The PPT panel of judges for the Session in Defense of the Territories of Cerrado’s statement on the first hearing on water, released on the occasion of World Human Rights Day, is now available (full text). The hearing took place on November, 30th and December, 1st 2021 (it is possible to watch the recordings by clicking on the two dates).



Statement by the PPT panel of judges

December 10, 2021

1. Introduction

According to the program presented on the occasion of the Opening session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), in response to the indictment submitted by a wide and representative spectrum of peoples, communities, organizations, and individual members of civil society in Brazil, the first of the three planned thematic hearings was held on November 30 and December 1, 2021.

The panel of judges for this session includes: Antoni Pigrau Solé, professor of international law at the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona, Spain; Deborah Duprat, jurist and former Deputy Attorney General of the Republic of Brazil; Mgr. José Valdeci from the Diocese of Brejo, Brazil; Eliane Brum, Brazilian journalist; Enrique Leff, Mexican economist and environmental sociologist; Rosa Acevedo Marín, Venezuelan sociologist and professor at the Federal University of Pará; Silvia Ribeiro, Uruguayan journalist and researcher for the ETC Group; Teresa Almeida Cravo, professor of international relations at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, and Philippe Texier, French jurist and current president of the PPT.

The six cases chosen to illustrate the evidence related to the Water issue were carefully documented with a very effective articulation of data, audiovisual materials, community witnesses, and analytical reports, highly coherent with the principal request of the indictment: ecocide and cultural genocide of the peoples of Cerrado. A relevant time was ensured for the exchange of questions and answers between the judges, the representatives of the communities, and the experts.

The panel of judges expresses its very special gratitude to the communities of the Cerrado, for their courage, lucidity, and richness of life, as well as for their efforts to respect the nature of which they are a part and protect the integrity of the biome on which the survival of humans and non-humans depends. Their testimony has provided full evidence also of the deep emotional involvement associated with the long struggles, the daily suffering, and the cultural losses.

This statement, of course, does not want to, nor can it represent or advance a verdict on the crimes contemplated in the indictment, which will be formulated at the conclusion of the three thematic sessions. However, it is precise and timely, given the seriousness and urgency of the evidence already presented, to highlight the following points, which summarize the first reaction of the members of the jury:

  1. With the complexity of its history, ancient and current, the Cerrado constitutes a context of priority interest not only for Brazil, but also for the spectrum of situations where plans declared as “development” are translated into projects that violate fundamental individual or collective rights, including the right to dignity, life, and self-determination, while downplaying their loss as a “collateral effect” or “necessary sacrifices”.
  2. The quality and articulation of the documentation that was presented directly, and made available to the PPT in written, oral and visual form, appear as the product of long-term work, very coherent with the realities investigated. These characteristics correspond to the methodology and logic of the PPT, which conceives its own mission, above all, as a recognition of the rights of peoples to be visible subjects in the public space with the right to a fully free expression of their culture and their lives.
  3. The methodological consistency of the materials made available to the PPT highlights the seriousness and nature of the facts that were presented in support of the indictment, whether in relation to human and peoples’ rights, or in relation to the contexts of nature and traditions that appear to be specifically relevant.
  4. Taking into account the objectives set out in the indictment, the panel of judges recognizes the strength of the concrete and doctrinal arguments that impose the consideration of the Cerrado peoples as a reality with cultural, work, and civilization characteristics that must be considered inviolable, respected and autonomous, regardless of the “development” plans proposed by external agents, whether public or private, or the result of collusive alliances, targeted to the destruction or structural marginality of the Cerrado peoples.
  5. The panel of judges understands the urgency and relevance of the recommendations presented by the communities and will take them into consideration.
  6. The panel of judges also recognizes the fundamental role that women have played, in each of these communities, in this collective struggle.
  7. The panel of judges was particularly impressed by the strength of the collective memory of the witnesses, which was expressed always with a perspective not only focused on what happened, but also on the possibility and obligation of a creative future. The capacity and experiences of resistance that were presented and commented on, with very precise references, are powerfully representative of the conflictive situation of recent years, and document ancient roots shared by the communities.

