Samarco Mine Disaster – UN Experts Welcome Settlement Suspension and Call for a Timely & Equitable Resolution

The following text, in English and in Portuguese is as issued by the UN Special Procedures, Human Rights. They have been actively engaged and independently investigating and monitoring on the ground in Brazil since immediately after the disaster in November 2015. The press release speaks to the recent action overturning the court ratification of the settlement agreement which left all control of settlement with the miner although retaining a government oversight committee with no clear mandates or funding for exercise of the broad mandate given. Bowker Associates has posted favorably on other aspects of the agreement as a spring board for pre planning recovery and settlement in the event of disaster but has called from the beginning for an independent claims management litigation support entity to do outreach, formulate and present claims and track them to conclusion. Bowker Associates has also called for an independent team of architects and planners to work with the displaced of Bento on the master plan for the new Bento and its resettlement.

Contact: Lindsay Newland Bowker, Managing Director Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest

207 367 5145

 GENEVA (5 July 2016) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today commended the decision of the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice to suspend the settlement reached between the Government of Brazil and Samarco Mining S.A., and its parent companies Vale S.A. and BHP Billiton Brazil Ltda in response to what has been described as the worst socio-environmental disaster in the country’s history. 

 “The agreed settlement ignored the victims’ human rights, and its suspension on 1 July is a perfect opportunity to perform a thorough human rights-based review of the remedies and compensations due to the victims with transparency and public participation” the experts said. “We urge the Brazilian Government to seize it in order to address timely and adequately persisting human rights concerns.”

 In November 2015, the collapse of a tailing dam in Mariana in the state of Minas Gerais released about 50 million tonnes of iron ore waste, exacerbating the levels of several toxic substances, over approximately 700km of several rivers including the vital River Doce. Nineteen people were killed as a direct result of the collapse.

 The lives of 6 million people were severely affected, as many homes and villages were buried or destroyed, and, essential sources of water were contaminated. Sources of food and water for indigenous peoples and local communities were greatly compromised. > > “The Executive powers and companies appeared to have, in their haste, ignored the rights of the victims to information, participation and an effective remedy, and to provide assurance of accountability. For the victims, this adds insult to injury,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak. “They appeared willing to forgo the rights of all victims in an effort to sweep this disaster under the rug.”

 The UN experts noted that Brazil’s public prosecutor estimated the cost of damages at  25 times greater than the amount guaranteed in the initial settlement, and cautioned that the settlement agreement was negotiated at record speed comparing with other environmental disasters of this magnitude, during a tumultuous period for the Government of Brazil, which is mired in a political crisis and allegations of mass corruption.

 “The eventual costs of providing full reparation and compensation to all victims will be colossal, and might be the greatest for water and sanitation,” warned the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller. 


 The suspended settlement provided for the establishment of a private foundation to undertake several reparatory and compensatory programmes over the next 15 years. In that regard, the UN experts raised alarm about “the abysmal lack of transparency and participation of victims in the negotiation process of the settlement agreement,” and noted that the agreement was not made available to the general public.

 They also expressed serious concerns regarding the governance bodies to be established by the agreement, which would leave little or no room for effective participation of public authorities and the affected communities in the design and execution of the environmental, social and economic programmes. 

 If settled, the mining company would have the power to decide on the indemnities to be given to the affected populations without any possibility of such decisions being subjected to questioning or appeal. Moreover, the agreement did not project sufficient mechanisms to ensure the participation of all affected communities in the implementation of the foundation.  > > “Seizing the opportunity of the suspension, the agreement’s terms must provide adequate safeguards to make sure there will be sufficient funds for all projects. The allocation of funds must be reviewed and decided in accordance with democratic principles and must be applied observing human rights principles,” they stressed. > > The experts’ call has also been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and the current Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Pavel Sulyandziga.


