Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Governments must end forced evictions and address global housing crisis at the root of global financial crisis

On the occasion of the World Habitat Day, 6 October 2008, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) calls upon governments to end forced evictions and other housing rights violations. COHRE further urges governments and other relevant agencies to direct the necessary resources towards addressing the acute housing crises in both rural and urban areas. COHRE is convinced that the unmet demand for adequate housing provided the primary target for the predatory lending practices that have led to the current spate of worldwide bank failures and the ensuing global financial crisis. The realization of housing rights for the world's poor majority must not now be sacrificed in the name of international economic "recovery" efforts.

World leaders can no longer continue to ignore widespread violations of the fundamental human right to adequate housing. Millions of people continue to be forcibly evicted from their homes and lands. In Beijing, 1.5 million people have been displaced to create space for Olympic venues, for city ‘beautification’ projects in advance of the Olympics, as well as in the context of other urban development projects. This massive displacement of persons and communities is ongoing today. In Abuja, Nigeria, the Federal Capital Development Authority selectively used the City’s Master Plan to forcibly evict more than 800,000 during the period 2003 to 2007. Over three years after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, in the United States, thousands of families are still being denied the right to return to their homes. In Cambodia, over 50,000 people were forcibly evicted during 2006-2007 for agro-industrial and development projects. Indeed, even Luanda, Angola, which hosts this year’s World Habitat Day celebrations, has similarly undertaken large-scale forced evictions, involving many thousands of persons, in the recent period.

Ongoing housing rights abuses have also taken other forms. In Burma, cyclone Nargis survivors have reportedly been forcibly returned to their villages by the Burmese government, despite the absence of adequate rehabilitation. In Sri Lanka, the government has threatened to forcibly close transitional shelters in Colombo, in advance of any durable solution for persons displaced by the 2004 tsunami. Indigenous communities such as the Brazilian Quilombos and the Bedouin in Israel have been arbitrarily deprived of their land, despite the adoption by the UN General Assembly in September 2007 of the Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, which sets out extensive commitments to maintain the integrity of land tenure for such groups. The Roma in Europe face extensive racial segregation in housing, enforced through forced eviction practices, matters comprehensively banned by international law. The recent period has seen dramatic intensification of such practices by the Italian and French governments in particular.

While countless people continue to be driven into homelessness, governments are abdicating their responsibility to ensure access to affordable housing and public services. In some cases, governments are even scaling down commitments made previously to meet the growing demand for affordable housing. For example, in the post-communist world, social housing systems have been dismantled in a number of countries, with few or no protections introduced to protect persons forced by these acts into extreme poverty. The widespread neglect of rural infrastructure including water, sanitation and housing coupled with increased land alienation has led to growing rural-urban migration. In addition, the fast pace of urbanisation in many developing countries has far exceeded local government capacity or willingness to provide basic amenities to city residents, including adequate housing, water, electricity and sanitation. Such urbanisation has resulted in the creation of vast slums where residents live in sub-standard housing conditions, without access to even the most basic services.

While inadequate living conditions and forced evictions affect all residents, women and girls all too often bear a disproportionately greater burden. Violence, vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, inadequate provision of services, housing insecurity, and lack of privacy are common experiences with profoundly gendered dimensions.

There are, however, inspirational alternative approaches. In one leading example, Naga City, in the Philippines, has enacted landmark legislation mandating city government agencies to establish a partnership with community organisations to work towards security of tenure and improved living conditions for its residents. Naga City has also adopted a range of adjunct policies with a view to finding long-term solutions to problems of lack of security of tenure faced by the urban poor as well as to promote slum upgrading.

A major housing rights victory was recently won when the City of Johannesburg implemented the voluntary relocation of 450 residents of two inner city slum buildings to two newly refurbished buildings. This successful relocation was possible due to an order by the Constitutional Court of South Africa that directed the City government to engage in meaningful consultation with affected persons.

COHRE urges governments to take cognisance of this and similar progressive approaches to securing the right to adequate housing for all. COHRE further urges all governments to take immediate steps, as specified by international law, to address the spiralling global housing crisis. In particular, COHRE urges that governments worldwide:

- End, without delay, the practice of forced eviction
- Respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing including the right to water and sanitation for all
- Promote development processes that minimise displacement
- Devise and implement plans to address homelessness and inadequate housing in consultation with affected persons and communities, and their representatives
- Take steps to mitigate the impacts of inadequate housing on marginalised groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, and children, and
- Celebrate the work of housing rights defenders, and work toward their inclusion in policy frameworks to resolve outstanding housing rights issues

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