PANEL DISCUSSION ON HOUSING RIGHTS
Conference Room 4
Wednesday 6 June 2001
1.15 - 2.45 p.m.
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.
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
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
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.
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
(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
(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
(f) In order for the housing rights to become more popular,
there was a need to collect and exchange best practices.