2. Cases presented

The first case refers to the traditional pastoralist and riverine communities of western Bahia, who denounce the expropriation of their territories, in addition to the domination and predatory use of water by agro-hydro-business ventures, all of them included in the MATOPIBA Agricultural Development Plan (Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahía states). It was explained at the hearing that these communities are part of the so-called Espigão Mestre, a great divider from which rivers and streams are born that feed the hydrographic basins of the São Francisco, Tocantins and Parnaíba rivers, and that this region is of fundamental ecological importance in the relationship Cerrado-Caatinga, being a producer of water for the Brazilian Semi-arid ecosystems. The expropriation of the traditional territories of these communities occurs through processes of “grilagem” (illegal appropriation of land) of thousands of hectares of public lands, as well as official support with public resources for the implementation of mega irrigation structures. The companies that violated the rights of the communities are clearly identified: in addition to the misappropriation of territories and waters, they hire gunmen and private security militias:  to carry out all kinds of violence, such as death, destruction of the crops and goods, to restrict the right of free movement in the communities, mainly preventing them from accessing the fields, traditionally used for livestock. The huge extraction of water authorized by the environmental agency of the state of Bahia, there is associated with illegal extractive activities which threaten the destruction of the Corrente river basin: signs of death are clear in the Arrojado river, perennial streams become temporary, springs and trails that dry up, contamination and poisoning by pesticides are ubiquitous in the rivers. These communities of these areas also denounced the legal and illegal deforestation of thousands of hectares of native vegetation by these projects, as well as the responsibility of the Instituto do Meio Ambiente e Recursos Hídricos (INEMA), in the state of Bahia, for the uncontrolled issuance of authorizations of deforestation and water donations. They also point to the omission of the local Judicial and Legislative Power and denounce the lack of consultation established by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

The second case involves the indigenous peoples Krahô-Takaywrá and Krahô Kanela, whose territories are located in the basins of the Formoso and Javaés rivers, which are respected, esteemed and venerated by these peoples, who have an ancestral bond with their waters, associated to its creation myth and, therefore, sacred spaces where the encantados live. Since 1979, the federal and state governments started the Río Formoso Project, which involves the implementation of flood irrigation infrastructure for the development of monocultures of rice, watermelon and transgenic soybeans, based on the intense consumption of water and pesticides. Thousands of hectares of public lands were donated to agribusiness producers, thus removing them from the status of a common good, and transferring them to the negotiable stock of private lands. The irrigation infrastructure was financed with public resources from state resources and the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES). These indigenous peoples, in addition to other traditional communities existing in the region, denounce the situation of water insecurity in which they live, as well as the enormous socio-environmental damage generated by the Río Formoso Project and many others that have been added, including the construction of dams. Also in this case, the appropriation of traditional territories intensified in the absence of any prior, free and informed consultations, as provided for in Convention 169-ILO. The specific responsibility of the State Secretariat for the Environment and Water Resources of Tocantins (Semarh) and the Institute of Nature of Tocantins (Naturatins) must be underlined: in addition to making the projects viable, they do not carry out the inspection and adequate monitoring of dams, canals, aqueducts and pumping stations illegally installed in rivers, thus allowing the predatory use of water resources. Naturatins also omits the guarantee of the multiple uses of water and the participatory management of this common good, as determined by Law 9,433, of January 8, 1997. The Formoso and Javaés rivers had their flows seriously reduced and others are sedimented, streams and lakes reduced their amount of water and others dried up completely, with the death of fish and compromising the right to sovereignty and food and nutritional security of the peoples and communities of the region. Indigenous people, especially women, report that they have to walk miles in search of water to drink, cook, and do housework. Traditional reflux crops have become unviable due to changes in the dynamics of rivers, and the quantity and diversity of fish, the main source of protein for local communities, has been drastically reduced, in addition to their contamination by pesticides, producing food insecurity, and diseases until then non-existent.

The third case refers to the veredeiras communities in the north of Minas Gerais, concentrated in extensive areas of gerais (plateaus without fences, as an area of common use) on the left bank of the São Francisco River. The paths (valleys where the water flows) are located in the middle of the closed areas and play a crucial role in the hydrological balance of the aquifers, since they regulate the flow of hundreds of streams that form the main rivers that flow into the São Francisco river. The veredeiros developed an agro-extractivist production system, with itinerant crops in swamps and forests, collection and release of animals, with houses near the waterways. However, in the late 1970s, their common areas began to be privatized for the planting of eucalyptus, which, in turn, drained swamps and roads for irrigation, while native vegetation began to supply the furnaces of the steel companies that settled in the region. By not being able to use the plateau and forest areas that were privatized, the veredeiras communities began to face another threat: environmental agencies, which created mosaics of conservation units formed by national and state parks, with restrictions on the traditional use of their resources and the criminalization of their practices. These communities are currently fighting for the assertion of their identity and for the recovery of at least part of their territory, by retaking the “Territory Veredeiro Berço das Águas”. They accuse the Government of Minas Gerais (Instituto de Terras de MG and Instituto Estadual das Florestas) and the Federal Union (IBDF, extinct and incorporated by IBAMA- Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis) for the implementation of programs and projects that drove the process of expropriation of their traditional lands and territories, as well as environmental devastation.

