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Serbia’s housing crisis demands immediate action, says UN housing expert

BELGRADE (26 May 2015) – Serbia has undergone enormous challenges in the last two decades and is currently facing structural adjustment, high unemployment and poverty. All of this has created a housing crisis that must be responded to immediately. “Serbia urgently needs a national law on housing that fosters non-discrimination and inclusion and that complies with its international human rights obligations. And, once adopted, this law must be implemented without delay”, stated the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Ms Leilani Farha.

In the early 1990s Serbia’s large public housing stock was privatized and sold to individuals and families at symbolic prices, which explains the high rate of home-ownership. However, homeownership does not guarantee adequate housing. “Homeowners and renters alike indicated that heating, electricity bills and other housing charges are simply unaffordable.  Some renters had even received eviction notices due to arrears” underscored the Rapporteur.

The Special Rapporteur’s visit to Serbia has come at an ideal time with a national housing law in the works. “This new law must take seriously issues of availability, affordability and security of tenure for all, especially for vulnerable groups. And it must be firmly grounded in international human rights law and standards” Ms Farha noted.

“In my view, some significant housing issues of the past remain unresolved. Roma housing conditions are egregious; they continue to be targeted for eviction with its devastating consequences. Allowing this to continue exacerbates discrimination, stigmatization and exclusion,” said the Rapporteur. While real progress in relation to refugees and internally displaced persons has been achieved, including through a relatively new social housing programme, enhanced, coordinated programmes for these and other groups remain crucial. Adequate housing plays an essential role in social inclusion, and is a cornerstone in the enjoyment of all other human rights.

The Special Rapporteur learned of deplorable housing conditions experienced by other vulnerable groups with distinct housing needs, such as persons with disabilities, the young, the elderly, women suffering domestic violence, and migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East. 

The human rights expert noted that the courts in Serbia have yet to fully embrace international human rights law and have failed to ensure access to legal remedies for violations of the right to adequate housing. "This is very troubling. Serbia has an obligation to ensure that housing is protected as a legal right that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, can claim” highlighted the Rapporteur.

The Special Rapporteur concluded the first part of her visit to Serbia, including Kosovo (all references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1244, of 10 June 1999: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1244(1999) ), which comprised Belgrade, Pancevo, Obrenovac, Novi Pazar and Kraljevo.

 Between 18 and 25 May she met with central and local self-government officials, independent institutions including the Office of the Ombudsman, civil society, academics, and the international community. Ms Farha had the opportunity to hear testimonies of residents in social housing, informal settlements, institutions for persons with disabilities, private housing, and a homeless shelter.

The UN Special Rapporteur addressed some key findings and recommendations during a press conference today. She will submit a final report to the Human Rights Council in March 2016.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end of mission statement:

English: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16005&LangID=E

Serbian: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Housing/250515_PStatement_SR_housing_Serbia.docx

Ms. Leilani Farha (Canada) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. She took her function in June 2014. Ms. Farha is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa, Canada. A lawyer by training, for the past 20 years Ms. Farha has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Belgrade (during the visit): Juana Sotomayor, OHCHR (+41 79 444 4917 / + 381 11 62 853 4253 / jsotomayor@ohchr.org) In Geneva (after the visit): (+41 22 917 9445)

For attention for local media in local language:
Aleksandra Stamenkoviæ, UNCT Communications Expert, UN Resident Coordinator Office in Belgrade (+381 11 2040 406 / +381 63 813 8609, aleksandra.stamenkovic@one.un.org)

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