Personal Stories: What Rights Mean on the Ground
MARIA SEBASTIAO ANTONIO, OF BANGA WE, NEAR LUANDA, ANGOLA
Several attempts were made to evict Maria Sebastião António, a 31-year-old mother of three, her family and more than 500 neighbours from their homes in Banga Wé, near Luanda, in order to make room for the Nova Vida (New Life) housing project. This is her story.
“I have lived in Banga Wé all my life. I was born here. From 2004 until 2006 there were demolitions here. We were not even warned about the demolitions. We were just taken by surprise. We had to go to work every day and never knew whether we would find our homes when we returned.
“I used to have a house made of [concrete] blocks, but it was destroyed in the demolitions in November 2005. I was pregnant with my youngest child at the time. They destroyed my house made of blocks but did not touch the zinc sheets used for the roof, so we used them to build a house of zinc… they came back about six days later to destroy the zinc houses as well…I was taken to the police station because I resisted the demolitions and was threatened. A police officer said to me, “The police do not beat on the streets; they beat in the esquadra [police station].” Luckily another police officer stopped him from beating me.
“Before the elections in 2008, the Director of the Nova Vida housing project called a meeting and told us we would be moved to new houses in Zango III, but nothing has happened. We don’t have water. Our children are not allowed to study. The Nova Vida School is not even allowing our children to register. The other schools are too far away. The worst thing is that there is still no solution to this problem.”
HOMES FLATTENED IN THE DEY KRAHAM COMMUNITY, PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA
In the early morning of 24 January 2009, around 250 Cambodian security forces and demolition workers used tear gas and threats of violence to forcibly evict hundreds of families from Dey Kraham community in central Phnom Penh. At 6am, excavators moved in and flattened the village. Human rights workers reported that 152 families living on the site permanently and up to 250 temporary settlers lost their homes. Some people didn’t even have time to retrieve their belongings.
The Phnom Penh authorities initially provided fewer than 30 of the families with shelter at a designated resettlement site at Cham Chao commune, Dangkor district, around 16 kilometres from the city centre. On arrival, the families found there was no clean water, no electricity, no sewerage or basic services. Most of the structures were under construction and lacked roofs.
The company that had allegedly bought the Dey Kraham land withdrew earlier offers of compensation.
RESIDENTS FACE DAILY VIOLENCE IN BRAZIL AND JAMAICA
The negative perceptions of people living in slums have contributed directly to a serious deterioration in public security in these communities. Slum-dwellers are more likely to be victims of both gang and police violence. Where police protection is provided, it is often very limited. In slums in Brazil and Jamaica, for example, excessive use of force by the police while conducting operations, unlawful killings and in some cases extrajudicial executions have all been documented by Amnesty International.
In Brazil, large police incursions into favelas have been accompanied by indiscriminate and abusive searches under collective warrants that allow the police to target the whole community. Women have also suffered verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the police. In both Brazil and Jamaica, people say they have been treated with disrespect, prejudice, contempt and discrimination by the police because of the perception of the entire community as criminal or accomplices to crime.
People living in slums often suffer disproportionately from violent crime because of governments’ failure to provide public security. In 2006, for example, official statistics for São Paulo showed a striking difference in the homicide rate between the socially deprived district of Brasilândia (46.24 per 100,000) and the more affluent area of Vila Mariana (14.95 per 100,000).
This abnegation of responsibility by the state and its failure to offer protection to slum communities in Brazil and Jamaica has allowed criminal gangs and drug factions to dominate virtually every aspect of life. Residents may not be able to leave their homes during curfews imposed by gangs, or attend schools, workplaces and nearby health centres when they are located in a rival gang’s territory. They may be punished violently if they or their relatives break rules imposed by such groups. Residents also face violence or intimidation from “slumlords” or their agents for payment of rents.
In a number of cases, slum residents who have tried to report crimes or make complaints about the conduct of state officials have reported difficulties in getting their cases registered, investigated or prosecuted. People may be denied access to meaningful and effective remedy, a key obligation of the state under international human rights law. The remedies that exist may also be ineffective in providing reparation to victims, including compensation or rehabilitation.
THE RESIDENTS OF GARDOLE, WALIA ANGOSSO, FARCHA, ATRONE AND CHAGOUA, IN N’DJAMENA, CHAD
Tens of thousands of people were made homeless after being forcibly evicted from their homes in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, since February 2008.
The first wave of demolitions followed an armed attack on N’Djamena in February 2008 by a coalition of opposition armed groups. Shortly afterwards, on 22 February 2008, Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno issued a decree authorizing the destruction of what were called illegally constructed buildings and structures. The first decree applied to two neighbourhoods of N’Djamena – Gardole and Walia Angosso. The destruction was later extended into other areas such as Farcha, Atrone and Chagoua.
Most of the forced evictions were carried out by the security forces. In some cases they reportedly used violence. Flouting the law and denying due process, the authorities did not consult residents before evicting them. In many cases residents were given little or no notice. Rarely did they have the opportunity to challenge the evictions through the courts.
The vast majority of families who have lost their homes have not received alternative housing or any other form of compensation. Some went to live with family members or relatives, others returned to their villages of origin. Many remained in their neighbourhoods, often living in the ruins of their old homes.
Houses were still being demolished in late July 2009, and more and more people are at risk of being forcibly evicted..
RESIDENTS KILLED BY PREDICTED ROCK FALL IN EZBET BEKHIT, CAIRO, EGYPT
Between 8:30am and 9:20am on 6 September 2008, huge boulders and rocks crashed down Al-Muqattam Hill in Al-Duwayqa onto Ezbet Bekhit in the Manshiyet Nasser neighbourhood of east Cairo, home to around a million of the city’s poorest residents. By the time the terrifying roar subsided, 107 people were dead and 58 lay injured, according to officials. Survivors put the toll much higher. Nearly 100 buildings were destroyed.
Survivors searched desperately for their relatives and neighbours – dead or alive – with the help of a small number of civil protection personnel. They poured out their anger at the authorities for failing to prevent the rockslide or relocate residents, despite repeated warnings about the impending rockslide. Survivors threw stones at visiting officials and clashed with the riot police cordon. They believed that no one had listened to them because they were seen as poor, powerless and less than human.
Studies initiated by the government following a deadly 1993 rock fall in the neighbouring Al-Zabalyn informal settlement (slum – ashwa’iyat meaning “random”) had identified danger zones all around Al-Muqattam Hill, including the area in Manshiyet Nasser devastated by the 2008 rockslide. Residents living in the vicinity of the hill had informed the authorities that cracks were appearing in the walls of their homes, and they feared for their safety. A contractor hired by local authorities to secure rocks on the hill repeatedly warned the authorities about the high risk of a rock fall.
Despite all the warnings months before the rockslide, the authorities failed to evacuate the impoverished residents and provide them with temporary or alternative housing.
On 8 September, two days after the Al-Duwayqa disaster, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak ordered the relocation of survivors into new two-bedroom flats in the Suzanne Mubarak dwellings, part of an upgrading project in Al-Duwayqa.
Over the next few days, survivors began to move in to these flats, some of which the Egyptian Red Crescent and charities helped to equip. This welcome and quick response was marred by irregularities in the allocation of the flats, including alleged corruption.
In the days following the rockslide, the Ministry of Social Solidarity offered compensation of up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (EGP – approximately US$900) to families for each member killed, and up to EGP1,000 for each person injured.
Travel the world to find out about human rights and poverty. Learn about and take action on maternal mortality, human rights abuses in slums, the need for access to justice for those whose rights have been denied. Meet people and communities, listen to their stories, tell your own.