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Human Rights Council concludes clustered interactive dialogue on adequate housing and foreign debt

Council concludes debate on adequate housing and foreign debt

01 March 2018


GENEVA (1 March 2018) - The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, and with the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky.

The dialogue started on Wednesday afternoon and a summary can be found here.

In the interactive discussion, numerous speakers praised the work of the two mandate holders.  With regard to the effects of foreign debt, speakers raised concern about austerity measures and the negative impact of foreign debt.  In the name of fiscal discipline, countries were applying unnecessary austerity measures, which violated basic human rights.  They stressed the States’ obligations to identify the root causes of fiscal and economic crises and ensure a participatory process for the development of evidence-based economic and fiscal policies.  They also called upon the international community to hold financial institutions accountable for the violations of human rights they inflicted with the austerity measures.  These measures failed by preventing sustainable economic recovery.  On the question of housing, many highlighted the importance of this right as a fundamental economic, social and cultural right.  In particular, they highlighted the plans and programmes they had put in place in order to ensure the right to housing, especially for the most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, orphans, migrants, and persons with disabilities.  

In concluding remarks, Ms. Farha encouraged States to make emergency shelters available; to waive land title documents in order to make housing benefits more accessible; to engage the private sector; and to look into the best practices of others.  These included the “housing first” solution, implemented by Finland, and the verdict of the Constitutional Court in South Africa which ruled that evictions had to be postponed until suitable alternatives were found.  She called upon the need for stronger multilateral alliances that would articulate affordable housing as human right.

Mr. Bohoslavsky, in concluding remarks, emphasized that foreign debt was a global problem that needed a global solution.  Illicit financial flows did fall within his mandate, contrary to what some speakers had suggested.  International human rights law, including the right to development was binding to the international financial institutions and there were explicit legal norms that required attention in this regard, such as article 21 of the American Convention on Human Rights which stated that “any other form of exploitation of man by man shall be forbidden by law.”  The IMF and World Bank were participating in drafting the Guiding Principles.  He called upon all States who remained silent, to engage.

Participating in the debate were the delegations of European Union; Togo on behalf of the African Group; Germany; Montenegro; Holy See; Finland; Brazil; Namibia; Pakistan; Tunisia; Spain; Paraguay; Togo; Bahrain; Australia; Cuba; France; China; Ethiopia; Morocco; India; Greece; Venezuela; Benin; Malaysia; Iraq; Bolivia; Bangladesh; South Africa; Honduras; Egypt; Philippines; Saudi Arabia; Argentina; Sudan; Ecuador; Kuwait; and the State of Palestine.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Conectas Direitos Humanos; Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain: International Bar Association; Amnesty International; Mexican Commission of Defense and Promotion of the Human Rights; International Human Rights Association of American Minorities; Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik; Association of World Citizens; Pan African Union for Science and Technology; Human Rights Now; Caritas Internationalis International Confederation of Catholic Charities; United Schools International; and Center for Economic and Social Rights.   

The Council is holding a full day of meetings today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  At 11:30 a.m., it will start an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on torture.

Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing and the Independent Expert on Foreign Debt

European Union said investing in human rights and open societies was the best investment to achieve sustainability.  The European Union used a human-rights-based approach to development that ensured nobody was left behind.  Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, called for rethinking strategies for sustainable development.  Providing decent and affordable housing, including sanitation services, formed key parts of the African Union’s agenda.  Germany said violations to the right to adequate housing were all too familiar.  Through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, States committed to provide access to housing and relevant services to all.  Germany noted strategies had to commit to participatory approaches and asked for examples of such models.

Montenegro said national legislation laid out plans to provide housing to those in need.  Participation of local government was being promoted to better implement housing strategies.  Holy See raised concern over global funds taking advantage of economies in distress and called for responsible lending and borrowing.  To achieve sustainability there was a need to promote stronger policy around responsible lending and borrowing and debt restructuring.  Finland said it prioritized rapid intervention and multi-sector cooperation to increase the availability of affordable housing.  Finland asked what challenges existed to secure housing for those with serious mental disabilities.

