Praia, 26 January 2015
From 19 to 26 January, in my capacity as 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, I conducted an official visit to the Republic of Cabo Verde. In line with my mandate, the aim of the visit was to use international human rights law to assess the level of implementation of the right to adequate housing, focusing both on progress achieved and on remaining challenges in the country.
I wish to start by thanking the Government of Cabo Verde for inviting me to visit the country, giving me the honour of being the first Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights system to undertake an official visit. I also wish to thank everyone I have met for the hospitality and openness that I have encountered throughout my visit.
I visited cities, towns and informal settlements in the Islands of Santiago, Sal and Sao Vicente, including rural areas. I had the opportunity to meet with national and municipal level government officials and parliamentarians as well as with the Ombudsman, the President of the National Human Rights Commission, civil society and community based organisations, members of the international community, and United Nations officials. Above all, I wish to express my gratitude to the individuals and families who opened their homes to me, and generously shared their housing and living conditions, their concerns, their testimonies and stories. They have helped me to understand their daily situation and constraints, and to make connections with human rights standards. I would like to pay special thanks to the UN Country team for their support throughout this mission.
This statement outlines my preliminary assessment of the States’ achievements and challenges with respect to the implementation of the right to adequate housing, concluding with some initial recommendations. A more comprehensive report will be prepared after my visit, to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its March 2016 session in Geneva.
Cabo Verde is an Island country of approximately 512,000 inhabitants, with an average family size of 4.2, and with approximately 55% of the population under 24 years of age. Not only are residents of Cabo Verde young, the country itself is a relatively young democracy, having become independent from Portugal in 1975, with multi-party elections having been introduced in 1991.
Cabo Verde has quickly and significantly addressed a number of social issues, with poverty rates having been substantially diminished in the last 40 years, for example.
The Constitution of the Republic of Cabo Verde was first adopted in 1992 and has been revised three times since, most recently in 2010. Article 17 provides for the interpretation of fundamental rights and freedoms in light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Core principles of human rights are guaranteed, such as access to justice, universality of rights and the principle of equality. Within the section on economic, social and cultural rights, the Constitution includes the right to adequate housing (article 72) and the right to social security (article 70), among others.
Cabo Verde is party to all international human rights treaties central to the protection of adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and members of their families, and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
In terms of legislative steps, there is no doubt that Cabo Verde takes human rights seriously. The comprehensive catalogue of rights included in its Constitution and the high number of ratifications of international instruments attest to this commitment. The recent appointment of an Ombudsman and the longstanding presence of the Commission on Human Rights also suggest the importance given to human rights domestically. There is a clear understanding of the need to progressively realize the right to adequate housing.
Cabo Verde’s ratification of various international human rights laws means that it is obliged to take deliberate steps to ensure the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing for all, and to take immediate steps to ensure non-discrimination in housing. In other words, Cabo Verde must adopt laws, policies and programs – immediately and progressively – to move forward the right to adequate housing for the most vulnerable individuals and groups.
Under international human rights law, housing is adequate if it is affordable, culturally appropriate, habitable and located close to employment opportunities, schools and health services. Residents must be provided secure tenure and protection against forced eviction or other threats to safety and security. The right to adequate housing also requires ensuring access to adequate and affordable essential services like water, sanitation, electricity and public transportation. Adequate housing is also essential to the exercise of other human rights, like the right to education, health or freedom of assembly and expression.
In this context, I wish to say that I have been impressed by the decision of the Government of Cabo Verde to address housing need as a priority state policy. In recent years, focused effort has been made to enhance the living conditions of the people of Cabo Verde, recognizing the centrality of housing in this endeavour.
More specifically, I commend the central Government and municipal authorities for explicitly recognizing the sizeable quantitative and qualitative housing deficit facing the country and for taking a number of positive steps to begin to address this problem. The fact that some municipalities put in place local initiatives to rehabilitate housing units as early as 2004, and that the National Government declared 2009 the Year of Housing, followed by the development of a national strategy which references the right to housing, are clear illustrations of the priority given to enhancing housing and living conditions and fighting poverty and exclusion. Having only recently – in 2008 – graduated from Least Developed Country (LDC) to Middle Income Country (MIC), this priority is particularly striking. That being said, it appears that this changed status has resulted in less access to international cooperation and assistance.
Despite these important achievements, I have identified some concrete challenges facing Cabo Verde with respect to the implementation of the right to adequate housing.
In 2008 Cabo Verde identified housing as the most pressing issue confronting the country, with a quantitative deficit of approximately 40,775 units and a qualitative deficit of approximately 66,100 units. Although progress has indeed been made over the last few years, the situation remains of serious concern.
I met with many residents living in informal settlements on the islands of Santiago, Sal and Sao Vicente. A complex web of tenure arrangements coexists in these neighbourhoods, including informal rentals, occupation, and conflicting or overlapping land titles, as well as ‘clandestine’ constructions and tin homes. Parts of settlements have been urbanized, or have access to municipal services such as garbage collection or public water taps while others are not serviced.
