Protecting indigenous peoples’ right to be previously consulted and the promotion of a sustainable development: the Belo Monte case

The document that resulted from the first Conference of the United Nations on Environment and Development in 1992 – Agenda 21 – already stated that to achieve sustainable development, States needed the contribution of various groups in society, including the indigenous peoples. The final document of Rio + 20, held in 2012, reaffirmed the premise according to which the participation of these groups, indigenous people included, was essential and should be active so the sustainable development objectives could be realized. Therefore, it should be noted that, for the authors of this document, indigenous people are of fundamental importance for the development of states to be achieved on a sustainable basis. In the context of Rio + 20, the main group representing indigenous peoples identified the most important issues for the realization of this aim, one of which being the respect of the provided right to prior consultation. Indeed, this right is one of those that are guaranteed by the legal system of protection of indigenous rights. It is stated that indigenous communities must be consulted every time legislative or administrative measures envisaged are likely to affect them. What confirms the importance of this right is the fact that the lands of these people are constantly an object of interest for major projects due to the resources existing in them. What happens is that, in practice, this right is not respected. This is clearly demonstrated when one looks at the process of construction of the hydroelectric power plant of Belo Monte in Brazil and how the legal mechanisms were insufficient to guarantee the right to prior consultation. Such work is causing major environmental, socioeconomic and cultural impacts that have been poorly studied, which contradicts the principle of sustainable development also guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution. This article aims to examine to what extent the right to prior consultation of indigenous peoples is recognized  in the international and national levels and its relation to the concept of sustainable development, especially in the case of Belo Monte. It is demonstrated that if indigenous peoples were consulted, as the law requires, priority would be given to a more sustainable exploitation, based on the balance between man / nature relationship. The right to prior consultation of indigenous peoples is thus essential to the implementation of a sustainable development. It is an exploratory qualitative study supported by the bibliography and documents related to the subject. National and international legislation and decisions will also be analysed.

Key-words: indigenous peoples; right to prior consultation; sustainable development; Belo Monte.


Nombre Adscripcion Procedencia
Germana Aguiar Ribeiro do Nascimento Universidad de Valencia Brasil
Marília Aguiar Ribeiro do Nascimento Universidad de Valencia Brasil