12 March 2008
I welcome this opportunity to address the Human Rights Council for the last time, in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing.
As you are well aware, I was given the privilege of being appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on adequate housing when the mandate was created in 2000. The creation of this mandate, as well as other ESCR mandates, has permitted better exposure of these rights. It has also made the indivisibility between all human rights even more obvious, an approach that I have adopted throughout my work.
At this stage, I am happy to report that adequate housing is now increasingly recognized by courts and administrative entities as a distinct and fully justiciable human right. Hesitation by some to fully recognize adequate housing as a full human right resides in a confusion that persists between the right to adequate housing and the obligation of States to provide a house for all those in need. I hope that the work over the past seven years has convinced all members of this Council that without the recognition of each individual and community rights to adequate housing, many other rights, including civil and political rights that are on this Councils agenda, will remain unfulfilled.
The realization of the right to adequate housing encounters numerous problems. But solutions are also within reach, if political will, including the willingness to convert commitments into reality, is demonstrated by States. I have attempted in my final annual report to give an overview of the work that has been done, to give some insights on the challenges ahead for the right to adequate housing and recommendations for further action on emerging areas in this field, and use this opportunity to remind the Council members about a number of recommendations that I have put forward previously in my reports.
Although the time constraint does not permit me to go through all the issues covered in my report, I will highlight some key insights and concerns.
Throughout my country missions and work, I have proposed protection measures for the right to adequate housing. One such critical measure calls for a combination of a humanitarian and a human rights approach to confront the situation of millions of people living in grossly inadequate housing conditions and those facing homelessness, landlessness, displacement and related violence.
It is also essential to recognize the right to adequate housing through legislation and policy and through budgetary commitment. This recognition is a first step and needs to be followed up by concrete measure to implement this right. In this context, particular attention should be given to economic and social transformation and the need to address market failures when they occur, including removing the primacy given to market solutions. Such rethinking must be based on the urgent requirements of the most vulnerable individuals and groups.
In this context, I would draw the attention of the Council to a number of observations drawn from the 13 country missions I was able to carry out.
The first one is the issue of coordination between various spheres of government. The issue of distribution of competencies between various actors or state level can lead to inefficiency and to difficulties in clearly establishing responsibilities, between levels of government, for not implementing the right adequate housing for all residents of a given country. This issue is even more visible when the legal argument of distribution of competencies between various authorities of a federal state is put forward. Nevertheless, whether federal or provincial, municipality or other authorities, the state should devise strategies to ensure the implementation of the right to adequate housing. This is a crucial obstacle that many on the ground face, in relation to the realisation of not only adequate housing but many other human rights. The Council may wish to take this up as an issue for general debate at a future session.
It is critical that the design of policies and programs should be based on a human rights framework and should fully recognize the right to adequate housing. Moreover, it is a prerequisite that courts in all country not only refer to national legislation but also to international law and obligations that their country has agreed upon. Unfortunately, a majority of lawyers and representatives of authorities have very little training and knowledge of human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights. This hampers greatly efforts to implement the right to adequate housing in all countries. The overarching need for human rights education can be addressed by the organisation of trainings for lawyers and officials, and OHCHR can contribute in this regard.
In the context of legislation, some positive steps have been taken by a number of the members of the Council. These efforts should be strengthened and could serve as good practices that could serve as examples for other member states.
Examples of France and Scotland can be given in regard to progressive legislations and policies on the right to adequate housing even though much remains to be done for the realization of this human right particularly, in France. I would also like to praise the policies that have been recently announced in Australia to address the issue of homelessness and housing affordability and the positive steps with regards to the situation of indigenous peoples. I find these policy measures as being consistent with the recommendations made in my mission report to Australia and call on the government to revisit the analysis contained in the report.
I am also particularly pleased with the recent judgment of the Constitutional Court of South Africa concerning evictions in the city of Johannesburg. I find this judgement completely consistent with international provisions on the right to adequate housing and protection against forced evictions including the process advocated by the basics principles and guidelines on development based evictions and displacement.
I would once again very strongly advocate for the adoption of the proposed Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which would further clarify misunderstandings concerning the justiciability of the right to adequate housing.
I will now briefly discuss my last missions, which will help illustrating additional issues I would like to bring to the attention of the Council.