 Léo Heller, Baskut Tuncak, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Pavel Sulyandziga are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:  > > Water and sanitation:  > Hazardous wastes:  > Indigenous peoples:  > Business and human rights:  > > UN Human Rights, country page – Brazil:  > > For enquiries and media requests, please contact Melinda Ching Simon (+41 22 917 9113 / or Patricia Varela (+41 22 928 9234 / or write to  > > For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:  > Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 /   > > For your news websites and social media: Multimedia content & key messages relating to our news releases are available on UN Human Rights social media channels, listed below. Please tag us using the proper handles: > Twitter: @UNHumanRights > Facebook: unitednationshumanrights > Instagram: unitednationshumanrights  > Google+: unitednationshumanrights > Youtube: unohchr  > _________________________________  > > NOTA À IMPRENSA  > > Desastre mineiro no Brasil: Especialistas da ONU saúdam suspensão de acordo e pedem uma resolução oportuna > > > GENEBRA (5 de julho de 2016) – Um grupo de especialistas em direitos humanos das Nações Unidas elogiou hoje a decisão do Supremo Tribunal Federal brasileiro de suspender o acordo alcançado entre o governo do Brasil e a Samarco Mineração S.A., junto com suas empresas controladoras Vale S.A. e BHP Billition Brasil Ltda., em resposta ao que tem sido descrito como o maior desastre socioambiental na história do país.  > > “O acordo ignorava os direitos humanos das vítimas, e sua suspensão em 1° de julho é uma oportunidade perfeita para realizar uma completa revisão baseada em direitos humanos das devidas reparações e compensações para as vítimas, com transparência e participação pública”, afirmaram os especialistas. “Pedimos que o governo a aproveite, a fim de abordar de forma oportuna e adequada as persistentes preocupações de direitos humanos”.  > > Em novembro de 2015, o rompimento de uma barragem em Mariana, no estado de Minas Gerais, liberou cerca de 50 milhões de toneladas de rejeito de minério de ferro, supostamente aumentando os níveis de múltiplas substâncias tóxicas em um curso de aproximadamente 700 km de vários rios, incluindo o vital rio Doce. Dezenove pessoas morreram diretamente por causa do colapso. > > As vidas de seis milhões de pessoas foram severamente afetadas, enquanto muitas casas e aldeias foram enterradas ou destruídas, e fontes essencias de água foram contaminadas. Fontes de alimento e água para povos indígenas e comunidades locais ficaram seriamente comprometidas.  > > “Os poderes executivos e as empresas parecem ter, com sua pressa, ignorado os direitos das vítimas à informação, participação e a uma reparação efetiva, bem como a entregar garantias de prestação de contas. Para as vítimas, isso agrava ainda mais a situação”, disse o Relator Especial da ONU sobre direitos humanos e substâncias e resíduos perigosos, Baskut Tuncak. “Eles pareciam dispostos a dispensar os direitos das vítimas em um esforço por varrer esse desastre debaixo do tapete”.  > > Os peritos da ONU observaram que o Ministério Público do Brasil estimou que os custos dos danos são 25 vezes maiores que a quantia considerada no acordo inicial, e alertaram que o acordo foi negociado a velocidade recorde em comparação com outros desastres desta magnitude, durante um tumultuado período para o governo do Brasil, atolado em uma crise política e alegações de corrupção em massa.  > > “Os eventuais custos de fornecer total reparação e compensação para todas as vítimas será colossal, e podem ser os maiores em termos de água e saneamento”, alertou o Relator Especial da ONU sobre o direito humano à água potável e saneamento, Léo Heller.  >    > O acordo  > > O acordo suspenso previa o estabelecimento de uma fundação privada para executar vários programas de reparação e compensação nos próximos 15 anos. Nesse sentido, os especialistas da ONU expressaram preocupação sobre a “deplorável falta de transparência e de participação das vítimas no processo de negociação do acordo”, e notaram que o acordo não foi disponibilizado para o público geral.  > > Eles expressaram também grave preocupação com os órgãos de governança a serem estabelecidos pelo acordo, que deixariam pouca ou nenhuma margem para a efetiva participação das autoridades públicas e das comunidades afetadas no planejamento e execução dos programas ambientais, sociais e econômicos. > > Se for estabelecido, a empresa mineira teria o poder de decidir sobre as indenizações a serem entregues para as populações afetadas sem possibilidade nenhuma de que essas decisões fossem questionadas ou recorridas. Além disso, o acordo não projetava mecanismos suficientes para garantir a participação de todas as comunidades afetadas na implementação da fundação.  > > “Aproveitando a oportunidade da suspensão, os termos do acordo devem fornecer salvaguardas adequadas para garantir que existirão recursos suficientes para todos os projetos. A alocação desses recursos deve ser revisada e decidida conforme princípios democráticos e deve ser aplicada observando os princípios de direitos humanos”, enfatizaram. > > O apelo dos peritos também foi respaldado pela Relatora Especial da ONU sobre os direitos dos povos indígenas, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, e o atual Presidente do Grupo de Trabalho da ONU sobre empresas e direitos humanos, Pavel Sulyandziga.  > > FIM  > > Léo Heller, Baskut Tuncak e Victoria Tauli-Corpuz e Pavel Sulyandziga fazem parte do que se conhece como os Procedimentos Especiais do Conselho de Direitos Humanos. Procedimentos Especiais, o maior órgão de especialistas independentes no sistema de direitos humanos das Nações Unidas, é o nome atribuído aos mecanismos de investigação e monitoramento independentes do Conselho, que trabalham sobre situações específicas de cada país ou questões temáticas em todas as partes do mundo. Os especialistas dos Procedimentos Especiais trabalham a título voluntário; eles não são funcionários da ONU e não recebem um salário pelo seu trabalho. São independentes de qualquer governo ou organização e prestam serviços em caráter individual. Saiba mais (em inglês):  > > Água e saneamento:    > Resíduos perigosos:  > Povos indígenas:  > Empresas e direitos humanos:      > > ONU Direitos Humanos, página de país – Brasil:  > > Para mais informações ou pedidos de imprensa, entre em contato com Melinda Ching Simon (+41 22 917 9113 / ou Patricia Varela (+41 22 928 9234 / ou escreva para  >    > Para consultas de mídia relacionadas com outros especialistas independendentes da ONU: > Xabier Celaya, ONU Direitos Humanos – Unidade de Mídia (+ 41 22 917 9383 /   > > Para usar nos seus sites de notícias e redes sociais: conteúdo multimídia e mensagens-chave sobre os nossos comunicados de imprensa estão disponíveis nas plataformas de redes sociais da ONU Direitos Humanos, listados abaixo. Por favor, use os marcadores adequados.  > Twitter: @UNHumanRights > Facebook: unitednationshumanrights > Instagram: unitednationshumanrights  > Google+: unitednationshumanrights > Youtube: unohchr

