On 21 June 2016, human rights defender Ms Nilce de Souza Magalhães’ body was found by the dam of Usina Hidrelétrica (UHE) in Jirau, Porto Velho having been declared missing since 7 January 2016. On 15 January 2016, Edione Pessoa da Silva was arrested and detained having confessed to her murder but escaped from prison shortly thereafter.
Nilce “Nicinha” de Souza Magalhães was one of the leaders of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens – MAB), a social movement founded in the 1970s that advocated for the rights of people affected by the construction of dams. Nilce de Souza Magalhães was active in denouncing human rights violations perpetrated by the consortium Sustainable Energy of Brazil (Energia Sustentável do Brasil – ESBR) in the construction of the Usina Hidrelétrica (UHE) in Jirau, Porto Velho.
On 21 June 2016, the body of Nilce de Souza Magalhães was found washed up on the side of the UHE dam by the project’s workers. Both her hands and feet were tied with rope and attached to heavy rocks keeping her body submerged under water for several months.
On 15 January 2016, Edione Pessoa da Silva confessed to her murder after police were tipped off by an anonymous call. Two months into his detention however, Edione Pessoa da Silva escaped from the “Edvan Mariano Rosendo” state penitentiary. Edione Pessoa da Silva alleged that his motive for ”Nicinha’s” unfortunate death was to silence her after she had earlier denounced him as a thief. However, several MAB activists have called for a full investigation as it is their belief the murder of the human rights defender was connected to her activism.
The UHE project forcefully moved Nilce and her community to a site with no electricity or drinking water, effectively compromising their livelihood as fisher folk. The human rights defender was vocal about the grave impacts of the UHE project on fisher folk in the Madeira river. In addition to participating in demonstrations and testifying at public hearings, Nilce submitted several complaints that initiated civil and criminal proceedings against UHE.
Two ongoing civil inquiries are being conducted by the State and Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office into the consortium’s failure to adhere to the Program for Support of Fishing Activity. Such a process required the company to compensate fisher folk who were displaced as a direct consequence of the construction of the dam, and a criminal inquiry is looking into ESBR’s manipulation of monitoring data in order to obscure the damaging impact of the dam on the livelihoods of fisher folk.
According to the Brazilian human rights NGO Comitê Brasileiro, Nilce de Souza Magalhães is one of 66 recorded human rights defenders murdered in Brazil in 2016. This figure makes Brazil the second highest country in the Americas after Colombia where HRD’s are killed for their human rights advocacy with indigenous, environmental and land rights defenders the most at risk.