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conceptual mapping >  basic human rights and societies  > The right to housing


The right to housing

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> Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme of the CETIM, 2007, 60 pages.

The right to adequate housing is a universal right, recognized at the international level and in more than one hundred national constitutions throughout the world. It is a right recognized as valid for every individual person.

In spite of this right, the homeless, the inadequately housed, and the evicted are more and more numerous in the cities and the countryside across the planet. More than 4 million persons were evicted from their homes between 2003 and 2006.1 In today’s world, some 100 million persons are homeless and more than a billion are inadequately housed. According to the estimates of the United Nations, 3 billion persons will be living in slums in 2050. Most of these persons live in countries of the South, but no continent is, nor will be, spared.

Beyond the problems of housing, strictly speaking (having a roof over one’s head), what is most worrying is the condition that housing may be in. More than a billion persons throughout the world have no access to potable water, and 2.6 billion persons have no access to basic sanitary installations. These persons live in unhealthy and unworthy conditions; millions among them die each year, including some 1.8 million children who die of diarrhea. As important as they may be, sanitary conditions are not the only housing problem. The denial, de jure or de facto, of the right to adequate housing brings in its wake dramatic consequences and causes numerous violations of human rights in such areas as employment, education, health, social ties, participation in decision-making (denial of civil rights, among others) etc.

Although two world conferences specifically devoted to questions of housing and related summits (on development, environment etc.), all organized by the United Nations during the three preceding decades, have provided an opportunity to sensitize public opinion to the seriousness of the situation, there has been no follow up to the declarations and actions plans adopted. The Millennium Declaration, adopted 13 September 2000 by the U.N. General Assembly is no exception to this. Moreover, it does not deal with structural causes of poverty in the world, and the two Millennium Goals related to the question of housing are timid, indeed: considerably improve the life of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, and reduce by half the proportion of persons who have no access to potable water by 2015.

These goals are insufficient, and it is more and more generally admitted that the Millennium Goals overall will not be reached within the allotted time frame. Worse, the proposed approach for reaching them - increasing financing for the construction of new housing for the poorest - is largely inadequate. What is needed in order to realize the right of all to adequate housing is to attack the deep rooted causes of non-access to housing throughout the world. These causes have been identified by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari. They include, in particular: land and property speculation; expropriations and forced evictions; the rural exodus and the growth of slums; discrimination against vulnerable groups, including women, children, refugees, migrants, the elderly and the handicapped; the negative effects of the privatization of public services.

In other words, demanding the right to adequate housing implies fighting for the inclusion of the most vulnerable people in society and forcing governments to respect their legal obligation to guarantee a life of dignity. This implies also fighting forced evictions, illegal in international law but of which hundreds of thousands of persons are victims every year. Read more :

date of on-line publication : 16 October 2007

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