Human rights violations in cities around the world

As World Habitat Day focuses on the state of the housing rights situation across the globe, here are case studies from cities in Cambodia, Brazil, Italy, Israel and Angola.

1. Forced out for ‘development’ (Cambodia) “We have seen the development plan and of course we get worried because it is clear that we are affected: According to the plan we have disappeared,” a representative from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak area told Amnesty International in February, 2008. Six months on, the plan is underway and hundreds of those affected are protesting amidst intimidation and lack of information. Some 20,000 Phnom Penh residents face displacement as the Boeung Kak Lake they live around is being turned into a landfill. The filling of the lake began on 26 August 2008, without notice to the residents. Without urgent action to ensure that a process to protect the human rights of the residents is put into place, this project may begin the biggest forced eviction in post-war Cambodia. Many of those affected are poor, living in basic housing on the lake shore, which is rising as more and more sand is filled into the lake. The affected communities fear the ongoing development may drive them out of Phnom Penh, to an area to which thousands of other evictees have been resettled and which lacks sanitation, electricity and other basic services, while access to job opportunities are desperately scarce. Thousands of evictees from other parts of Phnom Penh have already been resettled there, in what effectively are new slums, recreated outside the city perimeter. 2. Discriminated: the witch hunt against the Roma (Italy) “All Roma camps will have to be dismantled right way and inhabitants will be either expelled or incarcerated” said Minister of Interior Roberto Maroni, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on 11 May 2008. On the same day and on 13 May, several arson attacks took place on Roma settlements in different suburbs in Italy. Since 2007, Romani communities and settlements in Italy have been subjected to several measures taken by the authorities in the name of “security”, as well as vigilante style attacks by members of the public. This includes an escalation in forced evictions and destruction of Roma settlements. One of the most disturbing “security” measures targeting the Roma minority is the recent and still undefined initiative to collect identification information, including fingerprints, from all residents, both adults and children, of Romani settlements in the country. These measures are often accompanied by strong anti-Roma rhetoric from local and national politicians and the vilification of Romani people in the local and national media, which have created a climate in which attacks on individuals and Roma settlements are becoming increasingly acceptable. 3. Caught in the crossfire: women’s experiences of violence in shanty towns (Brazil) “We can’t go on living under these conditions. We live in fear.” Paola, a seamstress and mother of one, lives at the entrance to the favela (shanty town) in Rio de Janeiro. As she was being interviewed by Amnesty International in 2005, a voice echoed through the street: “Everyone indoors by 6:00 pm! All shops close tomorrow!” as the traffickers announced that evening’s curfew. Women living in ‘favelas’ in Brazil do so against a backdrop of constant violence by the police and criminal gangs. Amnesty International has documented how, in the absence of protection from the state, women are vulnerable to violence within the home and from criminal gangs that dominate every aspect of life in the community. Women may be punished violently for breaking the “rules” set out by the gangs or factions or for their relatives having done so. Maternity services, crèches and schools can be closed for long periods because of police operations or criminal violence. Healthcare workers and teachers are often too scared to work in the communities. The only contact the women have with the government is through sporadic, militarised police incursions, in which women may be subject to illegal searches and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse and are injured or killed in the crossfire. Women also experience discrimination from the police because of where they live. Residents from Nordeste Amaralina in Salvador described how the police would call women from the community “vagabundas” (slags).  Women also described the discriminatory and non-responsive attitude of the police when they went to report cases of violence they experienced. 4. Collective punishment of a population (Israel OPT) “The Israeli siege has turned Gaza into a big prison. We cannot leave, not even for medical care or to study abroad, and most of what we need is not available in Gaza. We are not living really; we are barely surviving and the outlook for the future is bleak.” – Fathi, a Gaza resident. A humanitarian crisis is engulfing Gaza – not the result of a natural disaster but entirely man-made and avoidable. The tightening of Israeli blockade since June 2007 has left the population of 1.5 million Palestinians, trapped and with few resources. Israel has banned exports from Gaza altogether and has reduced entry of fuel and goods to a trickle – mostly humanitarian aid, foodstuff and medical supplies. The shortages have pushed up food prices at a time when people can least afford to pay more. A growing number of Gazans have been pushed into poverty and suffer from malnutrition.Some 80 percent depend on the trickle of international aid that the Israeli government allows in, compared to 20 percent a decade ago. Approximately 450,000 Gazans, 30 percent of the population, are unable to access clean water. Even patients in dire need of medical treatment which is not available in Gaza are often prevented from leaving and scores of them have died. The Israeli authorities used to argue that the blockade of Gaza was in response to Palestinian attacks, especially the indiscriminate rockets fired from Gaza at the nearby Israeli town of Sderot. These and other Palestinian attacks killed 25 Israelis in the first half of this year; in the same period Israeli forces killed 400 Palestinians. Though a ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups has held in Gaza since 19 June 2008, the Israeli blockade remains in place as Israel now insists that the blockade will be maintained until the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian armed groups in June 2006 and still held in Gaza without access to the ICRC. Currently some 8,500 Palestinians are detained in Israeli jails, some of them for decades, and 900 of them who are from Gaza are not allowed to receive family visits. However, the Israeli blockade does not target the Palestinian armed groups responsible for attacks or for the capture of the Israeli soldier – it collectively punishes the entire population of Gaza. 5. Lives in ruins – forced evictions of people living in poverty (Angola) Amnesty International estimates that around 10,000 families have been forcibly evicted in Luanda, Angola, in the last seven years, without prior notification, information or consultation, legal protection, adequate alternative accommodation or an effective remedy. Between July and December 2007, hundreds of families were forcibly evicted from the Iraque neighbourhood of the Kilamba Kiaxi municipality in Luanda, in order to build a luxury housing complex in the area. The majority of the forced evictions were carried out by employees of the construction company Jardim do Éden (Garden of Eden), which is building the luxury housing complex, protected by private security guards and the national police. Thousands more in Luanda remain under threat of being forcibly evicted and having their homes demolished. Amnesty International received reports that, on one occasion in November 2007, two children died when the houses they were sleeping in were demolished by heavy machinery. Two journalists who went to the area to report on the forced evictions on 28 November 2007 were arrested, verbally and physically abused by the police, and were detained for several hours before being released without charge.