The following statement summarizing their visit and investigation of the Samarco failure immediately after it occurred  puts the above concern in context  We had added emphasis to what those statements which  align most closely with our own analysis of how public liability and non remediable loss form and evolve.

With regard to awareness about business and human rights issues, our general impression is that mainstream business enterprises, both private and State-owned, and business associations remain largely unaware of the United Nations Guiding Principles. Companies report that they have received little guidance from the Government about the actions they are expected to take in line with the Guiding Principles.

Certain CEOs may know about the requirements placed on business by the Guiding Principles but this is often not translated into middle management activities. Our expectation is that the human rights dimension should be integrated not only at the policy level but also at the sites/operations level, including in a company’s value chains.

In relation to the companies that are aware of the Guiding Principles, the Working Group observed that they primarily understand human rights risks as being about risks to the company, rather than the risks faced by vulnerable rights holders. If companies focus on the question of human rights risks to a specific project, rather than using a holistic approach, then there is a risk that human rights concerns will be traded off and side-lined, to the detriment of affected communities.

Brazil has a number of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) that have a particular responsibility to protect against adverse human rights impacts. Also, the State’s own human rights obligations come into play when SOEs take decisions that impact human rights. Earlier this year, the Government organised an event in which Brazilian SOEs committed to uphold the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises which explicitly promote the Guiding Principles. Furthermore, CNI (the National Confederation of Industry in Brazil) is a signatory to the Bahrain Declaration made during the 2015 first Annual Global Employers’ Summit in Bahrain which calls for the implementation of the Guiding Principles. We are not yet seeing the above commitments being reflected sufficiently in the day to day practice of SOEs, or companies in which the State holds a significant share-holding, or other economic entities under the control of the State, such as development banks, and in the business relationships that flow from these entities.

There appears to be little instruction coming from the Government, both at the Federal and State level, in relation to the human rights impact of companies and SOEs in particular. It seems that the Government grants a licence for a large infrastructure project and then provides little oversight or regulation of the project. The lack of State presence is problematic. While companies can be privatised, States cannot outsource their duty to protect human rights. States never lose the obligations they hold and human rights impacts must be properly overseen by the State on an on-going basis. The State can have a small presence in the operation of economic activities but it has to have a strong presence in overseeing and enforcing human rights.

