Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August 2014, 14:48 GMT

Brazil: Development, yes! Freedom of expression violations, no!

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 9 December 2011
Cite as Article 19, Brazil: Development, yes! Freedom of expression violations, no!, 9 December 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ee5cb572.html [accessed 28 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

On International Human Rights Day, ARTICLE 19 highlights the freedom of expression and information violations related to the implementation of the mega-development projects in Brazil, especially the construction of the Jirau and Santo Antonio power plants on the Madeira River.  

Between 3-10 November, ARTICLE 19 carried out a fact-find mission to the Jirau and Santo Antonio regions. We talked to local people, affected people, indigenous communities, workers and human rights defenders. 

While seeking to create infrastructure and bring progress, which are positive developments, these projects have a significant social and environmental impact and they have disproportionally severe effects on the affected communities. ARTICLE 19 urges the Brazilian Government to adopt strict measures to prevent, avoid and condemn all human rights violations related with these enterprises, particularly harms to freedom of expression and information. ARTICLE 19 found that people were not well informed about the constructions, were not properly consulted on the power plants, and they had no opportunity to express their views in decision-making processes.

International law, including the 1992 Rio Principles, requires that the creation of a good environment of freedom of expression for mega-projects of development must include: 1) access to information regarding the projects, 2) opportunity for affected groups to express their ideas and opinions, 3) that the information, ideas and opinions are considered in decision-making. 

ARTICLE 19 found that there is a serious lack of reliable sources of easily accessible information and as a result the main source of information is family members or neighbours. There are significant difficulties in accessing documents on the implementation processes and mitigation, such as the individual reports on mitigation. According to the organisations consulted, the official environmental impact studies were not properly done, with superficial information, and were not translated into indigenous languages. The people involved with the projects (affected people, workers and people living in the district of the constructions) had limited access to media (internet, tv, radio, mobile phone signal). Furthermore, the communication strategies adopted by construction companies did not take into account the information needs of each segment of the public - when it was not used to inhibit positions contrary to the power plants. ARTICLE 19 also found that much of the official information produced about the constructions is inaccurate. Consequently, people are not sure about the information they receive nor what will happen to them in the near future.

Regarding to the opportunity to express ideas and opinions, proper consultations were not conducted with indigenous peoples, as provided in the Rio Declaration and in Brazalian law. There were four public hearings, but it was reported that these procedures were taken in order to legitimise a decision previously taken and not to be a space for dissent and presenting contradictory opinions. There was also limits on organising collective demands and difficulties in establishing a dialogue on these claims. In fact, various mechanisms are used - from preventive judicial decisions to the use of police force - to inhibit protests relating to the power plants. Besides that, in the district most impacted by the constructions, ARTICLE 19 has identified that people have no security to talk to each other and exchange information without fear related to the organized crime which has emerged in the city since the beginning of the construction projects and to violence relating to negotiation process of the mitigation measures.

Finally, ARTICLE 19 found that information, ideas and opinions are not adequately considered in decision-making processes. For example, information about child prostitution in the district of Jacy-Parana resulted in some inadequate measures to mitigate the social impact of the works. However, information provided about a group killing motivated by the mitigation measures was not enough to adopt effective measures to combat this organized group activities in the locality - this group still violates fundamental rights of local people, including freedom of expression. Regarding to the mechanisms adopted for the consideration of ideas and opinions, ARTICLE 19 recognised the round-tables with social movements recently adopted by the Santo Antonio power plant but the Jirau has not done the same. 

Considering all the freedom of expression and information violations reported, the Brazilian government should should guarantee that the rights to freedom of expression and information of all impacted by such projects are respected and fulfilled, especially through the proper provision of information during all phases of the project, organisation of public hearings with adequate prior notice and with respect to local languages and allowing for the effective participation of these groups during the environmental licensing procedures. The Brazilian Government should also ensure that these opinions are seriously taken into consideration when determining the environmental and social feasibility of the project and identifying the mitigation measures. 

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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