1 October 2007
The Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari, issued the following statement on 1 October on the occasion of World Habitat Day:
“The international community commemorates World Habitat Day on the first Monday of every October, reminding us of our commitment to the protection and realisation of the human right to adequate housing and to an adequate standard of living for all people across the world. It is also an occasion to recognise and support ongoing human rights struggles, honour human rights defenders, remind Governments of their legal obligations and bring to light the multiple violations that millions continue to face of their housing and related rights.
The theme selected by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT) for this year’s World Habitat Day is “A Safe City is a Just City.” A human rights perspective is critical if justice is to be achieved in housing and human settlements. The human right to adequate housing is defined as “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.” While the focus of this year’s theme is primarily urban, it must also concern the over three billion people who still live in rural areas. Large numbers of city-dwellers were forced to move to cities in search of employment and live in highly inadequate and unsafe settlements, deprived of the most basic services such as clean water, sufficient space, electricity and healthcare. Safety, properly understood, requires prioritising public housing, provision of basic services to all residents and in situ upgrade of slums and other settlements so as to improve living conditions.
The disturbing growth in forced evictions poses a direct threat to the safety of both urban and rural inhabitants. The right to adequate housing requires States to ensure security of tenure and emphasizes the differential impact of evictions on marginalised groups and communities, including women (1) (often directly exposed to sexual abuse and violence particularly as a result of homelessness), children and older persons, minorities and indigenous peoples, or persons with disabilities. Participation of affected communities in all planning processes is vital. The international community must focus on the broader structural cause of evictions such as the lack of agrarian reform, displacement induced by large development projects, “city beautification” drives, large sporting events, or real estate speculation. Recent figures disturbingly show that more people across the world are being evicted due to development and market forces than due to armed and ethnic conflict.
In my 2007 annual report, I presented Basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement to the United Nations Human Rights Council (2). Incorporated in national law and policy, the guidelines would help minimise displacement and, where it is inevitable, to ensure that international human rights standards are upheld and resettlement is completed in a just and adequate manner. They emphasize that evictions - which can take place only in “exceptional circumstances”, with “full justification” and procedural guarantees – must ensure protection of human rights prior to, during, and after displacement.
On this World Habitat Day, I call upon governments and the international community to note that as long as human rights are violated, there can be neither justice nor safety anywhere. Human rights are indivisible, and respect for the right to adequate housing requires attention to gender equality, non-discrimination, participation in public affairs, the right to security of the person and the home, the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to privacy and freedom from violence. Let this World Habitat Day help us move closer to our goal of realising the human right to adequate housing for all”.
For more information on the work of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing see: http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/housing/index.htm
(1) For the link between violence against women and the right to adequate housing see the reports and questionnaire at http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/housing/women.htm
(2) For the text of the guidelines, in all United Nations languages see: http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/housing/evictions.htm
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