childs drawing before and after failure

About lindsaynewlandbowker

Bowker Associates, Science & Research In The Public Interest, is an independent non profit providing self initiated pro bono analysis on key issues with a potential for massive adverse environmental impact . Bowker Associates has been an internationally recognized and cited voice in analysis of the Samarco failure, its consequence, and the possibilties for recovery. In 2017 we partnered with Daveid M. Chambers, a world leader in responsible mining, in our third joint work on the economics of tailings failures. Bowker, L.N.; Chambers, D.M. In the Dark Shadow of the Supercycle Tailings Failure Risk & Public Liability Reach All Time Highs. Environments 2017, 4, 75. A peer reviewed journal published investigation of the cowboy economics of the supercycle and the resulting escalation on the number and magnitude of catastrophic failures. In 2016 we parnered with Dave Chambers in our 2nd joint work together looking at root causes of failures at a conference . Bowker, L.N.; Chambers, D.M. Root Causes of Tailings Management Failures: The Severity of Consequence of Failures Attributed to Overtopping 1915–2015. In Proceedings of the Protections 2016, Fort Collins, CO, USA, 14 June 2016. [Google Scholar] In 2015 Bowker Associates collaborated with geophysicist David M. Chambers to recompile global authoritative accounts of significant TSF failures in recorded history and to analyze these data in the context of global mining economics 1910-2010 ( Risk, Economics and Public Liability of TSF Failures, Bowker/Chambers July 2015) The third annual update of this globally referenced and used compilation was just released at Researchgate. ( In 2014 Bowker Associates commissioned globally respected geophysicist and hydrogeologist Dr. David Chambers to undertake two technical works: (1) development of technical go no go criteria for vetting mine applications tp:// and (2) a case study of Maine's Bald Mountain, an un mined low grade high risk VMS deposit demonstrating the efficacy and accuracy of two risk assessment tools in vetting mine proposals In Maine, Bowker Associates has deeply engaged and been a public voice in the Searsport DCP LPG Tank, The Cianbro proposal for a Private East West Toll Road, JD Irvings rolling pipeline of Bakken crude to its plant in St. John and review of Phase II plans at The Callahan Superfund site in Brooksville, Maine, and Maine's revisitation of mining in statute and regulation... Our only “client”: is always “the pubic interest”. Our model is to focus on only one or two issues at a time so that we have a substantive command of the relevant field as our foundation for ongoing engagement. Our core work is in envirommental risk management, science and technology as well as bringing any available “best practices” models to the fore. The legal and regulatory history/best models are also a major thrust of our work in building and evaluating public policy. Director/Principal Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM is a recognized expert in Environmental Risk Management., Heavy Construction Risk Management and Marine and Transit Risks and has more than 3 decades of engagement in buiding public policy. Appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to New York State Banking Board (served 1986-1996); President New York Chapter Chartered Property and Casualty Insurers; Environmental Committee, Risk and Insurance Management Society; Director, Convenor/Co-Chair Bermuda Market Briefing "From Captive to Cats" Hamilton Bermuda. Published Articles of Significance The Risk Economics and Public Liability of Tailings Facility Failures, co-authored with David M. Chambers, July 2015 Beyond. Polarization: Superfund Reform in Perspective, Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control (Jan. 24, 1997). Lead Hazards and Abatement Technologies in Construction: A Risk Management Approach CPCU Journal 1997 Employee Leasing: Liability in Limbo Risk Management June 1 1997 Environmental Audit Privilege and the Public interest Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control, April 1997 Asbestos:Holes In Abatement Policies Need To Be Plugged, Lloyd’s Environmental Risk International, May 1993 Editor Published Letters Evironmental Risk Management Beware of Facile Policies Like Fetal Protection Business Insurance 1995(?) High Court Review May Increase Sale of Bank Annuities Business Insurances August 8, 1995 Professional Profiles Protecting the Big Apple’s Core Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Control December 1996 Major Career Highlights First rigorous analysis showing Relationship Between declining ore grades and TSF Failures of increasing consequence ( July 2015) FIrst Documentation that Gentrification Has Same Impacts as Unassisted Displacement from Urban Renewal Sites Direted Court Ordered EIS of FHA Mortgage Scandal Created Nation's First Homeownership Program for Low Income People (SHIP) Created Earliest Geographic Information Systems Using Defense Technology Developed By IBM Designed and Conducted Parallel Census Count to Show Systematic undercount in minority neighborhoods Documented Bias in ISO Territory Rating Plans for Private Passenger Auto Insurance Using ISO's own Rating Techniques Demonstrated Inherent Bias in Mortgage Policies of Banks With Inner City Branches Demonstrated that NY Telephones Plan for Area Code Split To accommodate anticipated cell phone demand was not efficient and would exhaust in 5 years ( which it did) Undertook First Systematic Evaluation of Child Protective Services Caseload Using Multi Variate Analyic Techniques Developed Child Protective Caseload Management and Tracking System (CANTS) and directed implementation in 4 client states including Illinois, Florida and New York Created and Ran Office of Risk Management for NYC DEP the Nations largest Water & Sewer Authority . Designed, Created and Administered Nation's First Owner Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP)for High Risk Tunneling Education Masters NYU Graduate School of Public Administration BSC New School For Social Research Maine Public Schools Deering High School
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