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INTERVIEW-Brazil Olympic works threaten slum rights-Amnesty
April 25, 2011 / 6:30 PM / 6 years ago

INTERVIEW-Brazil Olympic works threaten slum rights-Amnesty

4 Min Read

* Amnesty International worried by forced evictions

* Says slum residents not being included in decisions

* Rio seen a long way from solving security woes

By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO, April 25 (Reuters) - Forced evictions of slum dwellers to make way for the 2016 Olympic Games show that human rights could suffer during Brazil's preparations for the event, the head of Amnesty International said on Monday.

Among other projects, Rio de Janeiro plans to build three expressways for buses ahead of 2016 that will pass through several slums, or favelas, that are home to thousands of residents. Despite Brazil's economic rise, millions of slum-dwellers still live a precarious existence in major cities and have long borne the brunt of human rights abuses.

"Our worry is that because of the Olympics now this thing could get scaled up very significantly," Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, said in an interview as he started a weeklong visit to the South American giant.

Authorities in recent months have begun demolitions in some slums, offering compensation for houses or new housing that residents complain is often on the distant outskirts of the city, far from their workplaces and communities.

While the number of evictions has so far been small, Shetty said that the initial signs of how Rio is treating residents in the path of infrastructure projects have not been good.

"Everybody fully understands that some degree of movement might be inevitable when you're undergoing such a major project, but the issue is whether the fair process is being followed," he said.

"These people have been given houses which are 50 km (31 miles) away from their livelihood, or compensations which are really a pittance. The communities are not really involved."

Shetty was due to meet residents of the affected communities and said he would raise the issue with government officials, possibly including President Dilma Rousseff, in the capital Brasilia later this week.

Echoes of Beijing

The planned evictions have echoes of China's preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Chinese government forced about 1.5 million people to move.

Rio's evictions will not approach that scale but are an important test of Brazil's approach to human rights, which has often failed to match words with action, Shetty said.

Beachside Rio, which will also be a host city of the soccer World Cup in 2014, has begun to change its violent reputation in recent years through a security program that has driven drug gangs from slums and installed trained community police.

So far, that program has reached just over a dozen slums, many of them near wealthy areas, out of the around 1,000 that exist in Brazil's second-largest metropolis.

Rousseff, who was sworn in on Jan. 1 and was once tortured by Brazil's military dictatorship, has placed a higher priority on human rights than her predecessor. Amnesty wants her government to open investigations of dictatorship-era torture and other abuses, an area in which Brazil has lagged compared to its South American neighbors.

"People say why do you want to reopen old wounds, but the thing is it's not an old wound. It's a current wound if you don't have justice and accountability," said Shetty, an Indian national.

Editing by Will Dunham

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