The Brazilian government has received a request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the Organisation of American States, to halt work on its huge Bel Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforest, but via a Foreign Ministry respnse is resisting the request, stating that it is unjustified and premature despite environmental concerns. The 11 000 MW dam would be the third biggest in the world – after the Three Gorges in China and Itaipu. It has long been a source of controversy, with bidding halted three times before the state-owned Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco was awarded the contract last year.

The IACHR, which is acting in response to a complaint filed last year by indigenous communities, is attempting to defend the human rights of indigenous groups and environmentalists, and said that construction of the Belo Monte dam should be suspended until the concerns of indigenous people in the area were addressed. There are fears the dam would displace some 20 000 people and damage wildlife as 500 sq km of land would be flooded. famous figures such as Sting and film director James Cameron have joined environmentalists in their campaign against the project.

Brazil’s foreign ministry said that Brazil had acted in an “effective and diligent” manner to respond to demands by environmentalists and indigenous communities living in the northern Para state, where the US$17 billion dam would be built. The ministry added that the federal authorities had carried out all the necessary impact reports on the area and that the dam is crucial for development and will create jobs, as well as provide electricity to 23 million homes.