The fourth case is related to the rupture of the toxic waste dam of the iron mining company Vale S / A, B1 in the Córrego do Feijão mine, in the municipality of Brumadinho-MG, which dumped tons of sludge with toxic substances into along the Paraopeba River, contaminating the entire hydrographic basin and causing the death of 272 people. The complaint presented to the PPT comes from the Cachoeira do Choro community, located on the banks of the Paraopeba River, which reports that this river, a tributary of the São Francisco River, is part of the history and regional memory, being fundamental for the constitution of cultural diversity and, therefore, allowing communities’ socio-environmental, economic, spiritual and food relationships with water and nature. Due to the above-mentioned crime, Vale S / A became a defendant in several actions proposed by the Public Ministry (federal and state) and the Public Defender’s Office of Minas Gerais. These actions were brought together and, in July 2019, they received a ruling determining full reparation to the families, communities and municipalities affected by the rupture of the dam. It was also determined that the scope and cause of the damages would be determined by judicial expert opinion. However, instead of advancing in full reparation, the justice institutions, the state of Minas Gerais and Vale S / A signed a judicial agreement in February 2021, without the communities having knowledge or any possibility of participation, while clearly suffering the consequences of the agreement. In addition, Vale S / A has supported the occurrence of the statute of limitations, stating that the damages cannot be repaired because three years have already elapsed since the disaster occurred. The community denounces severe water shortages, restricted access to it and insecurity in the use of water, generated by high water pollution. When COPASA and Vale perform analyses, the results are not disclosed. The impact of these events on the right to sovereignty, as well as on food and nutritional security, as well as the impacts on the generation of income from fishing, productive yards and tourism is highlighted.

The fifth case involves the Macaúba peasant community, located in Catalão de Goiás, where 40 families live. They have begun to see, since the 70s, the advance of mining (extractivist and chemical) in the Serra Quebrada, its waters and its territory, basically run by transnational companies that extract niobium and phosphate, raw materials destined exclusively for export. The companies Mosaic Fertilizers and CMOC (China Molybdenum Company) are identified as the main violators of the rights of the community, with public financing from the BNDES-National Bank for Economic and Social Development. Since the installation of the mining companies in the municipality, there has been a chronic process of expropriation of the lands of peasant families, now intensified by the intention of Mosaic and CMOC to expand their exploration areas into the Macaúba community. In addition to the forced eviction of homes, schools were closed, prompting migration to the outskirts of Catalão. The 40 families that resist in Macaúba are victims of judicial processes to carry out their forced eviction, in addition to practices that constitute harassment, such as: individualizing negotiations with peasant families (affecting community management); cooptations and internal conflicts, which lead to the weakening of the social organization; an offer of negligible value that, once not accepted, is deposited in the courts, forcing farmers into a legal battle. With the loss of territory and the means of production, collective identity is seriously threatened, especially since more and more men and women from the countryside have become employees of mining companies in the region. In addition, Mosaic has two phosphate waste dams in the Catalão municipality, very close to the Macaúba community, one of which has 32 million cubic meters of waste (almost three times the capacity of the Brumadinho dam, which collapsed). The planting of eucalyptus along with the extraction of minerals has caused the springs located in the community to dry up, remain underground and are surrounded and contaminated with toxic waste. The corporations are creating a shortage of drinking water for human consumption and for the production of family agriculture, in addition to the destruction of the flora and fauna of the Cerrado. The community assigns responsibility to the state of Goiás, including its Judicial Branch, which issued decisions in favor of new expropriations of families in the Macaúba community, and to the State Secretary for the Environment and Sustainable Development, which issues environmental licenses and renews licenses and concessions contrary to legal norms and without adequate studies.

