The Canadian mining company Belo Sun is attempting to build the Volta Grande gold mine which, if built, would be the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil. Instead of responding to legitimate concerns about the environmental and human rights impacts of the project, the company has filed a criminal lawsuit against local community members and activists who are speaking out. 

OTTAWA, ON, February 16, 2024 – Today, over a hundred Canadian and international organizations published an open letter in support of human rights and environment defenders who are being criminalized for speaking out against a proposed Canadian gold mine in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. 

Belo Sun Mineração, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Toronto-headquartered Belo Sun Mining Corp, has its sights set on building the Volta Grande gold mine along the Xingu River in the state of Pará in northern Brazil. The project is currently stalled, with issues around environmental permitting and ongoing conflict with local Xingu communities who say that mining would irreversibly harm water and biodiversity in the ecologically sensitive Amazon and that the company has failed to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent. 

On October 17, 2023, Belo Sun Mineração filed a criminal lawsuit against more than 30 small-scale farmers, community leaders, environmental defenders, researchers, and representatives of Brazilian and international organizations following a series of protests against the mine and its irregular acquisition of public land demarcated for agrarian reform. 

MiningWatch Canada joins 19 other Canadian organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), and an additional 80 Brazilian and global organizations in expressing support for the criminalized defenders amidst efforts to silence their work. 

“We’ve seen Canadian mining companies use legal strategies like this in an attempt to silence the messenger,” says Viviana Herrera, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “Communities have the right to speak up to protect their lands from the harmful impacts of mining without fear of reprisal. And people have been clear: no social license exists for this project. Belo Sun must respect that.” 

“The complaint filed by Belo Sun represents an extreme intimidation tactic,” says Flavio Montiel, International Rivers’ Brazil Manager. “We all need to denounce this kind of cowardly action so that environmental defenders can continue to lead the world in protecting the Amazon. Life depends on the Amazon.” 

“It’s time for the Canadian government, particularly Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, to take a stand and publicly denounce Belo Sun for its peril to the Amazon and its inhabitants,” says Gabriela Sarmet, the Brazil Campaigns Advisor for Amazon Watch. “We must halt all mining ventures in the Amazon, as they pose grave and irreversible threats to global climate stability and the future of humanity.”

Staff from both International Rivers and Amazon Watch are among those named in the lawsuit, in addition to local community members and leaders in the Movimento Xingu Vivo. 

Canada’s role

Given Belo Sun’s status as a Canadian company, many are turning to Canada to reign in corporate abuse. Canada’s own “Voices at Risk: Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders” recognizes the critical role played by human rights and environmental defenders – often at significant risk to themselves, their families, their communities, and to the organizations and movements they represent. Canadian embassies, however, continue to provide diplomatic support to Canadian mining companies across the globe accused of committing human rights abuses. 

“Canada should issue a public statement denouncing Belo Sun’s use of the legal system to intimidate and attempt to criminalize Brazilian and international organizations,” continues Viviana Herrera from MiningWatch Canada. “The Embassy should advocate with the State Court of Pará to dismiss the lawsuit, and should ensure Belo Sun respects the wishes of those most impacted by the proposed mine.” 

Media Contacts: 

  • Viviana Herrera, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada | (English, French, Spanish) 
  • Flavio Montiel, International Rivers’ Brazil Manager | (English, Portuguese)
  • Gabriela Sarmet, Amazon Watch Brazil Campaigns Advisor  (English, Portuguese)
  • Verena Glass, Communications Coordinator, Movimento Xingu Vivo  | (English, Portuguese)


From the open letter: This is not the first time that Belo Sun Mineração Ltda has intimidated civil society organizations and human rights defenders. In 2022, the company filed a lawsuit against a university professor who had exposed the risks that the Volta Grande Project would pose to the Xingu River and its people. In mid-2023, Belo Sun sent an extrajudicial notice to the National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib), attempting to silence the organization’s complaints about the risks posed by the mining project in the Volta Grande do Xingu. This notice came shortly after the release of a report on Belo Sun by the legal team of the Apib and an international advocacy action at the UN in Geneva carried out by the Alliance for the Volta Grande do Xingu, a coalition of which Apib is a part. The action aimed to expose corporate abuses by Canadian companies in the Brazilian Amazon and in eight other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Belo Sun aims to establish a massive open pit gold mining project overlapping the PA Ressaca region, on the banks of the Xingu River, with the goal of operating the largest gold mine in Brazil. The so-called Volta Grande Project (PVG), if approved, would substantially and potentially irreversibly impact a territory already severely affected by the Belo Monte mega-dam, as well as affecting the lands and traditional ways of life of various Indigenous peoples, rural settlements, and riverside communities in this region.

Several lawsuits have been filed documenting the irregularities committed by Belo Sun, including the absence of free, prior, and informed consultations and consent from the affected Indigenous and traditional communities; the illegal acquisition of plots within the PA Ressaca; the harassment and violation of the right to free movement and access to the territory of local communities; and the lack of competence of the State of Pará to issue the environmental license for the PVG. Its license has been suspended since 2017 by the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region. On September 11, 2023, the issue was transferred to the jurisdiction of Ibama, a federal agency.