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A rare victory was achieved last Tuesday for the indigenous cause, with a high-level court ruling the suspension of the construction of the Belo Monte dam on the Amazon’s Xingu River.

The decision came through based on overwhelming evidence showing that indigenous people had not been properly consulted prior to approval of the project, despite their rights being protected by the Brazilian Constitution and the ILO Convention 169.

Any attempt by Norte Energia and the state company Electrobas to outsmart the ruling will be punished with a fine of R$500,000 for each day of non-compliance. All in all, the ruling will see new consultations with the affected populations dependent on the Xingu River.

Such achievement was only possible due to the persistence of indigenous resistance together with the work of international NGOs. In June, parallel to the United Nations’ Rio+20 Conference, indigenous leaders launched a 21-day occupation of the dam site; more recently, three Norte Energia engineers were detained by tribal authorities following a make-believe consultation about the mitigation measures on the dam’s negative impacts; and last month a lawsuit was filed on the widespread non-compliance with environmental requirements.

An appeal by Norte Energia is expected to follow, however the ruling comes from national courts of the highest level, which might prove to be a difficult one to dodge. Maira Irigaray, a lawyer with Amazon Watch, believes that "What might happen is that the government and Norte Energia (and the consortium), will use all their legal power to fight this at the Supreme Court. In any case, it's more evident that judges have systematically concluded that Belo Monte was not consulted with communities and it lacks comprehensive environmental impact assessments. Thus the government will have to make serious adjustments if they want to continue with the implementation of [the dam]."

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Twitter: @SchNEWS