Report

Expert Group Meeting
on the Human Right to Adequate Housing

Geneva, 18-19 January 1996

Organized jointly by
the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat)
and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)



CONTENTS
SUMMARY Report
Annex I. Agenda
Annex II. Attendance
Experts
Observers
Annex III.Conclusions and Recommendations
 


1. The Expert Group Meeting on 'The Human Right to Adequate Housing" took place in Geneva from 18 to 19, January 1996. The Meeting was organized in response to resolution 15/2 of the Commission on Human Settlements ("Report on Housing Rights", 5 May 1995) by which it requested the Executive Director to "undertake, in consultation with other relevant United Nations bodies, a further examination and update of'" the UNCHS report prepared In accordance with resolution 14/6 of the Commission, "taking into consideration the legal, social, economic, political and practical aspects of the subject and the views and concerns expressed on this by some Member States, including those regarding the existence and/or legal status of the right to adequate housing". Pursuant to this resolution, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and the United Nations Centre for Human Rights decided to jointly organize an expert group meeting which would further examine the various aspects of the right to adequate housing. The agenda of the meeting is contained In Annex I of this report. The list of participants and observers is presented in Annex II, and the conclusions and recommendations in Annex III. The Expert Group Meeting elected Justice Edward Torgbor as its Chairperson.

2. The Expert Group Meeting was opened by Mr. José Ayala Lasso, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He recalled that article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, states that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living and specifies housing as a component of that right. The right of all persons to housing is provided for in article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The prohibition of racial discrimination with regard to housing, as provided for In the Covenant, reinforces article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, draws attention to the housing needs of rural women, In its article 14. The special needs of children, inter alia, with regard to housing are addressed in article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

3. Referring to the extensive work of the human rights bodies and mechanisms dealing with the right to adequate housing, the High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasized the work of the Committee an Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which clarified the content of the right to housing in Its General Comment No. 4, In which It reiterated the view that the right to adequate housing represents the right to live in security, peace and dignity according to the principles governing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant itself. He further referred m the work of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which deals with the right to adequate housing since 1991, and the work of the Special Rapporteur appointed by it on the right to adequate housing.

4. He also referred to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which has, inter alia emphasized that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The relationship between certain rights, In particular economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to adequate housing show how central are the notions of indivisibility and interdependence to the full enjoyment of all human rights.

5. Finally, the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that he attached particular importance to the outcome of the Expert Group Meeting, which he trusted will assist the international community to better understand the issue of the right to adequate housing in the context of all human rights.

6. Speaking on behalf of the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), Mr. Mathias Hundsalz briefly recalled that the goal of housing for all was a central mandate of United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and of the community of nations, as adopted in the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 (General Assembly resolution 43/180 of 1998). He drew the attention of participants to the experience of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), which demonstrated that ensuring equal access to land and providing secure forms of tenure were fundamental measures for Governments to undertake in supporting and promoting strategies of housing for all, which in turn had far-reaching impacts on other and interdependent human rights regarding an adequate standard of living. He further stated that the meeting was expected to provide expert recommendations and guidance to the ongoing global debate on the content and implications of the human right to housing.

7. The closure of the meeting was addressed by Dr. Wally N'Dow, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and Secretary-General of the Habitat 11 Conference, as well as by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Mr. lbrahima Fall.

ANNEX I
AGENDA

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1. Opening of the meeting.

2. Election of the Chairman.

3. Adoption of the agenda.

4. Review of existing legal instruments and monitoring mechanisms relating to the human right to adequate housing.

5. Desirability/feasibility of developing an international legal Instrument for the promotion and protection of housing rights.

6. The human right to adequate housing as it pertains to specific groups, such as women, as well as to vulnerable groups (children, the disabled, refugees and displaced persons, migrant workers, indigenous people, and others). Promotion of the right to housing within the framework of sustainable development.

7. Criteria for measuring progress in the realization of the human right to adequate housing.

8. Strengthening existing United Nations organs and bodies in developing and promoting the human right to adequate housing.

