A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not United Nations staff nor paid for his/her work. The Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures
of the Human Rights Council.
For more on Special Rapporteurs, please refer to Fact Sheet N° 27: Seventeen Frequently Asked Questions about United Nations Special Rapporteurs.
The human right to adequate housing
As defined by the first Special Rapporteur, “the human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity”.
This definition is in line with the core elements of the right to adequate housing as defined by General Comment No. 4 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the States which are party to it). According to the Committee, while adequacy is determined in part by social, economic, cultural, climatic, ecological and other factors, it is nevertheless possible to identify certain aspects of the right that must be taken into account for this purpose in any particular context. They include the following: a) Legal security of tenure; b) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; c) Affordability; d) Habitability; e) Accessibility; f) Location; and g) Cultural adequacy. For the definition of theses elements, please refer to General Comment No. 4.
For more on the human right to adequate housing, please refer to International Standards.
The obligations of States
The legal obligations of Governments concerning the right to housing consist of (i) the duties found in article 2.1 of the Covenant; and (ii) the more specific obligations to recognize, respect, protect and fulfil this and other rights.
Three phrases in article 2.1 are particularly important for understanding the obligations of Governments to realize fully the rights recognized in the Covenant, including the right to adequate housing:
(a) "undertakes to take steps . . . by all appropriate means"
In addition to legislative measures, administrative, judicial, economic, social and educational steps must also be taken. States parties are also obliged to develop policies and set priorities consistent with the Covenant. They are also required to evaluate the progress of such measures and to provide effective legal or other remedies for violations. With specific reference to the right to adequate housing, States parties are required to adopt a national housing strategy.
(b) "to the maximum of its available resources
The obligation of States is to demonstrate that, in aggregate, the measures being taken are sufficient to realize the right to adequate housing for every individual in the shortest possible time using the maximum available resources.
(c) "to achieve progressively"
This obligation "to achieve progressively" must be read in the light of article 11.1 of the Covenant, in particular the reference to the right to the "continuous improvement of living conditions". The obligation of progressive realization, moreover, exists independently of any increase in resources. Above all, it requires effective use of resources available.
The four additional obligations that Governments have to fulfill in order to implement the right to adequate housing are:
The obligation to recognize the human right dimensions of housing and to ensure that no measures are taken with the intention of eroding the legal status of this right. The adoption of measures and appropriate policies geared towards progressive realization of housing rights form part of this obligation.
The obligation to respect the right to adequate housing means that Governments must abstain from carrying out or otherwise advocating the forced or arbitrary eviction of persons and groups. States must respect people's rights to build their own dwellings and order their environments in a manner which most effectively suits their culture, skills, needs and wishes.
The obligation to protect effectively the housing rights of a population means that Governments must ensure that any possible violations of these rights by "third parties" such as landlords or property developers are prevented. Where such infringements do occur, the relevant public authorities should act to prevent any further deprivations and guarantee to affected persons access to legal remedies of redress for any infringement caused.
The obligation to fulfil the right to adequate housing is both positive and interventionary. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has asserted that identifiable governmental strategies aimed at securing the right of all persons to live in peace and dignity should be developed.
For more on the obligations of States, please refer to the United Nations Fact Sheet N° 21 on the right to housing and to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 3 on the nature of States parties’ obligations (art.2 (1)).
Implementation of the mandate by the Special Rapporteur
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights in April 2000 by resolution 2000/9. Subsequent to the replacement of the Commission by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, the mandate was endorsed and extended by the Human Rights Council resolution 6/27 of 14 December 2007. For more information on the history of the mandate, please refer to Overview of the mandate.
In the fulfilment of his or her mandate, the Special Rapporteur:
- Undertakes Country Visits (see Country Visits);
- Responds to information received on allegations concerning the situation of housing rights in particular countries (see Individual Complaints);
- Develops constructive dialogue with Governments, civil society and other relevant actors with a view to identify solutions for the implementation of the right to adequate housing.
- Submits annual reports to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly covering the activities relating to the mandate (see Annual Reports).