Regardless of whether people rent, own or are living without any legal rights on the land or home in which they live, security of tenure guarantees them legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.
Tenure refers to all kinds of housing arrangements including:
According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, regardless of whether people rent, own or are living without any legal rights on the land or home in which they live (their type of tenure), government must ensure that everyone possesses a degree of security of tenure, which guarantees them legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.
People who lack security of tenure may be excluded from laws and protections that apply to other urban residents (such as rent control, or requirements on landlords to provideservices). Without security of tenure people find it difficult to improve their living conditions: if they are forcibly evicted, they lose all their investment in constructing or improving their homes. A lack of security of tenure leads to people being left out of city planning and budgeting processes and also affects people’s access to public services, including water, sanitation, education and health.
Governments are required to take immediate measures to confer legal security of tenure upon those people and households currently lacking such protection, in genuine consultation with all those affected.
Security of tenure can be increased through a number of means, not only land ownership. The government could:
All affected people should be consulted on these options and be able to suggest options that they think would work best for their situation, which the government should consider. In all these circumstances, people should be protected against forced evictions.
Housing must be situated where people have access to job opportunities, health care, schools, emergency services, and other social facilities. Housing should not be situated in dangerous places, for example near sources of pollution that might be a threat to health; and the security of the location and freedom of movement should be upheld by good policing.
Where can you go to the toilet? For many people around the world, this is not a major concern, but it is a daily problem for the more than 1 million residents of the Kenyan slum Kibera.. Watch the short film 'Going to the Toilet'. Most slums have no legal status: they are ‘illegal settlements.’ That is why local authorities do not feel responsible for providing essential facilities, such as access to clean water and sanitation. ‘You’ll be shocked’, a woman warns. The filthiness of the area is overpowering. Cholera and tuberculosis are rampant. ‘In the hospital the doctors advise me to live in a place with fresh air’, a woman says. A ramshackle, improvised shower is used by 200 people. The waste water flows through an open sewer through the neighbourhood.
Living far from a school can mean missing out on an education. This is one of the reasons that 67 million children around the world did not go to school during the 2009 school year!
My four-year-old son has to take antibiotics very often because he gets sick a lot. Those antibiotics have to be kept in the refrigerator. We don’t have electricity. I have to drive three times a day, even in the middle of the night, to get his medicine from my mother-in-law. Our baby is only a few months old. She is sick all the time. I don’t know how we will survive the winter." Danilo Hudorovič, his partner and three children live in the informal Romani settlement of Goriča vas, which has around 70 inhabitants.
Did you know? In many cities, women and girls living in slums are particularly at risk of sexual violence. This is particularly common at night when women try to reach toilet blocks (also called sanitation blocks) in the dark. Roads or lanes that lead to toilet blocks are usually unlit and dangerous.
“My former landlord… would increase the rent regularly and on a whim… Before I left the house, I owed just one month’s rent arrears and the landlord became very violent towards me. One day he came to the house with some youths and broke down the main door and part of the roof. He threw all my belongings out of the house and told me to leave. After I took my property back into the house, he warned that he would do the same thing the next day…I left that house the following day.” Flora, Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum in Kenya.
A forced eviction is the removal of people against their will from the homes or land they occupy without due process and other legal safeguards. Because evictions can have such devastating impacts on people’s lives, they may only be carried out as a last resort. Prior to any eviction, government authorities must genuinely consult everyone who may be affected by the eviction to identify all feasible alternatives to evictions. People must be provided with adequate notice, legal remedies and compensation for their losses.
Forced eviction is the removal of people against their will from the homes or land they occupy without due process and other legal safeguards. Because evictions can have such devastating impacts on people’s lives, they may only be carried out as a last resort. Prior to any eviction, government authorities must genuinely consult everyone who may be affected by the eviction to identify all feasible alternatives to evictions. People must be provided with adequate notice, legal remedies and compensation for their losses.
Governments must also make sure that no one is made homeless or vulnerable to human rights abuses because of an eviction. Those who are unable to provide for themselves must be given adequate alternative housing. These standards also apply when landlords or companies carry out evictions of people; the government has the responsibility for regulating how private actors carry out evictions.
It is not the use of force which makes an eviction a forced eviction: it is the failure to comply with all the legal safeguards required under international law. If all legal safeguards are applied and people still refuse to leave, then governments can use force, but only to the extent that is strictly required and consistent with international standards.
Evictions can happen for a variety of reasons, such as when people continue to not pay their rent or when the land they are living on is needed for a public project such as building a hospital.
However, governments must try to do everything they can to avoid or minimize evictions, such as assessing all potential building sites to see which ones have the least impact on people, or looking at design options which might enable people to stay on the site. People themselves usually have very good ideas on this and the government must consult them and give them a chance to suggest alternatives to evictions, which it must consider before it makes a final decision.
The authorities are required to adhere to appropriate procedural and legal safeguards. These include:
Therefore, if all the legal safeguards and protections required under international law are complied with, and if the use of force is proportionate and reasonable, then the eviction would not violate human rights. It is when these laws and conditions are not upheld that the action becomes a forced eviction, and is a violation of human rights.
A slum is an area where more than half of the households have the characteristics of a “slum household.” This means that most of the residents in a slum lack one or more of the following:
A slum is an area where more than half of the households have the characteristics of a “slum household.” According to UN-HABITAT, a slum household is one in which a group of people living under the same roof lack one or more of the following:
Poverty makes people feel excluded, humiliated and powerless. It can therefore affect their ability to take part in the civil, social, political and cultural life of their community and of society. Poverty makes people feel that their voices are not heard.
