As they stand outside the manicured lawns of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Ana Paula Oliveira and Maria da Penha’s expressions barely hint at the heartbreak both have suffered.
Ana Paula’s 19-year-old son Johnatha was killed in May 2014; shot in the back by a police officer firing randomly to try and disperse a crowd. It happened amid a policy of police ‘pacification’ of favelas less than a month before the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
This tragic incident occurred just seven months after she and her family had been evicted from their home in Manguinhos, a favela in Rio’s North Zone, as part of a pre-World Cup urbanization programme. She had lived there her entire life.
Maria is also a victim of displacement. On March 8 this year, after a long battle with the authorities, her home in Vila Autódromo, a community next to Rio’s Olympic Park, was demolished. Around 600 families lived in what was a vibrant, leafy neighbourhood. Now, only 20 families defiantly remain.
Both women are in Geneva this week to participate in the ‘Human rights legacy in sporting events’ debate during the 32nd Human Rights Council of the United Nations. They will help support Children Win’s message to leading sports bodies that Mega Sporting Events must no longer impact on the human rights of residents, especially the rights of children.
“During major sporting events the authorities want to show the tourists and cameras that their city is beautiful and wonderful. As for the favelas, they want to hide these parts, or exterminate them,” says Ana Paula.
“But these parts of the city are only like that because of the authorities’ incompetence and unwillingness to give these people a better life.
“As quickly as possible, organisers need to start thinking about those who are excluded in the host cities. Life is a basic right, above any power money or major sporting event. It should be respected at all times.”
As she stands outside the UN building wearing a t-shirt that bear her son’s picture, Ana Paula adds: “For me to be here today is a victory. It is to give our community visibility to the world.
“I represent thousands of mothers that went through the same thing. It is important to show that our sons have a voice and that the fight will not stop. I also hope that someone will be sensitised and really take action.
“We are afraid that other young people will die soon as we saw that before and during the World Cup the police violence and killings increased [by 39.4% in the state of Rio de Janeiro].
“The legacy of the World Cup was of tears and blood. We hope the Olympics won’t be the same.”
As for Maria, since finally leaving her home after years of “psychological pressure” from the government (removal of local shops and services, cutting off energy and water supplies, cutting down trees and leaving debris from nearby demolitions) she briefly lived in a local church.
Her family are now living in a container until a new house is ready on July 22. The quality of these hastily-built new houses has already been questioned by many.
She, too, is fearful about what legacy the Games will leave in her community in Rio.
“After the Olympics, I am afraid about what will happen. The government should compromise to respect the rights of the people, especially the most vulnerable ones.
“I want to fight for other places hosting the Olympics. When other countries host, they should not remove people. The Games should be for everyone and not for a few. It is very sad to see your community being destroyed and I wouldn’t like to see this happening anywhere else.”