Pushed to the Edge

Personal Stories - What Rights Mean on the Ground



‘A week with shooting means one or perhaps two weeks without work. Electricity and water supplies have also sometimes been cut off. You never know when shooting is going to start…You don’t know which way to run. The only really safe place here is the toilet…Why should we have to put up with this?’
Maria Lúcia Almedia, Complexo do Alemão, in the north of Rio de Janeiro, April 2008

In thousands of favelas throughout Brazil, whole communities are living trapped in poverty and excluded from a whole range of services. Years of state neglect have created a vacuum which has been filled by criminal gangs. These gangs now control everyday life in many communities, imposing curfews, meting out fines and punishments, and deciding who will get work, housing, health care or education, and who will not.

The presence of death squads and milícias, run by off-duty law enforcement officers acting as vigilantes or even criminal gangs in some of the country’s poorest urban communities, have fundamentally undermined the state’s role as the guarantor of public security. Although the authorities have recognized the problem and begun creating targeted projects, outside of these projects security policy remains violent and confrontational.

Many families of victims of shootings, already struggling to survive, are driven even deeper into poverty by the death or injury of the son or father on whom they depended. Women whose relatives had been killed during police operations were at pains to point out that the relative lost was a “worker” or a “student”, not a criminal. They are challenging the indifference and discrimination in much of Brazilian society that brands all those living in favelas as criminals merely because of where they live. It is this ingrained prejudice that allows police to get away with violations and makes escape from the cycle of violence and deprivation all the harder.

The state’s response to the needs of those living in favelas reveals entrenched discrimination. What services and security measures are available have been imposed without consultation – which perhaps helps explain why they have been so ineffective. The needs of the millions of people living in deprived communities are not taken into consideration. Their fears and aspirations are simply not heard by those in power. 

‘Down there, in the rich part of town, it’s different. They think that the police really have to invade, really have to kill, really have to exterminate everything that goes on here. They just don’t see that this is a community with people who work and children that study.’
Lúcia Cabral, Complexo do Alemão, April 2008



Although education is mandatory in Tajikistan until grade 9 (age 15), more than 27 per cent of girls are dropping out of school from the age of 14 to 15 years old for a variety of reasons. The prevailing perception of women’s main role as wives and mothers means that families often do not think it is worth investing in girls’ education. While boys are usually encouraged by their family to get an education, girls are often kept working at home or in the fields until they are married. Many families are too poor to be able to pay the indirect costs – such as shoes, textbooks, food and transport – and will choose to prioritize boys’ education when juggling scarce resources.

The barriers to girls’ education are compounded by the deterioration of Tajikistan’s education system, which suffers from underpaid and under qualified teachers, outdated curriculums and frequently under-resourced and poorly maintained premises.



In 2004, more than 100 Roma were forcibly evicted by municipal authorities from a building located in the centre of Miercurea Ciuc – the capital city of Harghita County in central Romania. Most were resettled by the authorities on the outskirts of the town at the end of Primaverii Street, behind a sewage treatment plant. Some moved themselves to a garbage dump a couple of kilometres away, rather than move to the sewage plant. 

The authorities began discussing the evacuation of the building in 2001 with the residents, saying they needed to move them for their own safety. But they did not carry out a full consultation process with the community. The authorities bought eight mobile metal cabins in 2001 to house the residents elsewhere, and placed them next to the sewage plant, in readiness for their new inhabitants. In 2003, the municipal council approved the demolition of the building. According to the families, the authorities assured them the cabins were a temporary solution and that proper housing would be made available in due course.

In the intervening years between 2001 and 2004, the residents of Pictor Nagy Imre Street were given no opportunity to challenge the eviction decision. They were given no opportunity to engage with the decision-making process and influence their own future. The authorities also made no attempt to explore possible alternatives to the eviction. 

Sandor, one of the residents, told Amnesty International: “They came and said that we had to move the next day. They gave us 24 hours to move. They said that if we didn’t come out they would come with the demolition machines and pull [the building] down anyway.”

More than five years later, the evicted families continue to live in extremely precarious conditions that do not fulfil the human right to adequate housing: legal security of tenure; availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; location and habitability. Another resident, Tibor, talks of the impact of inadequate facilities: “We need a house, where we can get up and wash ourselves. They don’t let us anywhere, being this dirty; they say we stink. We want to be allowed in to places. In the winter we have to wash ourselves in cold water.”

They continue to be excluded, cast to the fringes of the city they call home.



Some 180,000-200,000 Palestinians in rural areas in the occupied West Bank have no access to running water. Even in towns and villages that are connected to the water network, the taps often run dry. Water rationing is especially common during the summer months. In many places Palestinians receive water only one day per week or every few weeks, in some areas not for months at a time. When their taps run dry, Palestinians must buy additional water brought in by water tankers at a much higher price. Many communities not connected to the water network must travel miles to find water that is expensive and often of dubious quality. 

Discriminatory Israeli policies in the OPT are the root cause of the striking disparity in access to water between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinian water consumption barely reaches 70 litres a day per person – well below the World Health Organization’s recommended daily minimum of 100 litres per capita. By contrast, Israeli (daily per capita) consumption is four times as much.

The impact of water shortages and poor sanitation services in the OPT is most often felt by the most vulnerable communities: those living in isolated rural areas and in overcrowded refugee camps. In recent years unemployment and poverty have increased and disposable income has fallen in the OPT. As a result, Palestinian families have to spend an ever-higher percentage of their income on water. 

Israel determines the amount of water Palestinians can extract from the shared aquifer and the locations where extraction can take place. Israel controls the collection of rain or spring water throughout most of the West Bank. Rainwater harvesting cisterns are often destroyed by the Israeli army. Palestinians are not allowed to drill new wells or to rehabilitate old wells without permits from the Israeli authorities. 

The Israeli army controls access to the roads that water tankers must use to deliver water to those Palestinian villages not connected to the water network. Many roads are closed or restricted to Palestinian traffic, causing delays or forcing the tankers to make long detours that significantly increase the price of water. 


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