Brazil agreed that economic adjustment measures should not undermine human rights.  Economies in disarray had a clear negative impact on human rights.  In Brazil, housing was being provided to those in need despite the serious economic situation.  Namibia said it continued to suffer an acute shortage of affordable housing.  Turning to foreign debt, Namibia noted that economic reform programmes must be inclusive.  

Pakistan said the impact of economic reform years had to be correlated to existing human rights norms, standards and institutions.  Financial institutions had to ensure that they were not marked with interest rates that were abusive.  Tunisia said a rights based housing approach was a basic component of the development of social justice.  In 2012 Tunisia had adopted a social housing objective aimed at alleviating the crisis for many income groups.  It worked with all stakeholders and civil society to develop society, and in particular orphans, homeless street dwellers and all who faced great dangers.  Spain thanked the two mandate holders for their work and highlighted the importance of economic social and cultural rights as it took up its place in the Human Rights Council.  There had to be a rights-based approach to housing.  How could the Bogota Agenda or the Shift and other new initiatives help realise the right to housing?

Paraguay said the lack of decent housing was increasing around the world.  The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights must not be forgotten.  Paraguay had met its target of delivering over 21,000 housing units and was building thousands of others.  Togo said ensuring adequate housing required colossal budgets which governments could not address alone.  How could the private sector help in this regard?  Structural programmes and the draconian conditions in the context of the Washington Consensus had been taken out of control to the detriment of the fundamental rights of peoples.  Accountability had to be ensured not just to governments but also institutions which perpetuated this unequal development.  Bahrain said it placed high importance to the right to housing.   Bahrain had provided more than 106,000 housing units, and to further meet the needs, a Directive in 2013 had been adopted by the King for thousands more units to be built.  

Australia agreed with the Special Rapporteur that there was no one size fix all approach to housing.  The recent Australian Housing and Harmlessness Agreement would provide over $ 1 billion a year to State Governments.  What best practices could be highlighted for housing for persons with disabilities?  Cuba appreciated the work on the Guiding Principles for assessing the impact of economic policies on human rights.  It hoped that this would incite institutions to oblige by their human rights obligations during straining financial times.  Cuba would present a resolution on this very important subject.  France said housing was an important question and France would be delighted to host the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing.  France had deployed efforts to increase housing.  In 2018 the budget would increase by 10 per cent for housing.  China implemented development policies through the China-UN Development Fund, the South South Cooperation Fund, and other programmes.  It participated in the construction of roads, emergency food aid, and in other ways.  China did not interfere in the domestic rights of sovereign countries.  The Chinese Government attached great importance to housing.  

Ethiopia said there was no one-size-fits-all housing strategy.  National affordable housing programmes saw the participation of the public and private sector and 4,000 housing units had been handed over to people in need.  Morocco was including civil society in reform processes and local authorities were ensuring the right to social protection.  Turning to adequate housing, Morocco had reduced the number of people living in slum housing.  India said the right to housing was enshrined in the country’s legislation.  The provision of housing for underprivileged sectors was a core priority.  Mechanisms were also in place to speed up housing disputes.  

Greece underlined the necessity for sustained efforts to prevent debt emergencies.  Harm inflicted to the most marginalized sectors by austerity was caused by reduced social spending and as a result increased inequality.  Venezuela said that through the United Nations the impact of economic reform on human rights could be assessed.  Economic and fiscal management was the exclusive responsibility of individual States.  Benin said everyone had the right to housing with security of tenure.  Austerity measures meant affordable housing was not receiving adequate investment.  Malaysia said the Government was implementing policy to provide adequate and comfortable housing to all citizens.  Turning to debt, Malaysia supported the development of global guiding principles to help States guide policy.  

