One year on, UN experts urge Brazil to urgently boost efforts to address impacts of dam collapse

4 November 2016

Voicing concern over the many pressing human rights impacts on some six million people since the worst mine disaster occurred in Brazil one year ago, a group of United Nations human rights experts today issued a strong call on the Government to immediately redouble efforts to solve health problems and speed up the resettlement process of those affected.

“We urge the Brazilian Government and the companies involved to immediately address the numerous ongoing human rights impacts of this disaster,” the experts said in a news release on the eve of the first anniversary of the catastrophic collapse of the dam owned by Samarco.

The unresolved issues, the special rapporteurs highlighted, are impacts on indigenous and traditional communities, health problems in riverside settlements, the risk of further contamination of waterways, insufficient resettlement and legal redress for all displaced persons, and reported legal action that human rights defenders are facing.

“We remind the Government and companies that a disaster on this scale – which released the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools of tailings waste – requires a response on a similar scale,” said the experts.

With regard to the river pollution, the experts are concerned about some of the 700 kilometers of affected and contaminated waterways and the communities living along the waterside. Those residents not only suffer from adverse health effects caused by water, but also dust from dam site dry mud.

“We also note the conclusions of the Brazilian environmental agency, IBAMA, that efforts by the companies concerned […] have been insufficient to stop the continuing leakage of mud from the Fundão tailing dam site in the State of Minas Gerais,” said the experts, adding that “we fear that more waste will reach the downstream region once the rainy season begins in the next few weeks.”

Moreover, the resettlement of those forced from their homes is far from complete, according to the experts. They therefore urged the Brazilian Government and the companies concerned to speed up the resettlement process and ensure this work matches international human rights standards.

Meanwhile, noting the suspension of the settlement agreement by the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice; the conciliation and quick access to reparatory measures; as well as public engagement of companies concerned to seek common solutions, the human rights experts reiterated the significance of solving legal deadlock to avoid further damage to the communities affected and their full access to effective long-term remedies.

“These efforts must now be redoubled to ensure that all those affected, including the relatives of the 19 people who died in the initial disaster, have their human rights fully and speedily met,” stressed the experts.

Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

 

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