urban space

Beijing squatter protest —and human rights dilemma

A rare protest is reported from Beijing Dec. 10, following the mass eviction of a squatter camp for migrant workers in the city's northeastern fringe. The incident, in Feijia village of Chaoyang district, near Beijing's airport, saw protesters hanging a hand-painted banner reading "Violation of Human Rights" across the front gate of the village committee office, while hundreds chanted "Forced eviction violates human rights." Clearing of the makeshift camp was seemingly part of a crackdown on informal dwellings following a fire in a tenement in nearby Daxing district last month in which 19 were killed. Tens of thousands have been left homeless in the clearances. Footage of the protest was captured on smart phones, resulting in coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

Trump, Jerusalem, escalation and eschatology

Palestinian activists burned pictures of Donald Trump in Bethlehem in response to his Dec. 6 announcement that his administration will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He stated with typical bluster: "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering." But this time the braggadocio was wedded to a nearly hallucinatory chutzpah: "I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians." (Palestine News Network, The Guardian) Of course precisely the opposite is true.

Brazil deploys army to conflicted Rio favela

Brazil's ongoing favela wars have taken a dramatic turn for the bloody—prompting the government to send military troops into Rio de Janiero's notorious Rocinha. This is the most violent of the city's sprawling favelas—informal urban settlements virtually abandoned by the government for anything other than militarized anti-drug operations. The army on Sept. 22 deployed nearly 1,000 troops in Rocinha, responding to a request from the Rio state government, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told local TV. Rio Times reports that the violence in Rocinha is the deadliest since the launch of a "pacification" program in 2011 to push warring narco-gangs out of the city's favelas.

Peru: Lima crackdown on 'land-traffickers'

Agents from Peru's National Superintendency of State Property (SBN), backed up by police troops, carried out an operation in the hills overlooking Lima over the past two weeks, seizing more than 36,000 square meters of land in the Lomas de Primavera green belt. This stretch of public land in the city's outlying Carabayllo district has been heavily subject to illegal appropriation and sale of plots in recent years—known locally as "land-trafficking." The land-traffickers exploit rural migrants seeking to start a life in Peru's capital, illegally "selling" plots they actually have no title to. Local media reports said the traffickers sold plots to some hundred families, but failed to say what provisions were made for the families settled on the plots. (Peru This Week, April 19; La República, April 9)

East Jerusalem demolitions jump since Trump

Home demolitions in East Jerusalem have risen dramatically since the election of US President Donald Trump, according to a report in Haaretz. A source in the Jerusalem municipal government confirmed to the newspaper that since the change of administration in the US, restrictions have been lifted and the city government has been allowed to demolish many more structures than during the term of former President Barack Obama. Since the start of 2017, the municipality has demolished over 40 housing units in East Jerusalem, according to data collated by the Ir Amim organization, which studies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the city. In 2016, a total of 203 structures, including 123 housing units, were demolished in the predominantly Arab part of the city. A total of 22 structures were demolished by their owners in order to avoid the fine imposed by the municipality for the demolition.

Turkey: thousands of Kurds displaced in crackdown

Tens of thousands of residents of Diyarbakır's Sur district, part of the city's UNESCO world heritage site, are among an estimated half million people forced out of their homes as a result of a brutal crackdown by Turkish authorities over the past year which may amount to collective punishment, Amnesty International says in a new report. As the suppression of opposition Kurdish voices by the Turkish government intensifies, the report "Displaced and Dispossessed: Sur Residents' Right to Return Home," reveals the desperate plight of families forced out of the historical center of Diyarbakir as a result of intensive security operations toward the end of last year and an ongoing round-the-clock curfew. Homes in the once-bustling district have been destroyed by shelling, or demolished and expropriated to pave the way for a redevelopment project that very few former residents are likely to benefit from.

Lima: indigenous squatter camp burns

A fire swept through the Cantagallo shanty-town, just across the Río Rímac from downtown Lima, on Nov. 4, leaving some 2,000 residents of the informal settlement facing an uncertain future. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and a child badly injured in the blaze, which authorities say started near a leather workshop that used flammable chemicals. The settlement was established by Shipibo-Konibo indigenous migrants from Ucayali in in Peruvian Amazon in 2001. Lima's conservative Mayor Luis Castañeda is proposing to relocate the community to the Barrios Altos area east of downtown. But community leaders say they will refuse to move, and intend to rebuild where they are.

UNESCO nomenclature wars in Jerusalem

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova issued a statement Oct. 14 repudiating a resolution approved by the body's member states that had been harshly condemned by Israel. The resolution concerns threats to East Jerusalem's holy sites under Israeli occupation, and calls on UNESCO to appoint a permanent representative there to observe. What made it an easy target for Israeli criticism was its reference exclusively to "Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif"—not the Temple Mount or the Wailing Wall. Israel froze cooperation with UNESCO after the resolution passed. Wrote Bokova: "The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

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