Human Rights and Adequate Housing
What is the Human Right to Adequate Housing?
Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to a secure place to live, which is fundamental to living in
dignity, to physical and mental health, and to overall quality of life. The human right to housing is explicitly set
out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations. Despite widespread recognition of
the human right to adequate housing, the UN Centre for Human Settlements estimates that over 1 billion people
worldwide live in inadequate housing, and 100 million are homeless.
The Human Rights at Issue
The Human Right to Adequate Housing guarantees all people the right to live in security, peace and dignity. It
involves more than the right to access to shelter and includes the following indivisible, interdependent and
interrelated human rights:
- The human right to adequate shelter.
- The human right to an adequate standard of living.
- The human right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
- The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
- The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
- The human right of the child to an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.
- The human right to access to resources, including energy for cooking, heating, and lighting.
- The human right of access to basic services, schools, transportation and employment options.
- The human right to affordability in housing so that other basic needs are not threatened or compromised.
- The human right to freedom from discrimination in access to housing and related services based on sex, race, or any
- The human right to choose one's residence, to determine where and how to live and to freedom of movement.
- The human right to freedom from arbitrary interference with one's privacy, family or home.
- The human right to security, including legal security of tenure.
- The human right to protection from forced evictions and the destruction or demolition of one's home including in
situations of military occupation, international and civil armed conflict, establishment and construction of alien
settlements, population transfer, and development projects.
- The human right to equal protection of the law and judicial remedies for the redress of violations of the human right
to adequate housing.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Adequate Housing
What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Adequate Housing?
Includes excerpts from the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, the
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
- "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and 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...."
- --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25
- "The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family,
including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions...."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, Article 11
- "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas ... to
ensure ... the right ... to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation,
electricity and water supply, transport and communications...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women, Article 14
- "States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of
everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, ... in the
enjoyment of ... the right to housing...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination, Article 5
- "States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental,
spiritual, moral and social development.... States Parties ... shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and
others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and
support ..., particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing."
- --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 27
- "As regards housing, the ... States ... shall accord to refugees ... treatment as favourable as possible and ... not
less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances."
- --Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,
- "Migrant workers shall enjoy equality of treatment with nationals of the State of employment in relation to ... Access
to housing, including social housing schemes, and protection against exploitation in respect of rents."
- --International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, Article 43
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Adequate Housing
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Adequate Housing for all?
Includes excerpts from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 4, the Declaration on the Right to Development, and commitments made at
the Earth Summit in Rio, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.
- "The right to adequate housing, ... derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, is of central importance
for the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.... The right to adequate housing applies to
everyone.... [I]ndividuals, as well as families, are entitled to adequate housing regardless of age, economic status,
group or other affiliation or status.... [T]his right must ... not be subject to any form of discrimination....
[T]he right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense.... Rather it should be seen as the
right to live ... in security, peace and dignity...."
- -- Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 4, paras. 1, 6 and 7
- "States should undertake ... all necessary measures for the realization of the right to development and shall ensure
... equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing,
- --Declaration on the Right to Development, Article 8
- "Access to safe and healthy shelter is essential to a person's physical, psychological, social and economic well-being
and should be a fundamental part of national and international action.... An integrated approach to the provision of
environmentally sound infrastructure in human settlements, in particular for ... urban and rural poor, is an
investment in sustainable development that can improve the quality of life, increase productivity, improve health and
reduce the burden of investments in curative medicine and poverty alleviation.... As a first step towards the goal of
providing adequate shelter for all, all countries should take immediate measures to provide shelter to their homeless
poor.... All countries should adopt and/or strengthen national shelter strategies with targets....; ... facilitate
access of urban and rural poor to shelter by adopting and utilizing housing and finance schemes and new innovative
mechanisms adapted to their circumstances.... People should be protected by law against unfair eviction from their
homes or land...."
- -- Agenda 21, Chapter 7, paras. 6 and 9
- "We reaffirm our commitment to the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing .... We shall
seek ... to ensure legal security of tenure, protection from discrimination and equal access to affordable, adequate
housing for all persons and their families.... As we move into the twenty-first century, we offer ... an exhortation
to join ... [in] building together a world where everyone can live in a safe home with the promise of a decent life of
dignity, good health, safety, happiness and hope."
- --Istanbul Declaration, paras. 8 and 15
- "We recognize that access to safe and healthy shelter and basic services is essential to a person's physical,
psychological, social and economic well-being and should be a fundamental part of our urgent actions for the more than
one billion people without decent living conditions. Our objective is to achieve adequate shelter for all, especially
the deprived urban and rural poor, through an enabling approach to the development and improvement of shelter that is
environmentally sound.... We reaffirm ... our commitment to ensuring the full realization of the human rights set out
in international instruments and in particular ... the right to adequate housing.... Equitable human settlements are
those in which all people, without discrimination of any kind ... have equal access to housing, infrastructure, health
services, adequate food and water, education and open spaces.... Such human settlements provide equal opportunity for
a productive and freely chosen livelihood; equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance, the
ownership of land and other property, credit, natural resources and appropriate technologies; equal opportunity for
personal, spiritual, religious, cultural and social development; equal opportunity for participation in public
decision-making; equal rights and obligations with regard to the conservation and use of natural and cultural
resources; and equal access to mechanisms to ensure that rights are not violated...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 3, 26, and 27
- "We reaffirm our commitment to the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing.... We recognize
an obligation by Governments to enable people to obtain shelter and to protect and improve dwellings and
neighbourhoods. We commit ourselves to the goal of improving living ... conditions on an equitable and sustainable
basis, so that everyone will have adequate shelter that is healthy, safe, secure, accessible and affordable and that
includes basic services, facilities and amenities, and will enjoy freedom from discrimination in housing and legal
security of tenure. We shall implement and promote this objective in a manner fully consistent with human rights
standards.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Providing legal security of tenure and equal access to land to all
people...; Promoting access for all people to safe drinking water, sanitation and other basic services, facilities
and amenities...; Eradicating and ensuring legal protection from discrimination in access to shelter and basic
services, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,
national or social origin, property, birth or other status...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 39, 40, and 43
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;