HIC Advises the SRAH Mandate at 20
On the occasion of the 20-year anniversary of the UN Human Rights Council’s mandate of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing (SRAH), the newly appointed SR, Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, invited all stakeholders to share their views on the achievements of the mandate since its establishment and on future challenges.
For its part, HIC organized a meeting with Members, Friends and allies, as well as a consultation with his OHCHR support team. The discussions focused on 2 questions:
- What are the priority issues for the mandate to focus on, and
- How will we engage with the mandate, and by what mechanisms working well or less well in the UN system?
The HIConsultation highlighted many memories from the long history of HIC’s engagement with the UN and the SRs, including a recent conversation among the four SRAHs organized by HLRN India.
The HIC group identified housing financialization, land grabbing, forced evictions and the dismantling of the welfare state as major issues challenging the realization of the human right to adequate housing (HRAH), especially amid the added COVID pandemic. While the current SRAH prioritizes the situation of unhoused citizens, especially vulnerable groups, including women tenants, the organizations expressed the need for SRAHs to be a voice for civil society in the Council, especially as spaces for civil society’s policy engagement are shrinking.
Among the good-practice examples of HIC’s use of SRAH outputs is the application of the Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement [AR], produced under the mandate of the first SRAH Miloon Kothari. HIC has used them to clarify the state`s obligations in complex issues that could escape the understanding of law operators at the national level, as in Mexico, using the guidelines as the basis for a benchbook for judges at the Supreme Court.
The respondents also appreciated the SRAH country visits, which attract a lot of attention to the local issues, help civil society to cooperate around a common narrative, and use the outcome recommendations in longer-term advocacy.
The group offered feedback also on the history of SRAH formal communications to states, other actors, press and public and their potential for awareness and training of all parties concerned. Some participants further noted the potential of OHCHR country and regional offices could bring to the mandate and country visits, while they still remain rather opaque in their relations with governments and OHCHR officers specialized in ESC rights are rare.
Nonetheless, in the SRAH’s reciprocal relationship with civil society, the mandate also could help promote training in the human rights-based approach, still needed within the broader civil society more generally concerned with adequate housing. They noted the value of the SRAH’s role, in cooperation with civil society, needed now more than ever to hold companies accountable for human rights violations and promote the obligations of states in that context.
Joint SR missions and communications can especially powerful, such as needed now to link the human right to adequate housing (HRAH) with the right to health in the current pandemic. Building on the thematic work of previous SRs Raquel Rolnik and Leilani Farha, the group noted that a challenge remains to delink HRAH from limited notions of property rights and to address financialization of housing and corresponding policies as functions of rentier states. That could create synergies for the SRAH with other mandates on economic human rights related to extreme poverty and foreign debt, also to advocate a non-speculative post-COVID19 economy.
HIC partners raised the priority of making the mandate relevant to ongoing conflict, occupation and war, including violations at such a grand scale as to deny self-determination, addressing human rights-based restitution and recovery and reconstruction within the reparation framework (A/RES/60/147) [AR] and the domestic and extraterritorial HRAH obligations of states in such efforts.
Some participants noted that arguments for a ‘human right to land’ have come of age through a logic similar to the one leading up to the now-standard recognition of a human right to water. The suggestion arose also to treat the Social Production of Habitat and Housing within the state’s obligation to fulfill HRAH (promote, facilitate and assist).
Civil society also looks to the SRAH to promote the legitimacy of a wide spectrum of tenure types when considering housing land and property rights within alternative models of housing provision such as collective property, land trusts and cooperatives, community-led housing solutions and enabling their access to finance. That led to discussion of the need to address the ‘habitat’ and HRAH holistically with corresponding inclusion of rural areas, as well as urban contents.
Some recommended that the SRAH form a support or advisory team outside the UN to help advance on more issues and to support civil society efforts to monitor habitat rights violations. HIC Members in Cameroon noted how this relates to such efforts as the HIC-HLRN Violations Database, which could complement and coordinate with OHCHR’s own internal human rights violation-monitoring database.
The online consultations form joint contributions conveyed to the SR also in written form. These will be taken into consideration in compiling his first thematic report to the Human Rights Council at its 47th regular session in February–March 2021.
For more detail on these inputs, see HIC-GS.