In Brazil, the International Tribunal for Evictions held its 7th session during the World Social Forum and called out human rights violations in evictions across the country

The International Tribunal for Evictions is an event dedicated to exposing, discussing and proposing solutions to forceful evictions around the world. This year, the Tribunal was held in Brazil March 12-16, during the World Social Forum, and had the participation of social movements, organizations and experts from around the world to discuss 5 important cases of removals in Brazil that are currently happening or have recently happened in low-income communities from around the country. Habitat for Humanity Brazil was part of the National Organizing Committee for the Tribunal and participated in the week-long event.

The Tribunal is made up of national and international jurors, recognized for their important work in guaranteeing the right to housing in both legal and social fields. The body is also comprised of a popular jury made up by representatives of social movements and popular organizations. After hearing and carefully studying information from all cases, the jury proposed a series of recommendations and measures sent to representatives of the public power and the international community within 30 days following Tribunal convening.

“The Tribunal was created as a tool of justice and global solidarity with the local struggles. The main objective is to analyze cases where there have been violation of rights and, at the end, deliver evidence of these violations as well as recommendations to competent sectors and popular movements so that they may monitor and seek out solutions”, explains Cesare Ottolini, global coordinator for the International Alliance of Inhabitants and co-founder of the International Tribunal of Evictions.

In its 7th edition, the Tribunal hosted cases very representative of the current context and geography in Brazil, with 4 regions of the country included. In all of the cases, impoverished families were victims of violation of their right to the land. Women were the majority of victims affected by these removals.  From the Northeast of Brazil, a traditional Quilombola community called Ilha de Mercês (Isle of Mercy) were forced out of their ancestral territory and their historical and cultural heritage was destroyed to make room for infrastructural work done by the State Government of Pernambuco. Over 2,000people lost their homes (more than half are women and children) and families removed received only USD 300 for their losses. The Quilombolas are African descendants who established their communities in areas where fishing and plantations were viable after slavery was abolished in Brazil. To this day, most of the Quilombola families in Ilha de Mercês made their livelihoods from fishing.

In Manaus, Northern region of Brazil, over 3,000families in a community called Cidade das Luzes (City of Lights) suffered severe human rights violations during a violent repossession which left 2 youths and 1 child dead and evicted around 12,000 people in 2016. Without having a place to go after the eviction and with no support from local authorities, the families reoccupied the vacant piece of land and are now facing a new risk of eviction in April 2018.

From the Southeast of the country, two situations were presented: the traditional community of Canabrava, in Minas Gerais, who were forcibly removed from land where they lived for over 130 years. The community was mostly made up of traditional fishermen and river settlers who lived next to the Saint Francis River and were removed by the State Government of Minas Gerais after a landowner claimed to be the heir of the land where the community was located. After the eviction, the community has suffered with unemployment and many families are resorting to odd jobs to be able to pay for food.

The 4th case is happening in the city of São Bernardo do Campo: an occupation named Povo Sem Medo (People Without Fear) where over 8,000 families live on a property that has been vacant for over 20 years. The Povo Sem Medo community are currently in a legal battle against a private construction company pushing for eviction. Finally, the Tribunal also heard a broader case, which involves a national plea for homeless rights and fights against policies for clearance of the streets by removing homeless people from city centers.

These types of cases can be found all over Brazil and the perpetrators of grave human rights violations are often the same: private companies, public agents, state governments and the judiciary power who are responsible for the eviction of thousands of families across the country. However, social movements and related organizations are seeing small but important successes in connecting local communities affected with a broader network of advocates to shine a light on these injustices and demand action.

“In Brazil, we have a very big challenge because public powers, especially the judiciary, have a very conservative view of property rights and right to housing. Even though it is illegal for a building or piece of land to be vacant and not fulfilling what is called a Social Role, it is very common to find locations that have been empty for decades and that owe millions in property taxes”, says Ronaldo Coelho, Legal Advisor and Advocacy Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Brazil. Ronaldo also explains that over 30 million Brazilians do not have a house to live in and market speculation has made living in cities extremely expensive. Without other options, families occupy these spaces in order to pressure the public power to invest in housing programs and, in many cases, to build their houses themselves.

“The cruelest part of these evictions is that families are violently removed, often lose all of their belongings and do not receive any sort of compensation or support from the public power”, continues Ronaldo. Due to the large housing deficit and the high prices for living in cities, urban land conflicts and evictions are a growing problem. However, very little data is available on this issue and this in turn contributes to a lack of knowledge from the judiciary. In order to tackle this issue, Habitat for Humanity Brazil in partnership with the Open Society Foundation has been mapping and collecting data on urban land conflicts in the state of Pernambuco, one of the states with the highest number of land conflicts in the country.

The data collected will be published as a study and will also be uploaded to a mobile app where movements and organizations from around Brazil will also be able to contribute information from other areas of the country. The goal is to have concrete data in order to use an evidence based advocacy approach to work jointly with the judiciary to find solutions and help prevent human rights violations. This work can effectively guarantee millions of families’ right to decent housing.