Report

Expert Group Meeting on Practical Aspects
of the Human Right to Adequate Housing

Geneva, Palais des Nations, 9-11 March 1999
Room IX


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. Conclusions and Recommendations
Annex II. Programme of Work
Annex III. List of Participants
Experts
Observers
UNCHS (Habitat)
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
 


1. The Expert Group Meeting on Practical Aspects of the Human Right to Adequate Housing jointly organized by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was opened by Mrs. Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and by Mr. Mathias Hundsalz on behalf of Mr. Klaus Töpfer, the Executive Director of UNCHS (Habitat).

2. In her opening statement, Mrs. Robinson welcomed the participants and elaborated on the context of the right to adequate housing, the consequences of its violations and the activities of the United Nations system regarding the topic. She expressed her satisfaction with the initiative jointly undertaken with Habitat to formulate a Housing Rights Programme and said that priorities within this initiative should be accorded to the consolidation of all key principles linked to housing rights; preparation of new general comments by relevant treaty bodies dealing with different matters on housing rights; the adoption of the Comprehensive Human Rights Guidelines on Development-Based Displacements; the prevention of Housing Rights Violations; appointment of National Housing Rights Officers; and the publication of a Comprehensive Compilation of National Housing Rights Legislations. She also emphasized the importance of developing joint pilot projects between Habitat and her office.

3. In his statement Mr. Hundsalz, on behalf of the Executive Director of UNCHS (Habitat), recalled the request of the Commission on Human Settlements in its sixteenth session held in 1997 stipulating that "the Centre together with OHCHR, initiate steps for the formulation of a United Nations Programme to address the practical aspects of the realization of the human right to adequate housing. Mr. Hundsalz elaborated the context and emphasized the importance of this joint undertaking within the current process of the evitalization of the Centre whereby new strategic objectives should guide the future work of the Centre. He stressed in particular, that the theme of the meeting should have to be looked at in the perspective of a "Global Campaign on Security of Tenure" in human settlements, for achieving adequate shelter for all. Combating homelessness, provision of security of tenure, promoting equal and affordable access to fundamental elements of housing development, prevention of illegal evictions were highlighted as fundamental areas where the contributions and suggestions from this meeting would improve the draft proposal for the formulation of the United Nations Programme on Housing Rights.

4. Mr. Patrick McAuslan, Ms. Salma Khan were elected co-chairpersons and Mr. Scott Leckie as the rapporteur. Participants introduced themselves and the agenda/programme of work was adopted.

5. The meeting proceeded by the review of the current legal situation of housing rights and by the presentation of the background paper entitled "Practical aspects in the realization of the human right to adequate housing: guidelines for the formulation of the United Nations Housing Rights Programme (UNHRP)".

6. Starting in the second session of the meeting held on 9 March 1999, the participants deliberated agenda items 5, 6, 7 and 8 and prepared a set of "conclusions and recommendations" which is submitted as annex 1. These conclusions and recommendations were discussed and adopted in the final session of the meeting.

7. The meeting was closed with the expression of wishes of success to Habitat and OHCHR for this challenging initiative.

ANNEX I
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

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11 March 1999

1. Chapters II and IIIA will become annexes to the final report.

2. The meeting recognized a range of serious obstacles hindering progress with respect to the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. Among those mentioned were the lack of attention paid to the fight to adequate housing by both the human settlements and human rights communities, the increasing withdrawal of the State and public sector from the provision and operation of social services and the housing arena, including a re-allocation of resources and functions, in line with changing policies resulting from the current emphasis on economic liberalization, the insufficient attention paid to the social function of housing and to the fights of women, the neglected role of civil society in practice and a range of other obstacles.

3. The meeting agreed to consolidate the eight categories contained in chapter III B into four topics, each of which have an inherent relationship with each of the four key obligations arising in connection to the right to adequate housing, namely obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil this right. The four primary practical aspects in the realization of the right to adequate housing were formulated in the following terms:

4. Under each of these sections, various important cross-cutting issues will find recognition, including the mainstreaming of women's rights, the role of civil society and NGOs, the principle of non-discrimination, the role of the international financial institutions and the importance of developing an appropriate policy formulation related to all aspects of the implementation process of housing rights, and of involving people as actors in the housing process and not as mere passive recipients of actions undertaken by others. The UNHRP should work closely with as many relevant actors as possible.

