From Fri May 26 06:44:26 2000
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2000 22:27:36 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT: UN to Promote Housing as Basic Human Right
Article: 94132
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

UN to Promote Housing as Basic Human Right

By Thalif Deen, InterPress Service, 18 April 2000

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 (IPS)—The Nairobi-based United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) Tuesday welcomed a UN decision to promote housing as a basic human right.

UNCHS Acting Executive Director Klaus Toepfer praised a decision by the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Housing Rights, the first such appointment of a UN official with a mandate to promote the right to housing.

With over one billion people living in inadequate housing and with over 100 million homeless or displaced, he said, “security of tenure and access to adequate housing have to be seen as basic human rights.” Toepfer said that many of the homeless and shelter- less were women and children.

“The right to housing must be regarded as an important instrument for promoting justice, equality, peace and development in our cities,” he added.

The Special Rapporteur, who will initially be appointed for a three-year period, will promote all aspects related to housing rights.

Currently there are UN Special Rapporteurs probing human rights abuses in countries such as Afghanistan, Burundi, Myanmar, and also Special Rapporteurs covering specific subjects such as Violence Against Women and the Right to Education.

The right to “adequate housing” has been laid down in several international human rights conventions and covenants, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. But the United Nations has not aggressively pursued this in practical terms.

Among the Rapporteur's functions is the task of reporting on obstacles, laws and policies, and good practices in providing adequate housing worldwide.

A resolution adopted by the Commission says the Rapporteur will also promote, as appropriate, assistance to governments in their efforts to progressively secure housing rights and to develop, wherever they do not exist, national strategies for the full realisation of housing rights.

The Commission on Human Rights also reaffirmed the rights of women to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. The resolution, establishing the Special Rapporteur, also recognised “women's equal ownership of, access to and control over land and equal rights to own property.”

The Commission urged governments and UN agencies to support the transformation of customs and traditions that discriminate against women and deny them security of tenure and equal ownership.

In a resolution adopted by consensus last week, the Commission also reaffirmed the “right to development” as a basic human right.

Arguing that the existence of “widespread absolute poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights,” the Commission reaffirmed the importance of the right to development as an integral part of the fundamental human rights for every individual, particularly for those in developing countries.

Although the right to development was recognised at the UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna in 1993, several industrial nations subsequently changed their position during votings at the General Assembly.

A resolution on the right to development, adopted by a majority vote in the General Assembly last November, drew negative votes from Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States.

Addressing the Commission in Geneva last week, Arun Sengupta, an independent expert on the Right to Development, said that “governments who were part of the Vienna consensus are obliged to treat the right to development as a human right in all their dealings and transactions.”

But some industrial nations have shied away from the decision taken in Vienna fearing that the right to development could also be interpreted to mean an international obligation to increase development assistance, help alleviate poverty in developing nations and even write off debts.

Sengupta told the Commission that in any agenda for implementation of the right to development, national action must be complemented by international co-operation.

“With increased integration of the global economy, the policies and actions of a state at the national level are circumscribed by the interaction between states, policies adopted by other states, and the overall international environment,” he said.

Any strategy for implementing the right to development therefore has to build on national action by combining with mutually consistent international action based on co-operation in the diverse fields of economic activity and institutions, he argued.