I am saddened to say that I witnessed deplorable living conditions in informal settlements. Many houses are built by residents themselves incrementally, without proper skills or sufficient materials. This is due to low or fluctuating incomes, or to temporary work. As a result, it is common for roofs to collapse, rain to seep into the home or dust to be a daily reality. Many homes are built in precarious locations, on steep hillsides, are overcrowded and lack kitchen and sanitation facilities, electricity and potable water. Residents are required to rely on public taps – which can be thirty minutes away from the community or without regular maintenance – or unreliable water trucks. I was told repeatedly that water is expensive, and unaffordable for the poorest people, and often of poor quality. For many, housing-related costs put food security, access to medicines and education at risk.
Women and young girls shared with me their distress and concern for having to wash and defecate in public spaces for lack of a washroom within their homes or for poor conditions of public services.
The inadequacy of housing I witnessed can create or deepen conditions leading to higher domestic or community violence, more criminality and tensions where diverse communities are trying to co-habit. I have heard that all of these social ills are on the rise in the country. I am particularly alarmed to learn that there is a significant population of children who are on the streets for a number of complex reasons, but including to escape inadequate housing conditions, violence, and to assist in generating an income for their families.
I also heard testimonies of house demolition in informal settlements in a number of municipalities which are sometimes carried out without due process, resettlement or other remedies and compensation. Reportedly, there is no systematic monitoring of such events and there appear to be few civil society organizations or community associations equipped to challenge house demolitions on human rights grounds.
I visited several households with children with disabilities. I am deeply concerned that most houses in settlements are not accessible for this population. They are often located in steep locations, have stairs at the entranceway or narrow doorways through which a wheelchair cannot pass. In some communities disabled children are unable to attend school for lack of appropriate facilities, transportation and skilled teachers, and there are few educational or other programs to ensure the social inclusion of children with disabilities.
There is evidence that violence against women and children is a serious problem throughout the country. While much work has been done in this regard, I was told that there are no emergency shelters or longer-term housing options available to help women and children who want to escape violence. I understand that there is a National Plan for Combating Gender-Based Violence, and this should be applied in a manner that adequately addresses these housing gaps.
In response to the qualitative and quantitative housing deficit in Cabo Verde, the central government responded with an ambitious and commendable National Social Housing System which includes a number of programs, notably the well-known “Casa para todos” (Home for all). Within the objectives of the programme, there is the construction of 8,400 housing units in the form of condominiums throughout the country; the construction of approximately 1,000 housing units in the rural sector; and rehabilitation and infrastructure in informal neighbourhoods.
The central government has also implemented “Operation Esperanca” aimed at rehabilitating houses across the country aimed at reducing the qualitative housing deficit. This program was initiated in 2003 and has already benefitted more than 3,000 homes. It is implemented by the Cabo Verde Solidarity Foundation.
UN-Habitat is working on a Participatory Slum Upgrading Program in Cabo Verde, which was launched in 2008.
Assessments of different municipalities have been carried out but actual upgrading of “slums” has yet to occur.
Various stakeholders welcomed the creation of the National Social Housing System, and recognize that the programme Casa para todos was rolled out relatively quickly, with some units already occupied. However, several also shared some concerns with respect to the building component of the program.
The most significant concern was accessibility and affordability of the new units to the poorest and most vulnerable populations. A number of people referred to the program as “Casa para algunos” (Housing for some). Though the program offers rent-geared-to-income units for the poorest households (Class A), it appears that under the current plan at most 1/3 of the 6,000 units scheduled to be built will be granted to households in this Class, despite the fact that 75% of applications for the program come from this Class. This is related to the financial viability of the program.
The financial viability and sustainability of the programme has also been identified as an area of concern. The units for sale aimed at higher income earners (Class B and C) which are of higher quality are not being purchased in the numbers required in order for the program to break-even financially. It was suggested that this low purchase rate might be attributable not only to financial constraints but also to stigma associated with living in ‘social housing’.
Concern was also expressed regarding the centralized nature of the programme, and its seemingly lack of flexibility to adapt to local contexts and demands. Though municipalities were consulted in the initial phase of the programme, and have been participating in its implementation, for example with the the allocation of public land for construction, some claim that they are no longer consulted and that communication with IFH, the responsible entity for the programme, could be improved.
Most of the units being built are fairly high-density, three or four storey complexes. Some claim this is out-of-step with the housing culture in informal settlements and especially in rural settings which tend to be more horizontal in structure. Rural residents are used to having gardens or orchards, alongside chickens and goats and in individual houses.
Many expressed concern that the programme allocates too many resources to the building of new units to the detriment of alternatives that might be more cost-efficient and effective at ensuring adequate housing for a greater number of the poorest households, including more rehabilitation and development of infrastructure in existing neighbourhoods and settlements.
While in Cabo Verde I met with both national and municipal officials, as they both have responsibilities with respect to the implementation of the right to housing under domestic law. My discussions suggest a certain tension between the two levels of government. There is the perception that municipalities do not have the resources necessary to implement the housing initiatives that they have designed and that central housing programmes do not always respond to the unique local housing deficiencies.