9. Other matters.

10. Conclusions of the meeting.

ANNEX II
ATTENDANCE

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Experts

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Professor Philip Alston

(Professor of Law, President of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)

Dr. Dragana Avramov

(Research Coordinator of European Observatory on Homelessness

FEANTSA of Bruxelles)

Mr. Alejandro Florian

(Legal Expert, Director of FEDEVIVIENDA)

Professor Rusen Keles

(Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Ankara)

Mr. Miloon Kothari

(Co-Director of Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)), (Representative of the Habitat International Coalition)

Mr. Rajindar Sachar

(Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing)

Mrs. Marilia Sardenberg

(Expert of the Committee on the Rights of the Child)

Mr. Stephen Schlesinger

(Professor of Law, New York University)

Mr. Alioune Sène

(Special Advisor of the Secretary-General of Habitat 11)

Justice Edward Torgbor

(Legal Expert on Human Rights)

Professor Anders Victorin

(Professor of Law, University of Stockholm), (Expert on Legal Land Issues and Security of Tenure)


Observers

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Economic Commission for Europe

Mrs. Christina von Schweinichen, Economic Commission for Europe

(Environment and Human Settlements Division)

Mr. Guennadi Vinogradov, Economic Commission for Europe

(Environment and Human Settlements Division)

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Mr. Brian Gorlick, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

(Associate Legal Officer)


Specialized agencies

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International Labour Organization

Ms. Charlotte Schlyter, International Labour Organization

(International Labour Standards Department)

Mr. Scott Leckie, International Labour Organization

(Co-Director of Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions

(COHRE))

Mrs. Inger Vold Zappfe, International Labour Organization

(Deputy Director General, Ministry of Local Government and Labour, Norway)


ANNEX III
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

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Agenda item 4: Review of existing legal instruments and monitoring mechanisms relating to the human right to adequate housing

1. The Expert Group Meeting took note of a view that the "right to an adequate standard of living ... including adequate ... housing", recognized inter alia in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11.1), does not encompass a separate "right to adequate housing". It noted that this suggestion appears to have been one of the factors leading to the adoption of resolution 15/2 of the Commission on Human Settlements and to the convening of the Expert Group Meeting.

2. Because of this concern, the Expert Group Meeting sought to clarify the legal and other relevant dimensions of the issue as to whether there exists, in international law, a separate right to adequate housing. For this purpose it undertook a comprehensive examination of the various international legal instruments bearing on this subject.

3. The Expert Group Meeting took note of the fact that, although different terminology has been used, a right to housing expressed in one formulation or another has been recognized, in addition to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), in each of the following instruments:

4. It noted that, in addition to the central foundational status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, more than 185 States have ratified or adhered to at least one (or in the great majority of cases, more). of these five international treaties, thus establishing binding legal obligations, of a continuing nature, for each of them in relation to the right to housing.

5. The Expert Group Meeting also addressed at some length the proposition that, because of the formulation used in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to housing should not be considered to be a separate human right. According to this view it would either be considered to be non-existent or be treated as having no more than an implied or derivative status. In this regard the Expert Group Meeting noted the following:

6. The Expert Group Meeting also took note of the very extensive recognition accorded to the right to housing, again by the use of sometimes slightly varying formulations, in the context of a range of important international and national statements of law and policy. The Expert Group Meeting noted that these sources, such as the Vancouver Declaration and Agenda 21, and other international declarations, recommendations and conventions were reflected in detail in the background documentation prepared for the meeting.

7. The Expert Group Meeting also noted that a significant number of national constitutions, from all regions of the world accord explicit recognition to the right to housing. Legislation in many countries also recognizes central elements of that right such as the right to protection from forced evictions, the right to be free from racial and other forms of discrimination in relation to housing, the right to security of tenure, the right of tenants and other dwellers to organize freely, the right to preferential access to housing for vulnerable groups and the right to judicial remedies for violations of these rights.