5. The meeting extensively discussed Chapter IV in an integrated manner in relation to the four key practical aspects in the realization process of housing rights,, and focussed in particular on the need to elaborate and enlarge the meaning accorded to the terms 'equality' and 'affordability' in accordance with international standards, the need for ensuring measures of affirmative action and pro-active measures, to secure basic rights of women and vulnerable groups, the need to focus on capacity-building, the need to focus on the right to housing and property restitution in the context of the voluntary return for refugees and internally displaced persons, the need to re-orient minimum housing standards to better reflect the needs of people, the need to ensure that all actions undertaken in support of housing rights are fully complementary with one another, the need to ensure expanded access to credit for women and low-income groups, the need to focus sufficiently on the rights of tenants, the need to ensure recognition and enjoyment of the right to security of place, the need to have capacities to monitor the level of enjoyment of housing rights at the national level and the establishment of appropriate benchmarks, the need to further apply criminal law against violators of housing rights, the need to publicize more widely housing rights violations within the international media, the need to promote greater popular understanding of the law as it relates to housing rights, the need to recognize the self-production of housing, the need to provide housing rights training at the local, national and international levels, and the need to re-affirm. the fundamental role of the central and local authorities, in developing appropriate policies and an enabling environment for the low-income groups to develop their own housing.

6. The meeting emphasized the important roles and responsibilities of the international community in the promotion and protection of the human right to adequate housing. In particular, attention was placed on the positive and negative roles played by the international financial institutions; on the one hand the meeting encouraged these institutions to devote increased resources to the effective enjoyment of the right to adequate housing and on the other, to refrain from any actions or policies which undermine or violate this right. As elaborated in the Final Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, relevant organizations and agencies such as ILO, UNESCO, WHO, FAO, UNICEF, UNRISD, UNHCR, UNDP, World Bank and other inter-governmental organizations should carry out measures explicitly supporting the mainstreaming of housing rights concerns. The UNHRP should provide assistance to these organizations in this respect.

7. The meeting took note of and generally agreed with the possible actions in the joint programme (Chapter VI) and encouraged the prioritization of the following actions during the initial stages of the implementation of the United Nations Housing Rights Programme by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in support of national and local actions:

ANNEX II
PROGRAMME OF WORK

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9 March 1999
09:30 Registration
 
10:00 Item 1: Opening statements:
     - Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights
     - Mathias Hundsalz, HABITAT representative
 
11:00-13:00 Item 2: Election of officers (Chairperson and rapporteur) and Introduction of participants
Item 3: Adoption of the programme of work
Item 4: Review of the current legal situation of housing rights and presentation of background document
 
10 March
15:00-18:00 Item 5: Practical aspects in the full and progressive realization of housing rights
Item 6: Responsibilities and functions of governmental authorities at national and local level, as well as civil society, in the realization of housing rights
 
11 March
10:00-13:00 Item 7: Role of the international community
Item 8: Contributions of Habitat. OHCHR and other relevant UN bodies to the progressive realization of the housing rights
 
15:00-17.00 Item 9: Conclusions
Item 10: Closure

ANNEX III
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS

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Experts

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Mr. AZUELA, Antonio

Mr. BUDLENDER, Geeoff

Mr. CHRISTENSEN, Ursula

Mr. COBBETT, William

Ms. ENGLBRECHT, Walpurga

Ms. FARHA, Leilani

Ms. FOSCARINIS, Maria

Mr. GRISSA, Abdessatar

Mr. JAFFER, Murtaza

Ms. KHAN, Salma

Mr. KOTHARI, Miloon

Mr. LECKIE, Scott

Mr. MCAUSLAN, Patrick

Mr. NILSSON, Nic

Mr. ORTIZ, Enrique

Ms. PARMENTIER, Catherine

Mr. POCAR, Fausto

Mr. RIEDEL, Eibe

Mr. SACHAR, Rajindar

Ms. SIWALE, Tabitha

Mr. UCHMAN, Ryszard

Mr. VAN BOVEN, Teo

Ms. VORA, Alpa

Mr. WOODFIELD, Anthony


Observers

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Mr. NEUMANN Wolfgang (UNHCR)

Ms. VON SCHWEINICHEN Christina (UN-ECE)


UNCHS (Habitat)

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Mr. HUNDSALZ Mathias, UNCHS (Habitat)

Ms. LACROUX Sylvie, UNCHS (Habitat)

Mr. ERGUDEN Selman, UNCHS (Habitat)

Ms. BENSCHOP Marjolein, UNCHS (Habitat)


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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Ms. ABBASS Affaf, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr. VILLAN DURAN Carlos, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights