Housing: It's a Wonderful Right

housing it's a wondeful right

This is usually one of my favorite times of the year – the holidays are approaching, the aromas of cinnamon, orange and cranberry are in the air and it’s time to rest and watch old movies on TV. One of those old movies invariably on at this time of year still resonates today — It’s a Wonderful Life. In this 1946 Jimmy Stewart film, a small town in crisis comes together to prevent George Bailey, the benevolent loan man, from being imprisoned at the behest of the millionaire slum landlord Mr. Potter.

In the last few days, the U.S. government census figures have revealed that  1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are struggling to live on low incomes. And we know that the financial hardships faced by our neighbors, colleagues, and others in our communities will be all the more acutely felt over the holiday season.


Record Number of Palestinians Displaced by Unlawful Demolitions

israel palestianian home demolitions

There has been a sharp rise in demolitions of Palestinian homes in 2011 © Amnesty International

Amnesty International, one member of a 20 member strong coalition of major international humanitarian and human rights organizations that work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), issued a joint press release yesterday announcing that there has been a record number of unlawful demolitions by the Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over the past year, displacing a record number of Palestinian families from their homes and calling on the Middle East Quartet to change their failing approach.

The Middle East Quartet, made up of representatives from the United States, Russia, the United Nations and European Union, is currently meeting in Jerusalem in an attempt to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


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 . . .


Israel's Actions in East Jerusalem May Constitute a War Crime

On Tuesday, Israel did not even try to hide the fact that their plans to accelerate the construction of 2,000 housing units in East Jerusalem – an area considered as ‘occupied’ by the international community thus making the construction illegal – was in response to and part of a series of punishments to be meted out against the Palestinian Authority for their successful pursuit for full membership to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and pursuit for full recognition for the State of Palestine by the United Nations body itself.

What is significant as well, but I’m afraid being over-looked, is that the announcement also came just two days after the well-respected organization, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), submitted a major and precedent-setting report to three of the UN’s Special Rapporteurs claiming that Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem violate international law and may constitute a war crime and asking for an investigation into these practices.


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.


Millions of Slum Dwellers in Cairo Still at Risk after Mubarak

The euphoria of the revolutionary moment is wondrous — drawing out from despondency and delivering from despair, young and old, city dweller and peasant, all uniting in a collective that suddenly realizes its power.

In January, the world watched the Egyptian masses stare down the Mubarak regime, millions of ordinary Egyptians transformed into the extraordinary by their numbers and their valiant spirit. In these last days of August, the world is witnessing another valiant rout, as Libyan rebel fighters’ inch closer and closer to deposing a despot who has ruled them for decades.

In the magic of momentous change, it is difficult to spare a moment for the mundane miseries that persist after the crowds have left the squares, and the slogans hang silent. It is the plight of these people that is highlighted in “We are not dirt”, Amnesty International’s report focusing on slum dwellers in Cairo, the pulsing city that is at the heart of the Arab spring.


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.”


Hundreds of Deaths in Brazil, a Product of Negligence

Since the beginning of the year, at least 550 people in Brazil have died and thousands more have lost their homes, due to this year’s floods, which have been disastrous as usual, but certainly not surprising.  What is surprising is the government’s inability to prepare for a recurring problem all too familiar to local inhabitants. Of course, global warming and climate change are a big component of this tragedy, but the incompetence of local authorities is outrageous.

Floods devastate Brazil's SouthEast http://fotografia.folha.uol.com.br/galerias/1880-chuva-no-rio-de-janeiro#foto-36030 folha.com

Every single year, during summer time, Brazil suffers from flooding, which is inherent to the tropical weather of the country.  Similarly, every single year, authorities recite the same words and promises of aid to calm the desperate needs of locals.  They claim that the disaster is caused as  “… consequence of the huge amount of rain”.

Well, if authorities are aware of the consequences of the rain season, why don’t they take necessary steps to minimize the flooding consequences during the dry season? Why can’t they relocate families living in risky areas and slums?  Why can’t they build the necessary dams and water channels?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the vast majority of the victims of these floods are, in all truthfulness, marginalized and treated as second-class citizens. Not only do they live in precarious conditions, but they have no other recourse but to live without access to basic human rights, including housing, cleaning water and sewer. How many wealthy and influential people are among the fatal victims of the floods? Probable none. If there were, I am certain that the negligence and inefficiency of the authorities would be much smaller over the years.

While a great number of Brazilian families are treated as second-class citizens and they are remembered only during election periods, the casualties that the floods bring year in and year out, will be only be a big number that will grow over the years. But behind the numbers, there are fatalities; there are people struggling to survive in an unfair society, where the wealthy have the best of the worlds and the marginalized community has to be carefully not to become one more statistic in the speech of yet another negligent public officer.