Iraq had been impacted by wars and the price of oil, and the necessity to provide shelters to those displaced due to terrorism.  The Strategy to Combat Poverty 2018-2022 had been adapted to this effect.  The housing problem was one of the most important problems faced by Iraq.  Bolivia had been under pressure for years to adopt structural adjustment policies and a model which undermined economic, social and cultural rights and which did not solve the development problem.  Since 2006 Bolivia had adopted another model, which put human beings as a top priority and which had led to GDP growth of over 5 per cent per year and a reduction of extreme poverty.  Bangladesh agreed that a rights based approach in economic policies was of crucial importance.  The right to development should not be forgotten.  It also agreed with that the fiscal austerity measures disproportionately affected marginalised groups.

South Africa attached great importance to the right to development without having measures imposed on it that infringed upon the human rights.  Could the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing share what could be the positive obligations in place for ensuring the right to housing?   Honduras said the fulfilment of the new urban agenda required multiple strategies based on rights and the legal recognition of the right to housing was a human premise.  Economic measures and fiscal consolidations could not be blind to the toll they had on human rights.  How could the world involve international credit organizations on this matter?  Egypt welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on foreign debt.  These and related issues should be underscored, notably the impact of the non-recovery of funds which were taken abroad illicitly on human rights.  Egypt paid particular attention to housing policies which were a priority.  This was one of the main rights affecting the daily life of the citizen.

Philippines said the country was regularly affected by natural disasters that caused loss of housing.  Adequate housing could only be built if the proper funds were available.  Philippines called for economic reform for developing countries to gain greater market access and technology transfers.  Saudi Arabia said adequate housing was a priority for the Kingdom and a key element of the recent reform process.  The Ministry of Housing was increasing the rate of ownership and stimulating the private sector.  Argentina said its third Universal Periodic Review provided recommendations on housing and Argentina was committed to meeting United Nations standards in the field.  To that end, a beneficiary database was established and a plan would soon be implemented to address the housing deficit.  

Sudan said unilateral coercive measures resulted in an increasing foreign debt.  Foreign debt remained a heavy burden for the country as a whole and efforts were in place to have parts of the debt written off.  He called for studies on the effects of foreign debt on human rights.  Ecuador was adopting a Constitutional recognition of the right of everyone to adequate housing, and stressed the urgency of recognizing this right for the poor and disabled persons.  On foreign debt, Ecuador had constitutional principles that prevented aggressive policies, which might undermine efforts by other States to apply fair trade and economic models.

Conectas Direitos Humanos raised concern about the austerity measures in Brazil, which were among the harshest in the world, as they introduced budget cuts of 70 per cent in food security, 19 per cent in education, 17 per cent in health, and 15 per cent in measures to support women victims of violence.  Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain saw the negative impact of foreign debt and austerity in Bahrain, making its economy increasingly subordinate to policies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  International Bar Association supported the Independent Expert’s proposal for guidelines on human rights impact assessment of economic reforms and stressed the States’ obligations to identify the root causes of fiscal and economic crises and ensure a participatory process for the development of evidence-based economic and fiscal policies.
Amnesty International shared the Special Rapporteur’s concern about continuing forced evictions, increasing homelessness, lack of security of tenure, and limited access to essential services.  For over a decade Amnesty International had documented those and other violations of the right to adequate housing in both developing and affluent countries.   Mexican Commission of Defense and Promotion of the Human Rights thanked the Special Rapporteur on guidelines for affordable housing and said that people had been forcibly displaced across Mexico because of violence and natural disasters.  The State did not provide displaced persons with appropriate alternatives and the Special Rapporteur had been invited to analyze the context of forced displacement.   International Human Rights Association of American Minorities welcomed the report on foreign debt and asked if there was a coordination mechanism between the mandate of the Experts and the Advisory Committee.  

