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PARALLEL EVENT

PANEL DISCUSSION ON HOUSING RIGHTS
Conference Room 4
Wednesday 6 June 2001
1.15 - 2.45 p.m.

Introduction

Panel discussion on the right to adequate housing was co-organized by UNCHS (Habitat), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Global Parliamentarians on Habitat (GPH). The Panel was chaired by Mr. Christian Much (Germany) and was attended by approximately 120 people.

Opening Remarks

The Chair, in his introductory remarks, emphasized the importance of human rights based approach, particularly in four areas that constitute main components of housing rights: (a) equal access to housing resources; (b) secure tenure and protection against forced eviction; (c) policies and measures for the benefit of the homeless; and (d) access to legal and other remedies.

Hon. Ghali Umar Na'aab, Vice President of GPH and the Speaker of the Nigerian Parliament, stated the commitments of parliamentarians in Nigeria to the realization of the right to adequate housing. In this context, Governments have responsibilities and obligations in creating enabling environment.

Mr. Bacre Ndiaye, Director, OHCHR New York, stated that the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda are strong human rights documents, in which Governments recognized and committed themselves to the right to adequate housing. The gap between this recognition and actual realization remains large, however. The parliamentarians have a particularly important role in translating the international human rights instruments into national legislation.

Mr. Selman Erguden, on behalf of the Executive Director of UNCHS (Habitat), stated that the right to adequate housing was one of the most debated topics during the preparatory process for the Habitat II process and in the Conference itself. He cited that the Habitat Agenda was providing important guidelines for Governments and all Habitat partners towards the realization of housing rights.

Presentations by Panellists

Mr. Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing appointed under the Commission on Human Rights, stressed that the right to adequate housing has long been recognized as a distinct human right in a number of international conventions and treaties, national constitutions, as well as in the works of treaty bodies and the civil society groups. Faced with the current challenges in human settlements, he stated that it was clear that only the human rights framework could provide radical and comprehensive solutions. In this context, he expressed concern for the lack of sufficient recognition and elaboration on human rights in the draft Declaration to be adopted by the Special Session, and called for firm recommitment to the right to adequate housing contained in the Habitat Agenda.

Ms. Virginia Dandan, Chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stated that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had adopted a statement for submission to this Special Session, in which the Committee recognized that the right to adequate housing is a justiciable and enforceable right. The realization of the right to adequate housing is also closely related to other rights under the Covenant, as expressed in the principle of indivisibility of all human rights.

Ms. Tarja Kautto, Vice President of GPH (Finland), shared the European perspectives on the right to adequate housing. In Finland, the right to adequate housing has been incorporated in the 1995 amendment to its constitutions. Although this right has not been mentioned as a justiciable right, other laws provide protection and enforcement of this right to certain disadvantaged groups. While local and other authorities have responsibilities, people themselves and other groups such as the civil society and the private sector have shared responsibilities and important roles to play.

Sen. Rodolfo G. Biazon, Vice President of GPH (Philippines), stated that in his country, the right to adequate housing is enshrined in the constitution and, since 1966, the Government has put in place policies and legislation aimed at implementing the Habitat Agenda. However, the problem lies in how to provide the means to exercise these rights. Several major factors affecting the realization include effects of rapid urbanization and globalization.

Mr. Magnus Hammer, Secretary-General, International Union of Tenants, stated that rental accommodation was still quite common in Europe. He outlined a number of problems associated with the situation of tenants, and pointed out that providing affordable rental housing would be a major challenge in view of strong market forces and commercialization of properties and housing markets. There was a need to protect the tenants and their interests.

Mr. Bret Thiele, Legal Officer, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, suggested that States needed to be encouraged to strongly incorporate components of the right to adequate housing in national legislation. Security of tenure is key to ensuring the right and should be a priority to all partners. There was also need to increase the proportion of official development assistance spent on housing, which currently stood only at 2 per cent. He stressed that discriminatory practices against women should be removed.

Dr. Eva Hedman, National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, Sweden, shared the experience of Sweden as it relates to the right to adequate housing. The housing right has been recognized as a social right of everyone to live in secure, ecologically sustainable environment. Sweden guarantees the right to adequate housing particularly to three groups: the disabled, the elderly and refugees seeking asylum.

Mr. Diet von Broemsen, Chief Director, Policy Planning, Department of Housing, South Africa, stated that the right to adequate housing was incorporated in the 1996 Constitution, and the Housing Act of 1997 gives further substance to this right, which ensures; (a) non-discriminatory access; (b) security of tenure and equal access to all; (c) accessibility; (d) monitoring and evaluation of homelessness and inadequate housing. The South African housing and human settlement programme is continuously evolving to broaden the range of housing options available to the poor in striving to meet the requirements of the Constitutional right to housing.

Mr. Rio Hada, Human Rights Officer, OHCHR, stressed the need to focus on the follow-ups to this Special Session. For OHCHR and UNCHS, one of such follow-ups will be the development of a joint housing rights programme as requested by their respective governing bodies. He stressed that human rights approach bring empowerment to the poor and the vulnerable. Human rights can provide guiding principles for national actions and international cooperation. Housing Rights Programme can provide a platform for interaction and cooperation among UN agencies, Governments, civil society and the UN human rights mechanisms. There is also a need to focus on building capacities at the local level, to improve the monitoring mechanisms or to generate wider debate on housing issues among Governments and the civil society.

Mr. Selman Erguden, UNCHS, summarized the objectives of the envisaged joint housing rights programme: (a) to promote awareness; (b) to promote norms, standards and guidelines; (c) to establish a housing rights documentation centre; (d) to develop a network for information and exchange of experience on housing rights; (e) to establish a global monitoring system; (f) to facilitate advisory mechanism; (g) to initiate effective field projects; and (f) to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing.

In the discussion that followed, one participant pointed out that a lack of recognition on the right to adequate housing for the people in the occupied territories. The Special Rapporteur pointed out that, in addition to globalization and other forces affecting the situation of tenants, the current negotiation under the General Agreement of Trade in Services was also a matter of concern.

Conclusions

The Chairperson presented the following conclusions that emerged from the presentations and the discussion:

(a) There was a general recognition not of only existence, but also of the importance of housing rights. It was however a regret that the right to adequate housing was not sufficiently addressed in the draft Declaration;
(b) Housing rights are particularly good examples for States to prove the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights;
(c) In the realization of housing rights, approaches at the parliamentary, governmental and civil society levels need to be brought together, and in this context, there was a wide reaffirmation on the need for a housing rights programme as presented by UNCHS and OHCHR;
(d) Housing rights make important contribution to poverty eradication;
(e) Special attention should be paid to the discrimination against women, and in this context, there is a need to recognize the especially conducive role of women in alleviating the housing crisis;
(f) In order for the housing rights to become more popular, there was a need to collect and exchange best practices.

2001 UNCHS