Statement by Ms. Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a component of the right to and Adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context at the 69thsession of the General Assembly - Third Committee, Item 68 (b & c)
27 October 2014
New York, 27 October 2014
Chairperson of the Third Committee, [H.E. Mrs. Sofia Mesquita Borges]
Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to address the Third Committee of the General Assembly for the first time in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to non-discrimination in this context. The report I present today is preliminary in nature, outlining some priorities about which I have been consulting and will further consult with your Excellences’ Governments, and other stakeholders such as UN agencies and entities, civil society organisations, communities and academics.
As I commence this mandate my over-riding concern is with the large and ever-widening gap between the standards that have been developed in the past decades to elaborate on the scope and content of the right to adequate housing, and the realities of daily life for millions of people.
Systemic homelessness, substandard housing conditions, unaffordable rentals, insecure tenure, and lack of access to adequate housing for many vulnerable and marginalized people in all countries, both affluent and less affluent, suggest a crisis of commitment to effectively implement the right to adequate housing. The consequences of inadequate housing and homelessness are severe, and cannot be detached from one another or addressed in isolation. Inadequate housing carries with it serious implications for other human rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health, education, protection of the family, social security, water and sanitation, work, and in many cases, life.
Hence, it is imperative for my work to focus on how international human rights norms related to housing can be transformed into domestic law and policy, and made effective in addressing the human rights crisis of homelessness and inadequate housing that continues to ravage the young and the elderly alike.
I see my role as Rapporteur as assisting to move housing rights from words and standards to tools for action.
With regards to thematic and substantive priorities, I have identified four key areas in my report:
Supporting national-international interaction: If international human rights standards are to be effectively implemented at the national level, they must benefit from advances made in domestic law and practice. Similarly, domestic human rights must be nurtured by the substantive norms and principles developed at the international level. A crucial aspect of the national-international interaction is the challenge of ensuring access to justice for claimants of the right to adequate housing. In my capacity as Special Rapporteur, I intend to be part of the ongoing dialogue between States, including the judiciary, and international human rights bodies and mechanisms on advancing the implementation of the right to adequate housing through enhanced interaction between domestic and international human rights.
Clarifying the obligation of progressive realization: In the past, the obligation of States to take positive measures to realize the right to adequate housing has not received as much attention in the development of legal norms as other aspects of the right to adequate housing. There is need for more clarity about critical obligations, for example, to address homelessness or to allocate the resources needed to ensure adequate housing for marginalized groups. One of the most significant advances in recent years has been the recognition that all aspects of the right to adequate housing are justiciable and that all victims of violations must have access to justice. I will consider ways in which the mandate can support access to justice with a particular focus on the obligation of States to take positive measures towards the realization of the right to adequate housing.
Equality, non-discrimination and the right to adequate housing: Prevailing patterns of inequality and exclusion in housing are often linked to indirect and unintentional forms of discrimination, to failures to accommodate the needs of various marginalized groups, and to inadequate attention to the positive obligations linked to substantive equality. Our understanding of equality and non-discrimination has been enhanced by work on the rights of women, people with disabilities, migrants, indigenous people and those who suffer discrimination because of their housing status or homelessness. More can be done to ensure that new understandings of non-discrimination and equality are fully incorporated into housing policies, programmes, legislation and budgetary allocations. In this context, I intend to continue with the special attention the mandate has traditionally devoted to women and to also focus on persons with disabilities, migrant workers and their families, indigenous peoples and those who are stigmatized by homelessness or housing status, always in collaboration with other relevant special procedures and other partners.
Engaging the evolving nature and role of the State: Under international human rights law, the State is bound by international human rights instruments and national level governments have been the focus of attention and constructive dialogue. However, in many countries, housing programmes and other housing-related policies may fall under the authority of subnational or municipal governments, with many important initiatives and innovative practices emerging at this level. The implementation of the right to adequate housing relies on a joint commitment of all levels of governments, as well as engagement of community organizations, private actors and international institutions. I am committed to seeking out proper channels to engage constructively with a variety of actors to promote more effective partnerships in the implementation of the right to adequate housing, among various levels and branches of government.
In carrying out my mandate, these substantive priorities will guide my thematic reports, country missions, communications and other initiatives that I intend to undertake. My aim is to be of assistance to your Excellences’ Governments, as well as to civil society and other stakeholders equally committed to ensuring implementation of the right to adequate housing and related human rights.
Ms. Chairperson, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
Some topics that I have already identified for my thematic and substantive work, on a preliminary basis, include homelessness and the criminalisation of homelessness; housing strategies based on human rights, and access to justice and effective remedies. My first report to the Human Rights Council, 28th session, to take place in March 2015 will discuss the responsibilities of sub-national governments with respect to the right to adequate housing. I wish to take this opportunity to thank those Governments that have kindly shared contributions to the Questionnaire sent out for this purpose, invite the distinguished delegates in the room to bring the Questionnaire to the attention of their Governments, and mention that I will organise a public consultation in Geneva, on 19 November, to share more details and receive comments and suggestions for the finalisation of that report.
Before I conclude, let me say that I look ahead to the opportunity to officially visit your countries in the coming years. I thank you for your attention and look forward to a fruitful dialogue with you today and in the coming months and years of my mandate.