8. The Expert Group Meeting discussed the question of the appropriate role of the State in relation to the implementation of the right to adequate housing. It noted that this right should not be interpreted as implying inter alia (a) that the State is required to build housing for the entire population; (b) that housing is to be provided free of charge by the State to all who request it or (c) that the State must necessarily fulfil immediately all aspects of this right. The flight does, however, imply certain obligations for the State. Among the core areas of the State role in realizing the human right to adequate housing are provision of security of tenure, prevention (reduction) of discrimination in the housing sphere, prevention of illegal and mass evictions, elimination of homelessness and promotion of participatory processes for individuals and families in need of housing. In specific cases, the State may have to provide direct assistance, including provision of housing units, to people affected by disasters (natural and man-made) and to the most vulnerable groups of the society.

9. The Expert Group Meeting also recognized the interdependence and indivisibility of certain human rights. A number of such rights that are generally recognized as housing rights are linked to or derived from other human rights, such as equality and non-discrimination, gender equality, property rights, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of movement and to choose one's residence, the right to privacy, the right to due process and other human rights related to housing.

Agenda item 5: Desirability/feasibility of developing an international legal instrument for the promotion and protection of housing rights

10. The Expert Group Meeting considered that there is a pressing need for additional attention to be given to the elaboration of the normative content of the right to adequate housing and to measures which should be taken to implement, or give operational effect to, the right. In this regard it recognized that various proposals have been made including the development of (a) a convention, (b) a declaration, (c) standard rules, and (d) guidelines on housing rights.

11. While the Expert Group Meeting recognized the usefulness of such instruments, it considered that the drafting of a binding legal instrument such as a convention would more appropriately be considered at a later stage in the overall process. The Expert Group Meeting considered that priority should be accorded to the preparation of principles and standard rules dealing with the practical implementation of the different aspects of the human right to adequate housing at the national level. It called upon the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements to take whatever measures are requested in order to begin a process of-consultation and drafting with a view to producing such documents.

Agenda item 6: The human right to ac-equate housing as it pertains to specific groups, such as women, as well as to vulnerable groups (children, the disabled, refugees and displaced persons, migrant workers, indigenous people, and others). Promotion of the right to housing within the framework of sustainable development.

12. Bearing in mind the magnitude of global housing problem, the Expert Group Meeting recognized that particular attention should be paid to the right to adequate housing of specific groups, including women and vulnerable groups in relation to housing, some of which are already covered by specific international conventions and declarations.

Agenda item 7: Criteria for measuring progress in the realization of the human right to adequate housing

Agenda item 8:Strengthening existing United Nations organs and bodies in developing and promoting the human right to adequate housing

13. The Expert Group Meeting agreed on the need to develop criteria for measuring progress towards the realization of the human right to adequate housing and for the strengthening of existing United Nations organizations and bodies in the development and promotion of this right. It was also agreed that the mechanisms for protecting this right and dealing with its violations should be strengthened.

14. The Expert Group Meeting requested the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements to make available to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights all of the national reports which are being prepared in connection with the Habitat 11 Conference.

15. The Expert Group Meeting commended the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements for its work in relation to the right to adequate housing and for its collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights. It urged the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements to continue this constructive cooperation by convening a meeting between the members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and representatives of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements with a view to identifying further measures that might be taken.

16. The Expert Group Meeting urged the Centre for Human Rights to develop a model advisory services programme which would give interested States an indication of the types of technical cooperation which could be made available to them. This would ideally lead to collaboration between the two Centres in promoting the realization of the right to adequate housing.

17. The Expert Group Meeting acknowledged the very important role played by non-governmental organizations, at both the national and international levels. It called upon the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements in cooperation with the Centre for Human Rights to develop approaches which will encourage the active promotion of the right to adequate housing by non-governmental organizations at the national level. It also urged international non-governmental organizations dealing with human rights to become more actively involved in issues related to the right to adequate housing.

18. The Expert Group Meeting took note of the contributions submitted by observers, including those of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Labour Organization.