China’s implementation of the human right to adequate housing


Mrs/M. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee:

We would like to thank you and the Secretariat for the opportunity to address at this session Article 11 of the Covenant, in particular the human right to adequate housing and related rights. We will specifically address Chinas implementation of these rights through presenting the main findings of our parallel report on this country. The Housing and Land Rights Network of Habitat International Coalition and the Center of Housing Rights and Eviction (COHRE) have produced the report jointly, and through the consultation of experts and organizations in the field of housing and human rights in general, as well as specifically concerned with China, such as UNPO, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, and Human Rights in China. To try and draw a picture as thorough as possible, despite the dearth of civil society institutions in Chinamainly due to repressionthat constrained HIC-HLRN and COHRE efforts to provide primary-source data, we also have used with their agreement the research and documentation of other institutions, including Human Rights Watch.


The Committees questions related to Article 11 began with destruction in Tibet. This joint parallel report reminds the Committee of Tibets status as a Chinese-occupied country. This is significant to the jurisprudence under Article 11, since it constitutes an example by which the violations of the human right to adequate housing can be of such a nature and scale as to affect an entire people, including their inalienable right to self-determination, interestingly enough, extremely similarly as the way the Palestinian and Kurdish peoples rights to housing, land and self-determination have been consistently violated. Likewise, the Tibetan people, as such, should be a subject of the constructive dialogue not only under Article 11, but also as violations of their housing rights relate to Article 1.2 protections.

Given the characteristics of political bodies of the UN system, including the Commission on Human Rights, no significant attention to Tibets occupation has been permitted since the 1960s. While it may not be the task of this Committee to compensate all the shortcomings of other UN bodies, it is nonetheless uniquely competent to address these long-obscured problems.

Land rights and urban/rural disparities

Across China, land is treated as State property. This has led to insecure tenure for all peoples living in the State party. The Chinese legal system has progressed recently to protect property rights, including housing property. However, the law reflects ideological features that exclude land as a factor of the housing property, which also excludes land and the need for replacing land from adequate compensation in cases of resettlement.

Violationsor, as in China, the absenceof land as a right make clear the need for protection of land as a human right that derives from the human need for land, as both a fundamental element of the inalienable right to self-determination and a resource for adequate housing, but also the basis of livelihood of the large majority of Chinese citizens who lives in rural areas, mainly from agricultural production. We recommend that the Committee consider the need for China to expand its concept of housing rights to allow for greater protection of land tenure.

The Covenants Article 2 addresses nondiscrimination as an over-riding principle of application. General Comment No. 4 on the right to housing clarified the content of that right to include availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure (para. 8[b]). China faces special challenges in ensuring the provision of services without discrimination; however, the striking disequilibrium in services and infrastructure between urban and rural areas raises important lessons where application of the Covenant is concerned.

As elsewhere in the developing world, the tremendous human migration from the land into the cities is a fact. However, it is not inevitable. The principle motive for urban migration is the systematic and longstanding neglect of rural development in favor of urban-centered investment, leaving rural residents little choice. Worse, people migrating from rural communities to cities find themselves victims of authorities carelessness twice, finally to be unjustly harassed and collectively punished as the cause of undisciplined urbanization and skewed development. In China, the hukou system that states a difference between the people depending on their area of origin has become all the more an instrument of discrimination as local authorities abuse it to rip the migrants off in the residence permit issuing process, to such an extent that most can never be fully regularised.

Local authorities and their duties versus housing rights violations and harassment of protestors
The official notices cited in the parallel report indicate that the Central Authority explicitly defers responsibility for addressing housing rights violations (e.g., forced evictions) to the local authorities, but also has recently recognised the local authorities role in the violations themselves, but without offering any mechanisms for remedying the problem. The Committee also should be aware that not only no effective mechanisms exist, but the authorities at all levels also have severely and violently suppressed the increasing number of protests related to housing and land rights violationsnamely house demolition and land confiscationincluding through imprisonment and oppression of petitioners claiming for compensation, and that of the few lawyers who dared taking up and tried to defend such cases. This is all the more to deplore than cases of violation have been multiplying in the past years because of an array of pretexts going from big cities redeveloppment schemes to their beautification in preparation to the 2008 Olympics.

Therefore, the review of China should raise the classic problem in implementing the Covenant of the continuity of treaty obligations through central and local authorities, just as the General Comment No. 9 the domestic application of the Covenant clarifies the obligation to domesticate the legal provisions and judicial remedies locally. It would be valuable for the Committee to emphasize with the State party the need to take steps effectively to ensure local respect, protection and fulfillment of covenanted rights.


Both in rural and urban China, the demographic challenge of a disproportionately aged population has direct consequences for enjoyment of the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing and food under Article 11. This naturally overlaps with the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance (Article 9).

Since 1997, China has taken significant steps to introduce and expand a pension system, but at a historic moment when the total of 134 million senior citizens is projected to reach 240 million by 2020, the measures taken so far are woefully short of the need. This situation is even more serious when taking into consideration the currently dismal living conditions for most Chineseand even more so for Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongoliansin the countryside under the State partys jurisdiction and effective control, as well as the usual vulnerabilities of elderly people to eviction and resettlement.

Finally, the drafters of this parallel report must note that the process of gathering the contained information suffered a lack of sufficient statistical information from the official sources. Nonetheless, the available information corroborate in confirming these priority issues and shortcomings in the implementation of Article 11 of the Covenant. We are hopeful that the concluding observations and recommendations found in this parallel report will provide practical and constructive alternative solutions for progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights for all in China and the other territories under the Committees present review.

Thank you.