The country is experiencing tremendous pressure on its housing market. The population has doubled since 1970, and continues to grow steadily and fast: 65.1% of the population now live in urban centres, mainly in Praia (45%).
Informal urbanization has been fuelled by internal migration, particularly towards the more prosperous island Santiago and the touristic islands of Sal and Boa Vista. As a consequence, there is an increasing demand for affordable housing with the influx of national and international workers. At the same time, the tourism industry places more pressure on the limited available housing stock and the environment, with seasonal workers requiring only temporary housing and unwilling or unable to pay high rents. Currently foreign investors are not required to contribute to the social development of the communities in which they operate. They are not required to provide housing or infrastructure for their workers or for the communities in which they build resorts.
I also received indications that municipal governments in areas which are part of the Integrated Tourist Development Zones are not provided with sufficient revenues from the tourism industry to compensate for the social and economic stress the tourism industry places on their housing deficit.
It caught my attention that civil society devotes its efforts to the provision of services and planning of programmes, and is resourceful in seeking avenues to tackle people’s needs whether as implementers of local government initiatives or of their own programmes with funding from international sources. However, in my view, there seems to be a gap in advocating for public policy or human rights implementation. Moreover, there seems to be few residential or community organizations comprised of those suffering housing disadvantage.
I also have some concerns regarding government accountability to the right to adequate housing and access to justice and remedies for violations of this right. It appears to me that the available accountability mechanisms are not being used systematically or to their full potential. Though there is an Ombudsman, a National Human Rights Commission, independent judiciary, and a Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights, it is not clear that these entities or actors are empowered or have developed a practice of holding government authorities in Cabo Verde accountable to their international human rights obligations, including those pertaining to housing. Both the Ombudsman’s office and the Human Rights Commission are understaffed and have limited resources.
In light of these observations, I wish to outline a few preliminary conclusions and recommendations to enhance the implementation of the rights to adequate housing and non-discrimination in this context:
- I strongly encourage the Government to adopt a national plan of action on disability in line with the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities, placing housing and accessibility at its core.
- I also recommend that the State implement the National Plan for Combating Gender-Based Violence and ensure that women and children who are escaping violence in their households have both temporary emergency shelter and longer-term housing solutions available to them.
- All levels of government must refrain from demolishing homes as such actions constitute a violation of the right to adequate housing under international human rights law. Where eviction is unavoidable for legitimate reasons based in objective evidence or as a result of natural disaster, international human rights standards must be followed, including meaningful consultation with those most affected, due process, housing alternatives as agreed upon by those affected, adequate compensation and access to justice.
- In relation to the recent volcanic eruption in the Island of Fogo, I have been made aware of ongoing discussions about resettlement. I strongly advice the holding of ongoing, genuine consultation and discussions with the individuals and communities affected by this natural disaster, ensuring various housing alternatives are considered and keeping in line with the need for people to have their livelihoods and cultural adequacy.
- Cabo Verde does not have access to natural resources to generate national revenues and is highly reliant on aid and loans provided by the international community including international financial institutions. The provision of loans and aid must be in line with the States human rights obligations and must respect the States priorities in this regard.
- I encourage the government to initiate a national review and dialogue about the National System of Social Housing with all relevant stakeholders, including municipal government officials and their representatives, using international human rights standards on housing to guide discussions and any decisions taken. Specifically, I suggest that the government re-visit the priorities within the system to ensure that a greater proportion of technical and financial resources are directed toward rehabilitation of houses and toward the expansion of housing options for the lowest income households with affordability and sustainability in mind.
- All those responsible for implementing the National System of Social Housing and other relevant housing policies and programmes at the central and municipal level, and also partners such as local associations, civil society and UN-Habitat should receive human rights and housing training and education. Any programs developed within this framework should be based in international human rights law, Cabo Verde’s Constitution and existing standards pertaining to the right to adequate housing.
- Tourism is an essential source of revenue for the country and its impact on housing should also be addressed from a human rights perspective. Agreements with international tourism enterprises must be made conditional on social responsibility clauses based in human rights that ensure: a) provision of adequate housing for temporary workers in coordination with local authorities; b) participation in the development of housing, infrastructure and services for the existing local community; c) quotas for employment of local residents to ensure income to provide for housing security and utilities; among others.
- As I underscore in my upcoming thematic report to the Human Rights Council, effective implementation of the right to adequate housing cannot be achieved without the proactive involvement of local and subnational governments. In order to ensure this, national level government must increase its current budgetary allocations to municipalities. National government must also be responsive and support existing or alternative housing programs developed by municipalities. In my view, central government must also ensure municipalities have the ability to pursue international financing for housing programs and projects.
- Mechanisms to ensure accountability of governments to their international human rights obligations such as the Ombudsman, the Commission of Human Rights, and the courts must be promoted and used more systematically, including through the adoption of necessary enabling legislation. Civil society must become more familiar with these processes and must advocate for adequate housing laws, policies and programs based in human rights.