Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation

The right to adequate housing

International human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. Despite the central place of this right, millions around the world live in life-threatening conditions. Further millions are forcibly evicted, or threatened with forced eviction, from their homes every year.

Adequate housing was recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Other international human rights treaties have since recognized or referred to the right to adequate housing or some elements of it.

What is the right to adequate housing?
According to the the UN the right to adequate housing should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. It contains freedoms including Protection against forced evictions and the arbitrary destruction and demolition of one’s home; the right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s home, privacy and family; and the right to choose one’s residence, to determine where to live and to freedom of movement. The right to adequate housing also contains entitlements. These entitlements include security of tenure; housing, land and property restitution; equal and non-discriminatory access to adequate housing as well as participation in housing-related decision-making at the national and community levels.
The duty of states

The right to adequate housing is relevant to all States, as they have all ratified at least one international treaty referring to adequate housing and committed themselves to protecting the right to adequate housing through international declarations, plans of action or conference outcome documents. Courts from various legal systems have also adjudicated cases related to its enjoyment, covering, for instance, forced evictions, tenant protection, discrimination in the housing sphere or access to basic housing-related services. International attention has been paid to the right to adequate housing, including by human rights treaty bodies, regional human rights mechanisms and the Human Rights Council, which created the mandate of “Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living” in 2000.

The right to adequate housing does NOT require the State to build housing for the entire population. Rather, the right to adequate housing covers measures that are needed to prevent homelessness, prohibit forced evictions, address discrimination, focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, ensure security of tenure to all, and guarantee that everyone’s housing is adequate. The right to adequate housing does not just mean that the structure of the house itself must be adequate.
There must also be sustainable and non-discriminatory access to facilities essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition.

Adequate housing must provide more than four walls and a roof. A number of conditions must be met before particular forms of shelter can be considered to constitute “adequate housing.” These elements are just as fundamental as the basic supply and availability of housing. For housing to be adequate, it must, at a minimum, meet the criteria security of tenure, availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, adequate sanitation, energy for cooking, heating, lighting, food storage or refuse disposal, affordability, habitability, accessibility: housing is not adequate if the specific needs of disadvantaged and marginalized groups are not taken into account, location: housing is not adequate if it is cut off from employment opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities, or if located in polluted or dangerous areas and finally also cultural adequacy.

Adequate housing and other human rights

Human rights are interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. The violation of the right to adequate housing therefore may affect a wide range of other human rights, including the rights to work, health, social security, vote, privacy or education. Access to adequate housing can be a precondition for the enjoyment of several human rights, including the rights to work, health, social security, vote, privacy or education. Forced evictions therefore can have implications for the enjoyment of several human rights, including the right to education and the right to personal security.

Forced evictions
Protection against forced evictions is a key element of the right to adequate housing. They are defined as the “permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.” Every year at least 2 million people in the world are forcibly evicted while millions are threatened with forced evictions.

Forced evictions are carried out in a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons. They end to be violent and disproportionately affect the poor, who often suffer further human rights violations as a result. If eviction may be justifiable States must ensure that it is carried out in a lawful, reasonable and proportional manner, and in accordance with international law. Evictions should not result in individuals becoming homeless or vulnerable to further human rights violations.

What about the principle of non-discrimination?
Discrimination means any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of the specific characteristics of an individual such as race, religion, age or sex, which affects the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is linked to the issue of marginalization and at the root of structural inequalities within societies. Non-discrimination and equality therefore are fundamental human rights principles and critical components of the right to adequate housing.

What Scales for Justice does

As an NGO especially concerned about the issue of racism and racial discrimination S4J will advocate for the right to adequate housing through appeals to the UN, presentations and practical support for people on the ground.

Source: OHCHR