Mr. President, distinguished delegates, I am pleased to report that two out of my three most recent missions took place in countries that explicitly and constitutionally recognize the right to adequate housing, namely Spain and South Africa.
My mission to Spain took place from 20 November to 1 December 2006.
While the recognition of the right to adequate housing exists in Spain, it is now an imperative that the justiciability of the right to adequate housing is translated into national, regional and local judicial and policy systems.
In my report, I noted the difficulties of some categories of the population in their access to adequate housing and called for immediate attention to particular groups, including women, youth, the elderly, people with disabilities, Roma communities, migrants and the homeless.
I am happy to report that, since my mission, additional positive steps have been taken by the authorities to address some of the concerns expressed in the report.
In 2007, the Spanish authorities both at the federal and regional levels took several initiatives to address the national housing crisis. For instance, the Government has pledged to build 10,000 housing units for rental to university students at highly subsidized rates and has decided to provide financial assistance for rent to those between 22 and 30 years of age.
I also believe that practices such as real estate mobbing, corruption and discrimination in the real estate sector should be heavily penalized. I have been informed that the Minister of Housing has announced her intention, together with the Federation of Municipalities to join action against “real estate mobbing”. The Land Law of 2007, as well as the appointment of special prosecutors, are also positive steps to addresses the issue of corruption. While it may be too early to access the effectiveness of these measures it is my hope that administrative and financial means will be made available, to ensure that these measures are implemented.
While fully recognising the commitment of the current government to tackle the issue of adequate housing, I remain concerned about the issue of housing affordability. This issue will continue to heavily impact groups with lower income or those more vulnerable to discrimination. It will also affect the structure of cities, leading to the displacement and eviction of the poorer from the centre to the periphery, a phenomenon known as gentrification.
I also continue to receive very alarming information with regards to the situation of migrant workers, especially in the South of Spain. While the economy is hugely benefitting from this labour, sometime even illegal with the full knowledge of all, they continue to live in grossly inadequate housing and living conditions, some of which I witnessed during my mission. I hope that this situation will be quickly addressed by the authorities and that existing legislation protecting the right to adequate housing of migrants, be strictly applied to the agricultural sector.
Although problems arising from various levels of competencies of a federal system can also be found in Spain, it is of utmost importance that a comprehensive and coordinated national housing policy based on human rights be put in place by Spain and that the draft national human rights plan of action being currently finalized fully include economic, social and cultural rights.
I welcome the openness and constructive manner in which the government of Spain has accepted my mission report and would like to publicly thank the Minister of Housing, Madame Carme Chacon for the kind letter sent to me dated 11 March, 2008 indicating her governments continued commitment to follow the human rights approach to tackling the housing crisis in Spain.
At the invitation of the Government of South Africa, I undertook a mission to the country from 12 to 24 April 2007.
As you are all aware, South Africa has often been cited as an example for the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights. It has legislative achievements, in particular ground-breaking court judgments that should be an example for all.
As a developing country, however, that has experienced apartheid and lives with that tragic legacy, the challenges remain enormous. South Africa has to deal with a significant number of people that do not have access to the basic human right to adequate housing. In many informal settlements, people continue to live in conditions that fall far short of any standards of adequate and secure housing.
I also observed a number of other problems faced by all levels of Government in providing adequate post-settlement support, resulting from land redistribution programmes but also to manage the impact of mining activities on communities and the environment.
As noted in my mission report an area of concern continues to be the critical lack of housing and support for particular groups of people for example women (including those from indigenous communities, those with disabilities, migrant women and women with HIV/AIDS). Also lacking is a coordinated countrywide response to the housing needs of orphaned children, people with disabilities and the homeless.
Positive progress has been made by South Africa in the area of water. These efforts should continue, particularly for those who still face shortage of water and lack of access to sanitation. It is critical that the Government enhance its dialogue and consultations with civil society organizations and affected individuals and communities.
These are a number of challenges that the authorities must face and act upon. In this context, I would consider it essential that South Africa ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Once again I welcome the constructive manner that the government of South Africa has engaged during and in the aftermath of the mission and particularly appreciate its willingness to follow-up on the mission recommendations.
My mission to Canada took place from 9 to 22 October 2007. For this session, I am presenting a preliminary note on this mission. I regret that the full report could not be made available for this session.
