Brazil: justice for the disappearance of Ms. Nilce de Souza Magalhães, human rights activist

São Paulo, 24 January, 2016


Sérgio Condeli, Police Department in the State of Rondonia

Francisco Borges Neto, Special Delegate for Repression of Crimes Against Life

Elias Chaquian Filho, Promotor of Justice

RE: Investigation into the disappearance of Ms. Nilce de Souza Magalhães 

We, the undersigned, wish to express our great concern regarding the disappearance of Ms. Nilce de Souza Magalhães. This incident has grave repercussions for the struggle for people affected by dams in Brazil and internationally, and their representative organization, the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragem (MAB).  We are saddened to observe that in the great democracy of Brazil, social leaders continue to be exterminated in an effort to quell conflicts.

We understand that the problems facing the region of Porto Velho and surrounding areas derive principally from the construction of dams, as reported by numerous civil society organizations.[1] Perhaps the most alarming incidents have taken place in 2014.

Nilce de Souza, known as “Nicinha,” is recognized amongst dam-affected people as a leader in human rights defense, particularly, via her work denouncing the violation of human rights by the consortium responsible for the hydroelectric project, “Jirau, Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR).” She was living in the region of “Velha Mutum” where she struggled to secure a means of subsistence for her family following breaches of the full reservoir in 2014. She disappeared, without any explanation, on January 7.

Nicinha participated in several public hearings and protests against the violation of human rights, where she highlighted the serious effects of the dam on fishing activity in the Madeira River as well as the lack of required compensation offered to fishers and their families to mitigate the socio-economic impacts they have experienced. These complaints prompted two public civic inquiries which are being carried out by federal prosecutors and the District Attorney, focusing on the failure to adhere to the Program for Support of Fishing Activity and on the reported manipulation of facts in monitoring reports related to fishing activity which allegedly sought to obscure the dam’s damaging impacts.

Nicinha also denounced the existence of diverse areas of forest that were flooded by the dam’s reservoir, where diverse species of native trees had died, including species important to people whose livelihood depends on gathering forest products, such as chestnuts. In addition, she raised concern about the contamination of the area’s waters and the generation of greenhouse gases by the project.

In her capacity as a human rights defender and social leader of the region, Nicinha fought for the rights of the families affected by flooding in the municipality of Abunã. She was effective in her work; following a roundtable negotiation with the federal government in December of 2015 in which Nilce de Souza participated, the government initiated a commission to visit the region and support the formalization of denunciations against the company for rights violations.  Nicinha’s disappearance is a severe loss for us all.

We wish to affirm that the criminalization of social movements is a stain on the history of the Brazilian democratic process, and that attacks against the legitimacy – and lives - of many social leaders is deeply unfortunate.

It is for this reason that we are closely accompanying the official response to this case in hopes that there will be a thorough, impartial and independent investigation, coordinated in the most ethical and transparent manner possible so that all of the facts relevant to this case will be clarified.

Finally, we call upon the Brazilian Police and Prosecutor's Office to take into consideration all relevant facts and undertake any steps necessary in order to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and that this tragic event meets with an effective response.

[1] These include Plataforma Dhesca Brasil with their report of 2011, the National Commission of Affected People (Comissão Nacional de Atingidos) together with the former Human Rights Council of Brazil (Conselho de Defesa e Promoção da Pessoa Humana - CDDPH), Unir, UFRJ and international organizations such as CEDHIP.