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The right to housing in disasters, conflict and post-conflict settings

Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing

The attacking, bombing and shelling of civilian targets and the destruction of entire cities and villages – displacing millions into homelessness – have been largely met with impunity. The impacts of both conflicts and disasters for the individuals, families and communities affected can be devastating. These include the loss of life and livelihoods; destruction of homes, property and infrastructure; disruption or termination of essential services; and the prolonged and sometimes even permanent forced displacement from land, home and community. Although wealth and power do not offer any immunity from these impacts, it is in most cases the poor and socially disadvantaged who are worst affected; and it is also they who are least able to withstand economic shocks and so generally take the longest to recover.

In addition to facing serious humanitarian problems and challenges, victims of disasters and conflicts are often exposed to grave human rights violations, invariably including the right to adequate housing. Humanitarian crises are human rights crises. Notwithstanding, given the concentration of international and national attention, resources and effort they often receive, such crises can also present important human rights opportunities.

However, existing guidance with respect to disaster situations has given little attention to the right to adequate housing. When reference to the right is made it is limited, with the right narrowed down to the need to provide shelter, housing or to aspects related to protection.


Protecting the right to adequate housing during violent conflict (2022)
Massive violations of the right to adequate housing continue in unprecedented fashion during and after violent conflict. While international law outlaws all forms of arbitrary destruction of housing, arbitrary displacement, forced evictions and other serious and large-scale violations of the right to adequate housing, there is an alarming continuity of gross violations of the right to adequate housing in times of conflict. Those severe human rights violations have been largely met with impunity. The report analyses the legal, political and practical challenges to preventing, ending and responding to systematic and deliberate mass destruction of homes during violent conflict. It calls for recognizing such severe violations of international law as “domicide” – a distinct crime under international criminal law.

Read the report (A/77/190) in all UN language

The right to adequate housing in disaster relief efforts (2011)

The report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing assesses human rights standards and guidelines relevant to an approach to disaster response based on the right to adequate housing and discusses some existing limitations. It elaborates upon key challenges relating to the protection and realization of the right in disaster response: inattention to or discrimination against vulnerable and disadvantaged groups; the overemphasis on individual property ownership and the associated difficulty to recognize and address the multiplicity of tenure forms equally in restitution and recovery programmes; the risks of approaching post-disaster reconstruction predominantly as a business or development opportunity that benefits only a few; and limitations in existing frameworks for reconstruction and recovery.

View document A/66/270 in all UN languages.

Post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction and the right to housing (2011)

The report of the Special Rapporteur underlines the importance of integrating human rights standards, and particularly the right to adequate housing, in post-disaster and post-conflict reconstruction processes. While taking account of the differences existing between postconflict and post-disaster situations, the report focuses on common issues, and particularly on three key entry points: security of tenure, consultation and participation, and institutional coordination, through which the elements of the right to adequate housing are highlighted.

View document A/HRC/16/42 in all UN languages. 


On 22 March 2012 the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 19/4 welcoming the reports of the Special Rapporteur, and took note with appreciation of the framework presented to comprehensively respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing in the context of post-disaster settings. The resolution:

  • Encourages States and relevant actors to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living in their broader disaster risk reduction, prevention and preparedness initiatives, as well as in all phases of disaster response and recovery;
  • Urges States, in the context of post-disaster settings, and recognizing that short-term humanitarian response and early recovery phases are based on needs, to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and, in this regard:

    (a) To ensure that all affected persons, irrespective of their pre-disaster tenure status and without discrimination of any kind, have equal access to housing that fulfils the requirements of adequacy, namely the criteria of accessibility, affordability, habitability, security of tenure, cultural adequacy, suitability of location, access to essential services and respect for safety standards aimed at reducing damage in cases of future disasters;

    (b) To integrate, in post-disaster settings, including where temporary shelter is required as an interim response, the right to adequate housing as a key component of planning and implementation of humanitarian, reconstruction and development responses;

    (c) To give due priority to the realization of the right to adequate housing for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable persons through housing reconstruction and the provision of alternative housing, especially by respecting the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality, and by integrating a gender perspective into policies, strategies and programmes for disaster risk reduction, prevention and preparedness, as well as into all phases of disaster response and recovery;

    (d) To ensure that accessibility for persons with disabilities is taken into account during all phases of reconstruction, in accordance with international law and standards;

    (e) To aim to ensure access to information and meaningful consultation and participation of affected persons and communities in the planning and implementation of shelter and housing assistance;

    (f) To ensure that the tenure rights of those without individual or formally registered property ownership are recognized in restitution, compensation, reconstruction and recovery programmes, giving particular consideration to the most vulnerable persons and by taking measures to support their repossession of or alternative access to adequate housing or land;

    (g) To support the voluntary return of displaced persons or groups to their former homes, lands or places of habitual residence, in safety and dignity, based on a free, informed choice, and to ensure that relocation and local integration conditions for displaced persons are in accordance with international human rights law and standards as reflected in the guidelines pertaining to adequate housing, evictions and displacement, in particular the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters adopted by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee;

    (h) To ensure that cases of permanent relocation are kept to a minimum and are only carried out after all alternative and less disruptive options have been exhausted, and, where there is a clear issue of public safety, that the relocation is done in accordance with international law;

    (i) To ensure that appropriate measures are taken to make available adequate alternative shelter to those unable to provide for themselves; and

    (j) To make accessible appropriate remedies, including access to legal counsel and legal aid, and to guarantee a fair hearing to all persons threatened with or subject to eviction.

Publications and tools*

UNHCR: Emergency Handbook – Shelter Solutions
The emergency handbook provides guidance to staff of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to address shelter solutions for refugees and others of concern to UNHCR, based on their right to adequate shelter - to protection from the elements, to a space in which they can live and store belongings, and to privacy, comfort and emotional security.

Global Protection Cluster: Housing, Land and Property Guidance and Tools

This website assembles key resources of members of the Global Protection Cluster for the coordination of land, housing, and property response in disasters and humanitarian emergencies.

European Commission - Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements Guidelines (2017)

This report sets out best practices, seeks to advance consolidated approaches across the humanitarian sector, and promote key advocacy messages to provide shelter for all in humanitarian situations.
PDF in English

IFRC – Guidelines on including older people in emergency shelter programmes (2011)
These guidelines recommend five key action points including for older people in shelter programmes.
PDF in English


OHCHR – Protecting human rights in humanitarian crises

Inter-agency Standing Committee

Global Protection Cluster – Housing, Land and Property

* OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing are not responsible for views expressed in guidelines, publications or websites of external organizations.