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Former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing speaks at International Conference on ‘Budget Decisions and Economic and Social Rights’

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

This post is contributed by Chelsea Marshall. You can read about Chelsea on our Guest Contributors page.

Speaking at the ‘Budget Decisions and Economic and Social Rights’ conference held at Queen’s University Belfast this weekend, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari warned the Saturday morning attendees that if we were “expecting an uplifting and inspiring lecture”, this was not going to be one.  In the balance of pessimism and optimism, he confessed, “pessimism triumphed”. He then proceeded to discuss the issue of budget decisions and budget work in the broader global context.  

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts who hold honorary, voluntary positions and are mandated to examine thematic or country-specific issues of particular importance to the UN.  Holding the position of Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing from 2000-2008, Mr. Kothari described his mission as an “overwhelming global mandate” to investigate and report back to the Human Rights Council regarding wide-ranging barriers to the effective realisation of the right to adequate housing.  He interpreted this right broadly to include elements such as the rights to electricity, public services, as well as aspects of civil and political rights such as the right to participation and the right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.  Like other Special Rapporteurs working on economic and social rights (ESR) issues, Mr. Kothari dedicated part of his tenure to developing indicators against which to monitor a country’s compliance with the right to adequate housing. These indicators are structural (indicators that reflect the ratification/adoption of legal instruments and the existence of basic institutional mechanisms deemed necessary for facilitating realization of the particular human right), process (indicators that relate State policy instruments with milestones), and outcome (indicators that capture attainments, individual and collective, that reflect the status of realization of a human right in a given context).  Developing and using specific indicators has been key, he argued, to identifying progress and room for improvement.  He also spoke about his work on developing basic principles and guide-lines on the right to adequate housing, as well as the need to develop mechanisms such as eviction impact tools.

Having made thirteen official country visits during his time as Special Rapporteur (and many more unofficially), Mr. Kothari shared with the audience many lessons learned, as well as outlining many of the remaining obstacles to the realisation of the right to adequate housing. He also outlined a few reasons for hope as we move forward.  Although his emphasis on challenges ahead dominated the lecture, his accessibility and frankness were encouraging as he spoke honestly about the realities he faced while advising the international human rights system on the right to housing. Read more…