Five Reasons for Engagement Following the Egyptian Uprising

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012.  Copyright Amnesty International.

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012. Copyright Amnesty International.

On the second anniversary of the Egyptian Jan. 25 uprising, there’s a strong sense that the hopes of Tahrir Square have been tarnished.

There’s some reason for this: There have been too many broken promises.  Women, who were so essential to the uprising, were quickly marginalized in the months after it. Copts and other minority groups fear for their future. A new civilian government pushed through a constitution that may further minimize the role of women and lead to past human rights abuses being repeated. And perhaps most important, no institution seems capable of holding former Mubarak officials, security forces and the military accountable for decades of human rights abuses. The spirit of impunity lives on.

Yet, that’s only one side of the situation. There is in fact reason not to lose faith in Egypt’s future. This is not a promise that the path toward justice in Egypt is smooth, nor is it a prediction. But here are five reasons why we must remain engaged:


Haiti: Three Years After Earthquake, Housing Situation Catastrophic

Camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince.

Camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince. © Amnesty International

Three years after the Haiti earthquake the housing situation in the country is nothing short of catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in fragile shelters.

Amnesty International is urging the authorities and the international community to make housing a priority for Haiti reconstruction efforts.

The January 12, 2010 earthquake left more than 200,000 people dead and some 2.3 million homeless. More than 350,000 people currently live in 496 camps across the country. Living conditions in the makeshift camps are worsening – with severe lack of access to water, sanitation and waste disposal – all of which have contributed to the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera.


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.


Haiti's Women Face New Struggles to Survive

Long before a massive earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, high rates of sexual assault and other forms of violence against Haitian women and girls were a major issue. But the earthquake destroyed much of the social fabric, infrastructure, and relative stability that had previously provided some measure of protection.

© Amnesty International

Thrust into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, having in some cases lost everything and everyone they had, many Haitian women and girls are now even more vulnerable to sexual violence.

One year after the earthquake, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) surveyed vulnerable women in an effort to identify links between lack of access to sufficient food (what we wonks call “food insecurity”) and transactional sex. The critical question: are displaced Haitian women trading sex for food in order to survive—and help their children survive, too?


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

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.

Forced Eviction in the Name of Progress?

A Group 78 resident holds up a drawing showing the size of the land to which she has strong claims. © CLEC 

A Group 78 resident holds up a drawing showing the size of the land to which she has strong claims. © CLEC

How many times, in how many countries, in how many cities, have we heard this story? Governments try to force poor people off land they’ve lived on for years, sometimes decades, so that it can be developed and put to “better use”. Who cares if they’re shoving people into slums with no running water or sewage system? Who cares if moving them will not only adversely affect their health but also their livelihood? After all, it’s the government’s responsibility to “clean up the trash” to make way for progress, right?

Tell that to the nearly 150 families in Phnom Penh, Cambodia who city authorities have threatened with forced eviction from land known as Group 78 since June 2006. Most are poor street vendors; some are teachers or low-level civil servants.  The area they would be moved to has no water supply or sewage systems, and the cost of transportation from there to city far exceeds the expected daily earnings of most street vendors and junior civil servants.

The families have applied for formal title to their land several times. They have official documentation proving that they have lived on the site for long enough to claim title, but the authorities have rejected all their applications. The community has even engaged architecture students to produce plans to develop the site while they are still resident in order to show that eviction is not essential for development.

Cambodia is certainly not the only country with housing rights issues, and the more you read, the more overwhelmed you can feel. How can we ever put a stop to it all? Well, you have to start somewhere, so I plan to write a letter for the residents of Group 78 in this year’s Write-a-thon.