Brazil and the Olympics: Environmental Symbolism Cannot Offset the Murder of 23 Environmental Activists

August 20th, 2016 - by admin

AIDA & Global Witness & TheLipTV – 2016-08-20 22:50:29

Brasil and the Olympics:
Defending the Amazon

Rodrigo da Costa Sales / Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA)

RIO DE JANEIRO (August 5, 2016) — As the Brazilian flag was raised at the Rio Olympics to the soft sounds of acoustic guitar, the familiar words of my country’s national anthem struck me:

Giant by thine own nature,
Thou art beautiful, thou art strong, an intrepid colossus,
And thy future mirrors that greatness.

For centuries, it’s been easy, a point of pride, to celebrate the natural bounty of our landscape, from the mighty Amazon basin to the thousands of miles of pristine coastline.

What’s proved most difficult is defending it.

Last year, Brazil was the world´s most dangerous country for environmental defenders. At least 50 of us were killed; so far this year, 23 have been assassinated. The Amazon, where I was born and spent my childhood, is the epicenter of these crimes.

Plantations and ranches have been built on land where homes once stood. Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities, guardians of the natural world, have been evicted from lands passed down through the generations.

It’s clear that economics and development have been prioritized above public health and wellbeing.

Increasingly, large dams are also becoming agents of dispossession in the Amazon. On the mighty Rio Xingu, the massive Belo Monte hydro dam displaced indigenous communities that depended on and cared for the river basin. Vast amounts of rainforest were destroyed, with disastrous impacts on wildlife. Several plant and animal species are now extinct; literally tons of fish died, likely from contamination.

Altamira, the city closest to the dam, is now ranked third in Brazil for violence and inequality. Belo Monte is hardly bringing equitable and just development to Brazil.

There are reasons for hope, though. A couple of things that happened last week made me believe we might see some positive changes in the near future.

First, the government denied the environmental license for a Tapajós River mega-dam that would have repeated the destruction of Belo Monte, devastating the lands and culture of the Muduruku people.

The second is more symbolic — the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. I was particularly moved by the focus on two issues that Brazil must make a priority in coming years: deforestation and climate change.

The attention to environmental crisis was powerful. It would have been even stronger, though, if indigenous people hadn’t been portrayed only as relics of Brazil’s ancient origins. In reality, our indigenous groups are crucial players in present and future efforts to achieve sustainability.

To a certain extent, hope is what the Olympics are all about. They bring the world together for a common good, and, at their best, aid in the development of a peaceful society concerned with preserving human dignity across all continents.

Although I have deep personal disagreements with the execution of the Olympics in Rio, I hope Brazil takes seriously the symbolic commitment demonstrated in the opening ceremony.

I hope Belo Monte [hydroelectric dam] is the last case of its kind.

I hope human rights and environmental defenders can work safely and without fear.

I hope future generations grow up in a country that really is “giant by thine own nature.”

Only then will our future truly be as great as the magnificent lands we call home.

Rodrigo da Costa Sales is an Attorney for Human Rights and Environment Program with AIDA. Founded in 1998, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) uses the law to protect the environment and communities suffering from environmental harm throughout Latin America. The 35 countries of our hemisphere are united under a common environmental flag — AIDA develops international strategies to address the environmental and human rights challenges of the 21st century.

Activist Deaths Demand Accountability
Wayne Salazar / AIDA

(June 27, 2016) — Last year 185 environmental activists were murdered worldwide, two-thirds from Latin America, according to Global Witness. Of the ten most dangerous countries in the world for environmental defenders, seven are in Latin America.

The brave activists we lost were killed for resisting mines, dams, and other destructive industrial projects. Now, more than ever, we must demand accountability. For the loss to the environment, the loss of indigenous cultures, the loss of human rights.

Global Witness. 2016

That just got harder. On May 23 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced a severe financial crisis leading to “suspension of [scheduled] hearings and imminent layoff of nearly half of its staff.”

While the Commission has long been short on funds, this is the worst financial crisis it has ever seen. The Commission depends on funding from the Organization of American States (OAS), governments in the Americas and Europe, organizations, and foundations. Nearly all governments have decreased or failed to honor their financial commitments.

