If you had to tell a co-worker or a family member about forced evictions what would you say?

As a visitor to this blog, you may already know about WITNESS’ ongoing campaign in five countries to end forced evictions.  You’ve likely been inspired by the efforts waged by thousands of communities around the world to secure their rightful place in decision-making affecting their lives and land.  But perhaps there was a time when you didn’t know about forced evictions.

Maybe you had already seen footage of the brutal bulldozing of homes in Rio or farms being razed in Cambodia.  Later you came to learn about the abuses that occur before the bulldozers even arrive: the lack of real consultation between communities and those proposing the project in Mexico, the threats and intimidation by authorities in Italy, and the lack of compensation – if any – for homes and land in South Africa.

Fotos-Joka Madruga (40) Communities rally in São Paulo for energy autonomy and against forced evictions from dams (Photo courtesy of Joka Madruga)
Fotos-Joka Madruga (40)
Communities rally in São Paulo for energy autonomy and against forced evictions from dams (Photo courtesy of Joka Madruga)

Maybe you didn’t know at the time that after evictions, especially if there is no real resettlement plan, families are worse off.  Scattered from their neighborhoods and without homes or the livelihoods, schools, and hospitals upon which they relied, forced evictions represent a human-made tornado, an intentional disaster. But this is one disaster we should be able to prevent.

We’ve always known that a construction project should not cause anyone harm.  And that the projected benefits must be weighed with a full understanding of the true costs and true benefits for those closest.

So how would you explain forced evictions in 2 minutes?

WITNESS and Amnesty International took on this challenge in 2012. Each organization was running its own global forced eviction campaign, but recognized that even though an estimated 15 million people are forcibly evicted each year, much of the public did not understand what forced evictions are.  They would ask: “Did they not pay their rent?” or “Shouldn’t they move because a shopping mall would likely benefit more people?” They did not yet realize that no one should be forcibly evicted. In order to join any campaign, regardless of how many signs you make demanding “End Forced Evictions” you need to properly communicate what the fight is for.

Evict Them!We asked the design firm Pentagram to help us communicate this without using human rights jargon, so that we could reach a greater number of people than those already signed up to our newsletters or our respective Facebook pages. We needed to first get their attention. In the end, we produced the animation above “Evict Them! In 5 Easy Steps” as if coming from a government or corporation that wants land for its own purposes.  Now in eight languages, since releasing the animation this week, we have heard three other languages version are being made by activists themselves. This is a good sign.

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But the animation is actually part of an advocacy toolkit to aid anyone who wants to help end forced evictions:

They are available for download and more than 2000 DVDs have already been distributed worldwide. With more people aware of forced evictions and how to fight them, we can finally ensure that communities are at the center of decision-making when it affects their lives and home. And when we do – the communities are better off – as we have seen in our collaborative work in Brazil, Cambodia, Egypt, India, and Mexico.

The International Accountability Project, where I now work, and others campaigning, need these videos and materials.  But more importantly, we need you (and everyone you know!) to get involved.  SHARE the animation. CONNECT your friends with resources and TAKE ACTION now.  Let’s stop forced evictions!

Ryan Schlief is the co-director of the International Accountability Project. He was previously Senior Program Manager at WITNESS where he led the global campaign on forced evictions. Follow him at @iap_ryan and like IAP on Facebook.

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