Informal settlements are areas where housing has been constructed on land to which the occupant have no legal claim, or which they occupy illegally. These are unplanned settlements where housing is not in compliance with current planning and building regulations.
Discrimination means being excluded, restricted or treated differently, in a way that denies people their human rights. Ending all forms of discrimination is essential to enabling people to exercise and claim their human rights.
A particularly stark example of discrimination is the inadequate housing and living conditions that many Romani communities live in within Europe. Romani communities often live in segregated settlements on the outskirts of cities and towns, with poor access to transport, schools, health care facilities and other public services. This reflects historical and current discrimination against these communities, both by authorities and by others in the population who do not want Romani individuals and families moving into their neighbourhoods.
“The local population does not accept Roma at all. They don’t want the Roma living in their neighbourhoods.”
Mayor of Semic, Slovenia in August 2009. From: Parallel lives: Roma denied rights to housing and water in Slovenia.
Human rights are often described as being “inalienable”, “indivisible” and “interdependent”:
Human rights are a fundamental set of entitlements or guarantees, starting with the right to life. They are inherent to all human beings, meaning that no human being anywhere in the world should ever be denied their rights, at any time or for any reason. No one has to earn or deserve human rights. They are every human being's birthright.
The ideals of human rights and their underlying values of dignity, freedom and equality, have emerged through different religions, cultures and movements. One example is from the Mandinga people in West Africa, who in the 13th century developed a charter known as “Kurukan Fuga”. It contained the principles of equality and respect for others as well as the right to compensation for damages. It also forbade slavery and stated that while food was available, no one should go hungry.
In the late 18th century, people involved in the French and American Revolutions drew up charters of rights. These included concepts such as “the pursuit of happiness”, “equality” and “brotherhood”. They also claimed the right to form trade unions, to collective bargaining and to safe working conditions.
Human rights are deeply rooted in historic struggles aimed at self-determination, democracy and independence. The people involved in those struggles did not just want political freedoms - they also demanded social justice.
UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS summary version
1 We are all born free and equal. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should all be treated in the same way.
2 These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.
3 We all have the right to life, and to live in freedom and safety.
4 Nobody has any right to make us a slave. We cannot make anyone else our slave.
5 Nobody has any right to hurt or torture us or treat us cruelly.
6 Everyone has the right to be protected by the law.
7 The law is the same for everyone. It must treat us all fairly.
8 We can all ask for the law to help us when we are not treated fairly.
9 Nobody has the right to put us in prison without a good reason, to keep us there or to send us away from our country.
10 If we are put on trial, this should be in public. The people who try us should not let anyone tell them what to do.
11 Nobody should be blamed for doing something until it has been proved. When people say we did a bad thing we have the right to show it is not true.
12 Nobody should try to harm our good name. Nobody has the right to come into our home, open our letters, or bother us, or our family, without a good reason.
13 We all have the right to go where we want to in our own country and to travel abroad as we wish.
14 If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe.
15 We all have the right to belong to a country.
16 Every grown up has the right to marry and have a family if they want to. Men and women have the same rights when they are married, and when they are separated.
17 Everyone has the right to own things or share them. Nobody should take our things from us without a good reason.
18 We all have the right to believe in what we want to believe, to have a religion, or to change it if we wish.
19 We all have the right to make up our own minds, to think what we like, to say what we think, and to share our ideas with other people.
20 We all have the right to meet our friends and to work together in peace to defend our rights. Nobody can make us join a group if we don’t want to.
21 We all have the right to take part in the government of our country. Every grown up should be allowed to vote to choose their own leaders.
22 We all have the right to a home, enough money to live on and medical help if we are ill. Music, art, craft and sport are for everyone to enjoy.
23 Every grown up has the right to a job, to a fair wage for their work, and to join a trade union.
24 We all have the right to rest from work and relax.
25 We all have the right to enough food, clothing, housing and health care. Mothers and children and people who are old, unemployed or disabled have the right to be cared for.
26 We all have the right to education, and to finish primary school, which should be free. We should be able learn a career, or to make use of all our skills.
27 We all have the right to our own way of life, and to
enjoy the good things that science and learning bring.
28 There must be proper order so we can all enjoy rights and freedoms in our own country and all over the world.
29 We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.
30 Nobody can take away these rights and freedoms from us.
This is a simplified version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights developed by Amnesty International UK. For the full version of the UDHR see www.un.org/en/documents/index.shtml
A house provides the foundation for most things that people need in their lives. In the words of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) in its General Comment No. 4 “[T]he right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one's head". To be “adequate” or fit for habitation, housing must meet certain standards:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25 (1)
The right to adequate housing is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and several international and regional human rights instruments. The main provision in this regard is Article 1.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which provides: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequatestandard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will ake appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.”
The right to adequate housing is also protected under the following international and regional human rights instruments:
Human rights are a fundamental set of entitlements or guarantees, starting with the right to life. They are every human beings' birthright, meaning that no human being anywhere in the world should ever be denied their rights, at any time or for any reason. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the world’s governments in 1948. It is a set of standards that affirm the rights to freedom, dignity, respect and equality for everyone, everywhere. Article 25 of the UDHR includes the right to adequate housing as part of the human right to an adequate standard of living.