The sixth case refers to the Geraizeira communities of Vale das Cancelas, which have occupied this territory, located in the Serra da Bocaina in Minas Gerais, for at least seven generations, and which develop their economy based on complex knowledge about the cycles and dynamics of nature. In the higher plateaus, they carry out traditional livestock farming, in addition to hunting and gathering fruits and medicinal plants, and, in the ebb and low areas, they develop family farming. In the tabuleiros (intermediate zones), they build their houses and cultivate small gardens. However, from the end of the 70s, agribusiness dominated and began to destroy the plateaus, mainly through the monoculture of eucalyptus and pine trees. Since 2000, there has been a process of invasion by mining corporations in the traditional territory of Geraizeiro. The deterritorialization of the Geraizeira communities was supported by the judicial apparatus, through murky possession processes and registration of license plates without valid titles, in addition to an avalanche of individual processes against families in order to cover up the characteristics of conflicts and collective rights, weakening their fight. There are also reports of harassment, death threats and coercion by private security guards hired by companies. With the cornering (enclosure) of the Geraizeira communities in the caves – areas around the watercourses -, denying access to the chapadas (plateaus), together with the intensive use of pesticides, the communities have been losing productive autonomy due to the destructuring of their traditional way of life. Environmental crimes are numerous: deforestation, sedimentation of springs and watercourses; soil, air and water pollution; reduction of the diversity and quantity of fish due to the degradation of water quality; disappearance of animal and plant species; appearance of diseases in native fruits. All this could worsen if Block 8, an open-pit mining project, is implemented without any consultation process based on Convention 169 of the ILO, by including the construction of the second-largest pipeline in the world. The communities accuse, in addition to the companies: the federal government, for coordinating the program that expropriated traditional lands; IBAMA, which in 2019 reviewed the decision on the environmental license of the pipeline in a fragmented manner; and the Agência Nacional de Águas, which granted a license to the mining company SAM (responsible for the pipeline) allowing the abusive consumption of water in a region with serious scarcity problems. As for the state of Minas Gerais, there is an omission in the face of violations of the rights of the communities, as well as an active contribution to the implementation of this predatory model. The processes of construction of Consultation Protocols in Minas Gerais are under pressure not to be carried out.

3. General considerations

All the cases that are submitted to consideration have common characteristics which are fully consistent with the competence of the PPT. All the complainants present themselves as “tribal peoples” under the terms of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. After conceptualizing in its article 1, item 1, tribal peoples and peoples “considered indigenous”, the Convention establishes, in its item 2, that “Self-identification as indigenous or tribal shall be regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to which the provisions of this Convention apply”.  Two aspects need to be underlined: both the definition of indigenous peoples and that of tribal peoples are quite open, converging in a single vector: the social, cultural, economic and political organization that distinguishes them, totally or partially, from other sectors of the surrounding society; the central defining element is the consciousness of identity on the part of the group itself.

In Brazil, points I and II of article 3 of Decree 6040, of February 7, 2007, which establishes the National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities, deserve to be transcribed:

“I – Traditional Peoples and Communities: culturally differentiated groups that are recognized as such, that have their own forms of social organization, that occupy and use territories and natural resources as a condition for their cultural, social, religious, ancestral and economic reproduction, using knowledge, innovations and practices generated and transmitted by tradition;

II – Traditional Territories: the spaces necessary for the cultural, social and economic reproduction of traditional peoples and communities, whether for permanent or temporary use, observing, with respect to indigenous peoples and quilombolas, respectively, the provisions of arts. 231 of the Constitution and 68 of the Law of Transitory Constitutional Provisions and other regulations”.

Already in the Preamble of its the Statute based on the Universal Declaration of Peoples’ Rights proclaimed in Algiers on July 4, 1976, the PPT is clearly targeted to be “a tribune of visibility for the affirmation of the rights of peoples exposed to severe and systematic violations by public and private actors, at national and international levels”. As clearly shown in the above preliminary analysis all the cases involve alleged severe violations that have been practiced over a long period of time, by private, including transnational agents, supported by public actors, without the Brazilian Judicial Power having produced preventing protective or comprehensive reparation regimes. The denounced conducts, which will be duly investigated by means of a contradictory procedure, are initially framed in articles 5 (ecological crimes, in particular ecocide provided for in article 5.1) and 6 (economic crimes) of the TPP Statute, both of which can be attributed to the State (art. 9) and companies (art. 10). Article 7 of the PPT Statutes regarding “system crimes” may also apply.

The complaints presented in the indictment must be admitted and processed regularly.


The panel of judges of this thematic session wishes to thank and recognize as a fundamental element of the documentary force the cultural and sacred expressions that allowed us to understand more deeply why the water and land of the Cerrado constitute common goods not only for Brazil, but also for humans and non-humans on the planet, who find in the future of the Cerrado their own guarantee of survival.


Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian Spanish