My mission focused on four main themes: homelessness, womens right to adequate housing, Aboriginal populations adequate housing and the possible impact of the 2010 Olympic Games on the right to adequate housing in Vancouver.
While the definitive conclusion and recommendations will be contained in the final report, I believe that Canada should revert back to policies that in the past had allowed the country to achieve remarkable housing successes. Although a majority of the population may be adequately housed, there is evidence that a significant number of people live in inadequate housing, under great financial stress to pay their housing. Data in regard to homelessness and poverty suggests that more people – and increasingly from the middle-income class – will face the problems of adequate housing, especially in terms of affordability. There is also an urgent need to intensify efforts with respect to the grave housing conditions faced by numerous indigenous peoples in both rural and urban areas in the country, including direct threats due to resource extraction that I have witnessed during my visit to the Lubicon community in the province of Alberta.
As a very wealthy country, with significant surplus in federal budget, immediate attention is required for the most vulnerable part of the population living in inadequate housing and living conditions. There is no justification for not massively engaging in the improvement of the situation of all those that face inadequate housing and living conditions throughout Canada.
I welcome the detailed response that I received from the Canadian authorities on my preliminary observations and would like to assure the government that these will be reflected in my mission report.
I would like to say a few words regarding follow-ups to my missions and visits. In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the governments of Brazil and Peru for having formally invited me to undertake follow-up visits during the last interactive dialogue. Unfortunately, it has not been possible for me to conduct these missions before this session of the Council. It is my hope that the governments will continue to extend the same cooperation to the next mandate-holder.
I also hope that the next mandate-holder will be able to finalize dates for a mission with other countries that have accepted a visit, such as Angola and the United States of America.
I would also like to very warmly thank the authorities of Mexico for their support during my informal visit to the country along with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples regarding the specific project of La Parota. I commend their commitment to an open and frank dialogue on the broader issues, with national policy formulation implications. I hope that this example will assist other mandate holders to initiate dialogue with States on particular human rights situations.
In the last part of my annual report, you will find a number of general recommendations, as well as specific recommendations on various issues. These recommendations should be read in conjunction with recommendations formulated in my previous reports. You are all aware of a number of issues that I have constantly brought forward to the attention of the Commission and the Council, including homelessness, forced evictions, discrimination in accessing adequate housing, access to adequate housing of vulnerable groups, the essential need to continue to focus on women and adequate housing, land, property and inheritance and the close relation between land and housing including the need for the Council to recognize land as a human right. I also hope that the emerging issues identified in the annual report, including the need for sustained work on prevention strategies for natural disasters; the link between climate change and housing and land; the need to reprioritize rural housing and living conditions and the need to find ways to continue to engage constructively with civil society groups and movements across the world.
I very warmly welcome the support given by the Council to resolution 6/27, acknowledging the work that has been done on the mandate, including on concrete tools such as the Basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement and indicators. I am confident that members of the Council will continue to positively interact with the next mandate-holder. I very much recommend the next mandate-holder to continue the work on women and housing, and consider extending this work to other groups, such as children and other ones identified in resolution 6/27. I would also recommend that additional support and resource be given to the mandate, in order to enable the future mandate-holder to fulfill the immense task necessitated by the continued prevalence of the global housing and land rights crisis.
Mr. President, when I presented my preliminary report to the Commission on Human Rights in 2001, I recited a poem that captured the global struggle for a dignified place to live. Let me close with two short poems, first by Sahir Ludhianvi and the second by Faiz Ahmed Faiz that offers hope and captures the enormous task yet to be completed.
That morning, when the veil of night will slip away from the head of these dark centuries
When the clouds of suffering melt, when the wine glass of happiness sparkles
When the sky dances joyously and the earth sings songs of delight
Surely the morning will dawn some day
We are the ones who will bring about that morning.
The burden of the night still weighs us down
The eye and the heart are still not free
Move on, for the destination hasnt yet been reached.
I would like to thank you all for your attention. I hope that my work as a Rapporteur has been useful for all and for the next mandate-holder in their efforts to secure the right to adequate housing for all worldwide. I trust the Council will continue to play a leadership role in promoting this critical human right and avail myself by all means to the Council for any further assistance I can provide.
I thank you for your attention.