of American States echoes another official complaint, made on March 10th at the 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, denouncing the Brazilian government's systematic use of this legal instrument to the detriment of communities affected by mega-projects.

The hearing was requested by the organizations Global Justice, Justice on the Rails, AIDA, International Rivers, Land Rights, and the Pará Society for the Defense of Human Rights.

Download the civil society document presented in Friday's hearing (in Portuguese)

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