States are failing millions mired in housing crisis, says UN expert

By agency reporter
March 5, 2019

States cannot put themselves forward as human rights leaders while leaving increasing numbers of residents to live and die on their streets, with no means to hold their Governments accountable and with no access to effective remedies, a UN human rights expert has said.

“The time for excuses, justifications and looking the other way when access to justice is denied for the right to housing has long passed”, the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, said in a report presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Rights must have remedies, and Governments must be held accountable to rights holders.

“Rampant evictions of those living in informal settlements and encampments, disregard of court orders and the rule of law and criminalisation of people who are homeless suggest one thing: those whose right to housing has been violated have not been recognised and treated as equal members of the human family”, she said.

“As long as States deny access to justice for the right to housing, they perpetuate a hierarchy of human rights, exposing the discriminatory position that some rights (and thus some rights holders) matter more than others.”

In the report, Farha suggests that the global housing crisis is rooted in a crisis in access to justice because without access to justice, housing is not properly recognised, understood or addressed as a human right.

“Millions who live in homelessness or unacceptable living conditions have no place where they can claim their right to housing when States have failed to progressively realise the right, imposed forced evictions, or criminalised those living in homelessness or informal housing,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur outlined how compliance with the obligation to progressively realise the right to housing should be adjudicated; how forced evictions and criminalisation must be prevented through access to justice and participation in decision-making; how national human rights institutions and informal justice systems should complement the role of courts; and how private actors are required to ensure access to justice not only for direct harms, but also to ensure that investments or development plans are consistent with the realisation of the right to housing.

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


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