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1 Jan 2011

Consórcio Norte Energia lawsuit (re Belo Monte dam in Brazil)


Date lawsuit was filed
1 Jan 2011
Date accuracy
Year Correct
Indigenous peoples
Location of Filing: Brazil
Location of Incident: Brazil
Type of Litigation: Domestic


Norte Energia Brazil Hydropower & dam projects, Energy



In 2011, several NGOs acting on behalf of communities affected by the Belo Monte dam construction filed a complaint against Brazil to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The plaintiffs alleged that public authorities failed to consult with indigenous communities prior to dam construction. In December 2015, the Commission officially opened a case against Brazil and in May 2018, NGOs submitted their final arguments. The Commission will then determine whether human rights violations occured and recommendations. If the latter go unfulfilled, the case can be referred to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

Factual background

In February 2010, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) granted a preliminary license for the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River in the State of Pará in Brazil to Norte Energia, a consortium of 18 partners.  In April 2010, Norte Energia, led by a subsidiary of a parastatal power utility company Eletrobrás, won the tender for the Belo Monte dam construction.

In March 2011, the International Labor Organization declared that the Brazilian Government violated ILO Convention 169, because it failed to hold prior consultation with the indigenous communities affected by the hydroelectric dam project.

Legal argument

In 2011, several NGOs filed a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the communities affected by the dam construction.  On 1 April 2011, the Commission issued precautionary measures for Brazil citing alleged failure to consult with the indigenous communities prior to Belo Monte dam construction.

Legal proceedings

On 17 October 2011, Brasília federal district judge allowed a Public Prosecution office's lawsuit challenging the 2006 legislative decree that authorized the Belo Monte dam construction to proceed.  The lawsuit alleged that the decree violated the right of the indigenous population to prior consultation established in the ILO Convention 169 and the article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution establishing the rights of the indigenous peoples.  On 9 November 2011, the court upheld the validity of the legislative decree, ruling that prior consultations with the indigenous communities were not necessary because the dam infrastructure was not physically located on the indigenous lands.  Since 2012, the courts suspended the Belo Monte construction license several times, but all the injunctions were overturned on appeal.

On 24 November 2015, IBAMA granted Belo Monte operational license to Norte Energia despite non-compliance issues raised in IBAMA's September 2015 report.

In December 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights officially opened a case against Brazil in relation to the Belo Monte dam project.  In May 2018, NGOs submitted their final arguments before the Commission. Their report alleges that the dam construction and operation caused displacement and loss of livelihoods of the indigenous and traditional communities by limiting their access to the Xingu River as a source of food, sustenance, transportation and entertainment.  According to the report, the damages suffered by the communities are due to allegedly inadequate impact assessment and lack of oversight by the Brazilian authorities, as well as Norte Energia’s failure to comply with the conditions established by the government for the dam operation.  The Commission will determine whether the alleged human rights violations occurred and may issue recommendations.  If recommendations are unfulfilled, the case may be referred to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.