Brazil: threats, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders in the context of the Volta Grande gold mining project (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Governments of Brazil, Canada and the United States of America, as well as companies Belo Sun Mining Ltd, Sun Valley Gold LLC and RBC Global Asset Management on 12 March 2024.

The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Governments and other actors time to reply. The Government of Brazil replied on 13 May 2024. The Government of Canada replied on 17 May 2024. RBC Global Asset Management replied on 3 April 2024. Regrettably, no other reply was received within this time frame. If more replies are received they will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

Since the communication was sent, the Special Rapporteur undertook an official country visit to Brazil at the invitation of the Government. During the visit, she travelled to the state of Pará and met human rights defenders there. Defenders repeatedly expressed concerns at the manner in which business is being carried out in the state, in particular in the extractive industries, citing failures to respect the human rights of directly and indirectly affected communities, as well as the environment and biodiversity. The Special Rapporteur will be examining the issue further as she prepares her final report on the situation of human rights defenders in the country, which she will present at the Human Rights Council in spring 2025. As part of this process, she will continue to monitor the situation for defenders raising concerns about Belo Sun’s Volte Grande project.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication to Brazil Read the response from Brazil Read the full communication to Canada Read the full communication to the USA Read the full communication to Belo Sun Mining
Read the full communication to Sun Valley Gold Read the full communication to RBC Global Asset Management Read the response from RBC Global Asset Management Read the response from Canada


Topic: alleged threats and intimidation of human rights defenders, including Indigenous Peoples and peasants, raising concerns about the potential negative impact of the proposed Volta Grande gold mining project.

Belo Sun Mining Ltd is a mining company incorporated in Ontario, Canada, with its head office in Toronto. It is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The company is led by Mr. Peter Tagliamonte, President, CEO and Director. Among its major shareholders are the investment funds Sun Valley Gold LLC (domiciled in the United States of America) and RBC Global Asset Management Inc (domiciled in Canada).

The Alliance for the Volta Grande do Xingu is a network of local movements and national and international human rights organizations that collaborate to defend the Amazon region of the Volta Grande do Xingu as a living and healthy socio-environmental region. The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) is a member of the alliance.


Since 2012, Belo Sun Mining has been developing the Volta Grande gold project. The project, located on the Xingu River in Pará State, Brazil, consists of mining concessions and exploration permits covering 175,560 hectares across several municipalities, and includes a planned open-pit gold mine, targeting a gold reserve which the company estimates at 3.8 million ounces. The area identified for the mine is the ancestral home of several Indigenous Peoples, including demarcated and undemarcated territory, and Ribeirinhos: riverine communities whose lives and the fulfilment of their rights are intertwined with the Xingu River and its health, including as their main source of food. Many of these communities have already seen their human rights severely affected by the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Project, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams, which stands approximately 20 kilometres from the proposed site of the Volta Grande mine. The land sought for the mining project also overlaps with areas designated for agrarian reform in the country, including the Ressace Settlement Project.

While a license for the development of the Volta Grande project was issued by the State Secretariat for the Environment and Sustainability in Pará (SEMAS) in 2017, this license has been suspended since a court ruling in the same year. The project has been the subject of at least 9 legal complaints since 2013, including by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF), the Public Defender’s Office of Pará and the Federal Public Defender’s Office, and the State Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPE). The complainants have challenged the company and State of Pará on issues including the adequacy of the company’s studies on the impact of the proposed project on affected Indigenous Peoples, the legitimacy of the licensing process, the level of consultation with Ribeirinho communities for the company’s environmental impact study and possible violations of land rights of local Indigenous Peoples. Despite these complaints and long-standing concerns about the potential impact of the mine, in 2021 the Volta Grande project was selected by the Ministry of Mines and Energy as a priority project under the 2021 Pro-Strategic Minerals Policy (Law 10.657/2021).

In this context, human rights defenders, including Indigenous Peoples and peasants, who have been voicing their concerns about the proposed mine and its potential impact on human rights and the environment have been facing intimidation and threats.

Incidents in this regard are long-standing. In November 2017, during a meeting to discuss the risks of Belo Sun’s mining project at the Federal University of Pará, the mayor of Senador José Porfírio, one of the municipalities directly affected by the proposed project, and approximately 40 other people interrupted the event and threatened the participants, including researchers and human rights defenders. A similar incident occurred later in the same month, on 23 November 2017, when human rights defenders including Indigenous Peoples participated in a public meeting on the mine held in the Senador José Porfírio municipality.

More recently, local human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, have received serious threats, with at least one human rights defender forced to leave the area for his own safety after receiving threats in May 2020. These threats have reportedly been perpetrated by local supporters of the mine, as well as by Invictus, a private security firm engaged by Belo Sun in the context of the project. Invictus employees have reportedly also intimidated Indigenous Peoples and peasants living in the area of the proposed project through armed patrols and filming them with cameras and drones without their consent. Human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples and peasants, have also been subjected to physical violence aimed at forcing them from their homes, in the context of increased land prices driven by Belo Sun’s project.

In early June 2022, in response to the announcement of a contract between Belo Sun and the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) granting the company access to public land ear-marked for agrarian reform in the proposed area of the mine, approximately 100 landless peasants from the area, together with Indigenous Peoples, formed a protest encampment in land included in the agreement. During the 10-day encampment, which the protestors used to call for the authorities to render the pact null and uphold the planned agrarian reform, those participating were reportedly threatened by local supporters of the mine and the security company Invictus.

In recent months, human rights defenders have also been targeted through an allegedly spurious legal procedure. On 17 October 2023, Belo Sun filed a criminal complaint against 40 individuals who had expressed opposition to the mining project, including 33 peasants involved in the above-mentioned land protest and 6 civil society representatives, including members of the Alliance for the Volta Grande Do Xingu.1 In its complaint, the company accuses the peasants involved in land-occupations in areas ear-marked for the company for the Volta Grande project of criminality, and the civil society representatives of being accomplices. The complaint followed a report published by the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), a member of the Alliance for the Volta Grande do Xingu, in May 2023, in which the group alleged violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples by Belo Sun. The case is currently ongoing.


In the communication, we express our serious concern at the alleged threats, intimidation and legal and physical harassment of human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples and peasants in the context of the development of the Volta Grande gold project by the company Belo Sun. We stress that there can be no sustainable development without respect for human rights and the environment, including the rights of human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples and peasants. In addition, we would like to stress that the Constitution of Brazil protects the human right to a healthy environment, article 225 providing that “all have the right to an ecologically balanced environment.”


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