More than 500 families in São Paulo, Brazil, are now sleeping under plastic sheeting opposite the remnants of their homes, after they were forcibly evicted by military police on Monday.
Riot police are reported to have used rubber bullets, tear gas and helicopters during the eviction at the Olga Benário encampment in Capão Redondo in the south of São Paulo, early on Monday morning. Witnesses and members of the community stated that residents were unarmed when the large-scale police operation took place.
There were no representatives of state or municipal authorities present nor did the the police try negotiating with the families or offer them alternative housing. The eviction followed more than a year of failed negotiations between the municipal authorities and community representatives and several appeals against the eviction order.
The homeless families had occupied the land for over two years. During that time, they had built simple homes, often wooden shacks, which offered them a base from which to gain employment and bring up their children.
During the eviction, fires broke out across the settlement and there were scenes of panic as residents tried to help children and the elderly escape the conflagration safely. Many families did not have time to clear their houses, losing all their belongings – including personal documents - in the fires and when police bulldozed the remaining shacks.
Eyewitnesses claim that police fired rubber bullets at point blank range against unarmed residents and that the fires that broke out during the eviction were caused by tear gas canisters. Police said that they were responding to residents who were resisting the eviction by erecting barricades, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Three residents were seriously injured during the eviction.
Of the 800 families forcibly evicted, 500, including many elderly, 200 children and babies as young as one month old, remain homeless, living in precarious conditions on land opposite the site of the eviction. They are without food or blankets in cold, wet conditions. After several days' rain, the site has turned to mud and families have been left exposed to rats and diseases. Fifty police officers are stationed nearby.
Despite repeated pleas from local NGOs, the municipal authorities have offered only mattresses – which were deemed impractical because of the mud – and food. Negotiations continue to secure both emergency assistance and a long term solution to the families' housing problem.
During two years of negotiations with representatives of the community, the municipal authorities failed to present adequate solutions to address the needs of the families. The best offers made to them, of places in council hostels, provided only short-term accommodation and forced women and children to be separated from their husbands and fathers.
Amnesty International called on the municipal authorities to immediately provide emergency relief including food, water and access to medical assistance to people who have been made homeless as a result of the forced eviction.
The organization called on the authorities to ensure that all the families who were forcibly evicted are provided with adequate alternative accommodation and compensation for all losses and guaranteed the right to an effective remedy.
It also called on the authorities to order an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into the possible use of excessive force by police officers on Monday, with special attention to the failure of those in the chain of command's responsibility to ensure the protection of the evicted families.