The financial crisis demonstrates that our work, and the work of colleagues, communities, and movements, is having an impact. The Commission has produced important decisions in cases involving indigenous and community rights, land and environmental protection, and destructive development projects.

For a few years, countries have complained that the Commission is going beyond its mandate in cases involving development projects. But of course, when development projects violate human rights, they clearly fall within the purview of the Inter-American Human Rights System.

The Belo Monte Dam case provides clear evidence that this manufactured crisis is a result of our effectiveness.

In 2011, the Commission granted the precautionary measures our colleagues and we requested on behalf of affected indigenous communities. Brazil reacted by immediately withdrawing its ambassador to the OAS and by withholding funding for the rest of the year.

A new ambassador did not return until 2015 and Brazil’s payments haven’t normalized since. In addition, after the precautionary measures were issued Brazil started an aggressive process to “reform” the Commission that ended by weakening its power.

At AIDA we have analyzed how the crisis affects our cases before the Commission; how it affects future cases that need international attention; and how it affects human rights protection in the Americas.

* Current cases will likely be delayed. Our case on toxic poisoning in La Oroya, Peru is already seriously delayed. The Commission has promised to release a report on the merits so the case can be taken to the next level, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

We have been told the Commission will approve the report, which has been completed, this year — despite losing 40% of its staff. This remains to be seen. Of course, we have contacted the Commission and stressed the importance of advancing the case. Informally, some judges from the Inter-American Court have indicated their eagerness to receive the case.

Processing the Belo Monte case has only just started, after pending four years at the Commission. Strong political pressure from Brazil will likely delay it further. But political pressure on Brazil and the Commission can help the case move faster. As Belo Monte is linked to the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil, maybe the Commission will understand how relevant it is to advance the case. We will continue advocating for priority processing.

* New cases require further evaluation. We plan to bring at least one new case to the Commission soon, because unless we meet a deadline in a few weeks, the statute of limitations will prevent its consideration.

All domestic remedies have been pursued; the Commission represents the last chance for justice. Despite the uncertainties of the current situation, it is important to preserve our clients’ rights in case the Commission’s funding is brought back to an adequate level.

In other cases, we are looking for different ways to achieve justice. For example, we are exploring more than ever the use of national courts and national authorities. In addition, we are looking for new ways to engage financial institutions to prevent funding of projects that harm the environment and human rights.

* We are working with other organizations to develop response strategies. One of our attorneys, Rodrigo Sales, a Brazilian lawyer, recently represented AIDA at the General Assembly of the OAS. He advocated for human rights solutions in the region, among other issues.

We consider collaboration and cooperation among the human rights and environmental communities to be essential. We need to stand together, showing governments and the public that human rights and the Commission are of vital importance.

The financial crisis of the Commission — an international entity for hearing and resolving hemispheric human rights concerns — is an urgent issue that requires common understanding, thinking, strategizing, and acting.

AIDA is working to make this happen.

Wayne Salazar has helped environmental attorneys to define project goals and objectives since 2003. He was Director of Foundation Relations at Earthjustice for ten years before joining the AIDA team in 2013. He led a team that raised $48 million for projects that address marine protection, climate change, biodiversity and public lands conservation, air and water quality, and environmental justice through national and international law.

His background in donor development, strategic planning, project development, and communications also includes work with agencies providing poverty law, social service, and art programs. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Hunter College.

Any opinions expressed in this blog are the authors’ own and may not be shared by the organization. AIDA includes them with full respect for the freedom of expression and plurality of our team of professionals.

Murder of Environmental Activists Reaches New High

(June 21, 2016) — Environmentalist were killed more this year than any other year on record, according to a new report from environmentalist watchdog Global Witness.

The report found 185 killings across 16 countries in 2015. Almost 40% of the victims came from indigenous groups who were killed by private security, state forces and contract killers.

The report found that the number one cause of violence is conflict over mining, followed by agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging.

The assassination of Berta Caceres, a Honduran activist and Goldman Environmental Prize winner, made headlines last year when it was speculated that she was murdered in her bed by hitmen.

The report has called for urgent action from governments, which have not only been complicit, but are often directly responsible for murdering activists.

Joya Mia Italiano, Nik Zecevic and Elliot Hill take a closer look at the increasing attacks on environmentalists on the Lip News.

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