Local expertise in development can protect human and environmental rights

by Alexandre Andrade Sampaio, Policy and Programs Coordinator, IAP

Alexandre Andrade Sampaio (left) with Carla Garcia Zendejas (Center for International Environmental Law)

I always believed that one had to try very hard to grow up in Brazil and be idle while human rights violations happen throughout the territory on a daily basis.

While episodes such as the massacre of more than 100 prisoners by police forces in Carandiru and the assassination of environmental and social activists Dorothy Stang and Chico Mendes might seem too detached from the reality of the daily lives of a portion of the population in Brazil, other events can clearly be perceived as detrimental to the population as a whole by anyone.

The constant killing of human rights defenders reporting on government and corporate corruption and the undermining of the country’s much celebrated diversity via the physical and cultural elimination of its traditional peoples, are but a few examples that occur, day in, day out in Brazil.

As a university student I got acquainted to national, regional and international human rights mechanisms that could be used as a path for addressing the causes and consequences of such violations.

This knowledge, coupled with my interest in inspirational struggles as that of Sérgio V. de Mello and others, instilled in me a sense of responsibility and enthusiasm to devote my professional life to the human rights cause.

After working and learning with organizations that I feel very proud to have served, such as the UN OHCHR, Article 19 and the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), I was offered a position with IAP, which I feel is ideal for a person like me who is interested in working with a wide mandate focused on human and environmental rights in the context of development.

After working closely with communities directly affected by so-called development projects, such as the Belo Monte Dam and the Tapajós Complex, it became clear to me that had they been involved in a meaningful and culturally adequate consultation prior to the start of any enterprise, a lot of grief and suffering could have been averted. Ideally such dialogue would have been the channel for aligning local communities’ development ideas and interests with those directed at a larger population.

In the absence of this kind of consultation, projects like those that trample upon local communities rights cannot merit the title of development.

I hope my experience working in this area in AIDA, Article 19 and with the indigenous and minorities mandates at the UN will be of importance to other communities facing harm by so-called development projects.

Alexandre Andrade Sampaio is the Policy and Programs Coordinator at International Accountability Project. Alex was a Programme Coordinator at Article 19, South America and a human rights attorney at the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). Alex has contributed to the work of the Special Procedures Branch of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Center for Justice and International Law. He is a Brazilian lawyer and holds an LL.M. (first class honors) in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland — Galway and an MSc (Chevening Scholar) in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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