One Year Before Olympics in Sochi, Russia Continues its “Assault on Freedom”

Putin in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin tours Olympic venues in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, 2013. SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images

With only a year left before the start of the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia has little time to reverse its increasing crackdown on freedom of expression.

In the last fifteen months, there has been a continuing assault on basic rights, including increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, a rise in forced evictions, human rights violations during security operations in the North Caucasus and the passage of several bills which negatively impact NGOs within Russia.

While hosting the Olympics is an incredible honor and an opportunity for the world to come together peacefully in the mutual enjoyment of universal sport, it’s also the perfect opportunity for the Russian government to do some serious soul-searching and correct its human rights record.

Angola’s Contrasts: Forced Evictions and Billionaires

Angola housing eviction

In 2009, as many as 15,000 people were believed to have been made homeless in forced evictions on the southern peripheries of Luanda. The string of land clearances were an effort to make way for gated condominiums and shopping centres. (Photo: LOUISE REDVERS/AFP/Getty Images)

Angola celebrated a milestone when it was revealed in early January as home to Africa’s first female billionaire. While at first this seems like a “You go girl!” moment, the reality is the woman is the daughter of President dos Santos and she had a little help along the way via corruption and nepotism. Less than a month later, Amnesty International learned the government of Angola is once again forcibly evicting citizens in the capital of Luanda. How are these two events related?

There is a severe wealth dichotomy in Angola, where most citizens subsist on $2 dollars a day with limited access to safe housing, running water, electrical services, and adequate healthcare. Conversely, a small percentage of the population is benefitting from the oil and diamond resource boom, accumulating vast personal fortunes. Accompanying this is a demand for luxury housing and high rise office buildings. The government has long engaged in a campaign of violent forcible evictions to make way for these new buildings, destroying the homes of the most vulnerable citizens in the process.


Fear and Injustice Continues 10 Years After Gujarat Riots

Gujarat Riots India

Rafatjhan Meiuddin Shaikh looks on at the refugee settlement 'Citizen Nagar' for Muslims affected by the Gujarat riots near a landfill in the Dani Limda area of Ahmedabad on February 26, 2012. (SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

The image of Qutubuddin Ansari is seared into my memory of one of the darkest days in India’s history. Mr. Ansari’s pleading to be spared from the vicious mobs is a reminder of the injustice that continues after the month-long outbreak of violence that resulted in the killing of at least 2,000 women, men and children, mostly Muslims, and the rape of significant numbers of women and girls, in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

The photographer, Arko Datta of Reuters, remembered that moment: “There were youths armed with swords, knifes and spears from Hindu neighborhoods crossing over, setting fire to Muslim homes and shops. I just looked back at for a moment and saw him standing in the first floor of a building, just a few hundred feet away from me. He was pleading, pleading for help.” Ten years after the riots, the families of the murdered victims, the victims of the rape and sexual violence and the 21,000 people still in “relief camps” still plead for justice.


Horror and Hope in Kenya's Informal Settlements

Man surveys the wreckage of his home

Man surveys the wreckage of his home

By Mariah Ortiz, Kenya Country Specialist for Amnesty USA

Imagine you are sleeping in your bed, and suddenly you hear the sounds of a bulldozer outside your window.  You have to run outside to avoid being crushed.  You escape, but your home is flattened before your eyes . . .

Now imagine that you are walking home, and the sewer suddenly ignites.  You cry out as people around you burst into flames . . .


Live Online Chat on Housing Crisis

end forced evictionsJoin us Friday, Oct 7th from 1:00-2:00 PM EST for a live online chat on Facebook with Amnesty International on the international housing crisis.

Billions currently live without adequate housing across the globe, even though housing is a human right.  One of the most widespread violation is forced eviction — the removal of people against their will from their homes or land without legal protections, typically because they live on land desirable to governments or private developers. Even here in the U.S., upwards of 1.6 million people experience homelessness each year.


World Habitat Day: Stopping Forced Evictions Worldwide

Tarpaulin covering the remains of a house demolished in a forced eviction, September 2011 © Nora Lindstrom

By Meghna Abraham, Head of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Team at Amnesty International

You come home in the evening, after a long day’s work. Your children are sitting at a table, finishing their homework. Suddenly, some government officials arrive with a bulldozer to demolish your home.

You may have had a week’s notice, or a day or none at all. You did not have enough time to legally challenge the eviction or even to make a list of the belongings which you may lose.


In Istanbul, Forced Evictions of City's Most Vulnerable

Besra, a single mother with a small child, returned from visiting her mother in the hospital to find her door broken in.  Officials forced her to vacate her home immediately, throwing her belongings out onto the street.

Istanbul Evictions

A number of vulnerable families in the Tarlabaşı district have already been evicted © Jonathan Lewis

Another resident, an unemployed 60-year-old man with a lung condition, told Amnesty International that he had been forced to sign eviction notices that he was not allowed to read.

According to Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey,

“Most of those facing eviction have not been given adequate notice. They have not been consulted, provided with legal remedies, or offered adequate alternative housing or compensation. This is a violation of their human rights. There must also be an investigation into the allegations of harassment by public officials.”


Toxic Red Mud Doesn't Seem To Improve Livelihoods in India

The Indian state of Orissa is where the Vedanta Aluminum Company (Indian-based subsidiary of a UK multi-national) runs a refinery in Lanjigarh. This refinery is home to a nearly overflowing 92 billion liter (24 million gallon) pond of rather innocent sounding red mud. Already this year, video shot by local residents show the walls of the pond being breached and streets being flooded.  Compared to what is to come, the leaks have been relatively small.

When the monsoons come however, over 4,000 families in 12 villages will be threatened.

And red mud is not as innocent as it sounds. It is the leftovers of the aluminum refining process that includes highly toxic alkaline chemicals and radioactive materials. When the pond overflows its walls, red mud will contaminate drinking water, farmland, and homes, leaving environmental devastation in its wake and threatening the health and lives of thousands of people. This may sound familiar. Just last year a red mud spill in Hungary did the exact same thing.


Detention and Torture: Just Another Day in the Life of a Human Rights Defender in China

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Mao Hengfeng

Mao Hengfeng

Mao Hengfeng has been repeatedly detained and tortured for her advocacy on behalf of women’s reproductive rights and the victims of forced evictions in China. Mao herself has been forcibly injected with drugs, fired by her employer, detained in a psychiatric hospital and beaten because of her choice to reproduce.  She has three daughters, which is a direct violation of China’s family-planning policy.

In March, she was sentenced to 18 months in “Re-education Through Labor” (RTL)  for participating in a peaceful protest in support of human rights defender and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.  In July, she spoke out about the torture and inhumane treatment she experienced while in RTL. She displayed bruises from her frequent beatings and spoke about the unsanitary conditions of her detention, which have led to a skin infection.

Mao is featured along with 11 other cases of human rights abuses in the 2010 Global Write-a-thon. You can take action on behalf of Mao and other cases by signing up to write for rights as either an individual or as part of an event. Find an event near you!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.