GENEVA (5 July 2016) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today commended the decision of the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice to suspend the settlement reached between the Government of Brazil and Samarco Mining S.A., and its parent companies Vale S.A. and BHP Billiton Brazil Ltda in response to what has been described as the worst socio-environmental disaster in the country’s history.
“The agreed settlement ignored the victims’ human rights, and its suspension on 1 July is a perfect opportunity to perform a thorough human rights-based review of the remedies and compensations due to the victims with transparency and public participation” the experts said. “We urge the Brazilian Government to seize it in order to address timely and adequately persisting human rights concerns.”
In November 2015, the collapse of a tailing dam in Mariana in the state of Minas Gerais released about 50 million tonnes of iron ore waste, reportedly exacerbating the levels of several toxic substances, in a course of approximately 700km of several rivers including the vital River Doce. Nineteen people were killed as a direct result of the collapse.
The lives of 6 million people were severely affected, as many homes and villages were buried or destroyed, and, essential sources of water were contaminated. Sources of food and water for indigenous peoples and local communities were greatly compromised.
“The Executive powers and companies appeared to have, in their haste, ignored the rights of the victims to information, participation and an effective remedy, and to provide assurance of accountability. For the victims, this adds insult to injury,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak. “They appeared willing to forgo the rights of victims in an effort to sweep this disaster under the rug.”
The UN experts noted that Brazil’s public prosecutor estimated the cost of damages at 25 times greater than the amount guaranteed in the initial settlement, and cautioned that the settlement agreement was negotiated at record speed comparing with other environmental disasters of this magnitude, during a tumultuous period for the Government of Brazil, which is mired in a political crisis and allegations of mass corruption.
“The eventual costs of providing full reparation and compensation to all victims will be colossal, and might be the greatest for water and sanitation,” warned the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller.
The suspended settlement provided for the establishment of a private foundation to undertake several reparatory and compensatory programmes over the next 15 years. In that regard, the UN experts raised alarm about “the abysmal lack of transparency and participation of victims in the negotiation process of the settlement agreement,” and noted that the agreement was not made available to the general public.
They also expressed serious concerns regarding the governance bodies to be established by the agreement, which would leave little or no room for effective participation of public authorities and the affected communities in the design and execution of the environmental, social and economic programmes.
If settled, the mining company would have the power to decide on the indemnities to be given to the affected populations without any possibility of such decisions being subjected to questioning or appeal. Moreover, the agreement did not project sufficient mechanisms to ensure the participation of all affected communities in the implementation of the foundation.
“Seizing the opportunity of the suspension, the agreement’s terms must provide adequate safeguards to make sure there will be sufficient funds for all projects. The allocation of funds must be reviewed and decided in accordance with democratic principles and must be applied observing human rights principles,” they stressed.
The experts’ call has also been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and the current Chair the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Dante Pesce.
Léo Heller, Baskut Tuncak, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Dante Pesce are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:
Water and sanitation: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SRWater/Pages/SRWaterIndex.aspx
Hazardous wastes: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/SRToxicWastesIndex.aspx
Indigenous peoples: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IPeoples/SRIndigenousPeoples/Pages/SRIPeoplesIndex.aspx
Business and human rights: www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page – Brazil: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/BRIndex.aspx
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