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik appreciated the focus on human rights based strategies. Attention was drawn to Iran where homelessness had been increasing despite the development plan from 2011 to 2012 which had been only a strategy on paper.  Association of World Citizens said that the housing situation had been worsening across the world, particularly in countries living in permanent conflict such as Yemen where forced evictions had been increasing and over three million displaced had no access to housing.  Pan African Union for Science and Technology said that Pakistan was still in infancy when it had come to affordable housing with millions struggling to have a roof over their head.  Allocation for housing in the 2017 budget had been negligible and the World Bank report had pointed to several risks concerning housing.

Human Rights Now expressed concern over the housing situation of those affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  The Japanese Government was ending certain services afforded to those affected, thus forcing some people to consider returning to communities with potentially high radiation levels.  Caritas Internationalis International Confederation of Catholic Charities said that too often people lived in excluded communities, limiting their access to affordable housing.  Policy must have a comprehensive understanding of the conditions of diverse communities.  Prioritizing the needs of those most marginalized was central to developing rights based approaches to housing policy.

United Schools International said States had to recognize the right of everyone to adequate housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.  Pakistan was identified as one of the worst countries in terms of providing adequate housing.  Slum demolitions were a clear concern as they were leaving urban poor in Pakistan homeless.  Centre for Economic and Social Rights said that in the name of fiscal discipline countries were applying unnecessary austerity measures.  These measures failed by disrupting economic demand and preventing sustainable economic recovery.  Human rights impact assessments were needed to provide real time forecasts to guide policymaking.  

Kuwait said efforts were being taken to alleviate the burden of foreign debt in many countries.  The Government had waived the interest on debt for poor countries and in some cases written off the debt of very poor countries.  Funds were also being deposited in funds of other countries to assist with payments on foreign debt.  State of Palestine said its housing strategies were based on structural changes to address housing needs.  The State of Palestine was enacting a national action plan to commit to the main goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Meanwhile, Israel continued the illegal construction and expansion of settlements in Palestine, creating clear obstacles to peace.

Concluding Remarks

LEILANI FARHA, 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, thanked all delegations for their questions, and the delegation of Chile for their answers.   She appreciated the invitations that delegations had extended for her to visit, and with budgetary limits in mind, a decision would be made on which countries to visit.  Several questions were raised by delegates from Germany, Montenegro, Togo, India and South Africa concerning right-based housing strategies and the role of the private sector.  The private sector should indeed be involved in housing, but the concern was their relationship towards the human rights standards.  The value of residential real-estate was $ 163 trillion and still people remained homeless.  Affordable housing instead of luxury housing should be a priority, yet real-estate business successfully managed to avoid such discussions.  The real-estate development act in India should be further amended to include affordable housing.  The Constitutional Court in South Africa had made a verdict that evictions had to be postponed until suitable alternatives had been found.  Thailand had improved conditions in slums and the population living in durable solutions had increased by 20 percent.  She recalled that under article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, persons with disabilities had the right to decide where and with whom to live.  Housing first solution, implemented by Finland was praised as a good practice.  The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities needed to interact more with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Concerning the implementation of “the shift”, a need for stronger multilateral alliances that would articulate affordable housing as a human right was emphasized.  Concerning housing rights during the times of conflict, it was stressed that they should, by no means, be suspended.

JUAN PABLO BOHOSLAVSKY, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, emphasized that his view was that illicit financial flows was a global problem that required a global response.  He reminded that the Human Rights Council resolution 34/3 explicitly required him to pay particular attention to the impact of illicit financial flows on the enjoyment of human rights.  Turning to the comments made by countries concerned, Mr. Bohoslavsky noted that he had acknowledged important progress in the countries concerned.  Finally, he agreed that he could not cover all the agents involved due to the word limitation of his report.   He remained open to engage with States to advance his work.  As for international financial institutions, international human rights law was binding for those institutions as well as for private creditors.   Usury and any other exploitation was prohibited by law.  The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank took part in the development of the guiding principles on human rights impact assessment.  It was important for all States that remained silent to engage.


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