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“Domicide” must be recognised as an international crime: UN expert

28 October 2022


New York

NEW YORK (28 October 2022) – The massive, arbitrary destruction of civilian housing in violent conflict should be recognised as a crime under international law, the UN’s independent housing rights expert told the General Assembly today.

“We should stop shutting our eyes to widespread or systematic destruction of civilian homes in conflict,” said Balakrishnan Rajagopal, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. Rajagopal referred to these acts as “domicide”.

“The attacking, bombing and shelling of civilian targets, the razing of entire cities and villages – displacing millions into homelessness – have continued unabated despite the development of modern human rights and humanitarian law,” the UN expert said.

While international law outlaws all forms of arbitrary housing destruction, deportation, displacement and forced eviction, the Special Rapporteur noted an alarming continuity of gross violations of the right to adequate housing in times of conflict.

”We need to end impunity for such severe human rights violations,” Rajagopal said. Victims of these war crimes and systematic violations of the right to adequate housing must have access to justice, restitution or reparation, the expert said.

“I have witnessed how in just a few seconds a home – the culmination of a life-long effort and the pride of entire families – can be wiped out and turned to rubble.Destroyed is not only a home. Destroyed are the savings of entire families. Destroyed are memories and the comfort of belonging,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Along with this comes a social and psychological trauma that is difficult to describe or imagine.”

In a path-breaking report, Rajagopal urged States to recognise “domicide” - the systematic or widespread violation of the right to adequate housing – as an international crime of its own standing.

”Gross violations of the right to adequate housing must be investigated and prosecuted like any crime against humanity currently recognised under international law. Such severe violations of economic, social and cultural rights need to receive the attention by national and international tribunals that other serious human rights violations get, irrespective of where they take place,” the expert said.

“How many more Aleppos, Saanas and Mariupols must we endure? We must not allow those responsible for such egregious crimes to remain in positions of power. They must face international justice,” Rajagopal said.

The Special Rapporteur also urged the international community to outlaw the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, through a binding international treaty.

“Landmines and cluster ammunitions were banned through international agreements. There is no excuse for why States fail to ban the launching of explosive weapons into human settlements that kill and maim hundreds of thousands of civilians every year and destroy housing and other civilian infrastructure necessary for survival,” the expert said.

Rajagopal said the time had come for the international community to recognise “domicide” as a crime against humanity.

“The right to housing is the right to live in safety and dignity. It should be more than surviving in a bomb shelter in persistent fear,” he said.

Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, assumed his function as Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on 1 May 2020. He is Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A lawyer by training, he is an expert on many areas of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, the UN system, and the human rights challenges posed by development activities.

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: Gunnar Theissen ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Renato Rosario De Souza ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

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