UN experts warn over Council of Europe mixed messages on homelessness in the Netherlands
16 April 2015
GENEVA (16 April 2015) - The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe let politics trump respect for human rights when it issued two convoluted resolutions relating to the plight of homeless persons with irregular migration status in the Netherlands, according to three human rights experts*.
“The Council appears to have sent mixed and ultimately incompatible messages in its response to the legal finding of the European Committee of Social Rights,” said Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
“On the one hand, the Ministers effectively rejected the arguments put by the Dutch Government, which had called for the finding to be deemed erroneous. That means that the decision stands and the Dutch Government’s obligations to take urgent and immediate action have been upheld. That is very good news for those who might otherwise have been left in the future to survive without shelter through long and cold winters, as well as for Europe’s human rights principles,” said Alston.
“On the other hand, the Ministers employed deliberately weak language, seemingly accepting the Dutch Government’s claim that a large and singularly vulnerable category of people are excluded from its human rights obligations. They failed to use language consistently used in earlier comparable resolutions, and included a diluted obligation for the Government to report on the steps it is obligated to take to remedy the situation.”
According to the experts, it is particularly disturbing that the Ministers failed to refer to earlier resolutions that explicitly provide that Member States have a responsibility to prevent homelessness of persons with an irregular migration status. “States might erroneously interpret today’s resolution as allowing them to ignore the Charter rights of irregular migrants present in their jurisdiction,” the experts noted.
Last year, the European Committee of Social Rights, a body that oversees the European Social Charter, decided in two separate cases that the Netherlands is violating the right to emergency assistance of adult homeless irregular migrants. Decisions by the European Committee of Social Rights are followed by resolutions by the Committee of Ministers, a political body that cannot reverse the legal assessment by the expert body.
“The legal assessment by the European Committee that the Netherlands has an obligation under the European Social Charter to provide emergency assistance to homeless irregular migrants is not affected by today’s resolution. Moreover, the Netherlands is not only under a European, but also under an international obligation to ensure the rights of this group,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau.
In December 2014, the three experts were in contact with the Dutch Government when it refused to implement the two decisions by the European Committee of Social Rights. In January 2015, the Dutch Government announced it would fund municipalities that are offering emergency assistance to homeless irregular migrants – a change of its long-standing position that was welcomed by the experts.
“I expect that the Dutch Government will now give full effect to the decisions by the European Committee to ensure that the situation in the country is brought into full conformity with the European Social Charter and international human rights law,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha.
The resolution by the Committee of Ministers requests the Netherlands to report on further developments on this matter. The UN experts will continue to closely monitor developments in the Netherlands.
(*) The experts: The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston; the 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, Leilani Farha; and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau.
Philip Alston (Australia) took office as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014, following his appointment by the Human Rights Council. He is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. Mr. Alston has previously served the UN in several capacities including as Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Millennium Development Goals, as well as chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent and acts in his personal capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.
François Crépeau (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Crépeau is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montréal, where he holds the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/SRMigrants/Pages/SRMigrantsIndex.aspx
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