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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 190
October 16, 2010

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Law for everyday life

Right to housing

The right to housing is one of the most widely violated human rights. Over one billion people are inadequately housed. The United Nations estimates that a further 100 million people worldwide are without a place to live. One third of humanity (more than two billion people) live without security of tenure, adequate legal safeguards against forced eviction and without access to clean and affordable drinking water in the home.

The right to housing goes further than the right not to be subjected to arbitrary or forced eviction. It also involves a duty on the State to take effective action to enable its people to meet their need for a safe and secure home where they can live with dignity. That is not achieved easily or overnight, but it is now internationally recognised that States must take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right.

According to International Law, adequate housing should include at least the elements of- security of tenure, availability/access to services such as safe drinking water, energy for cooking, lighting, sanitation and waste facilities, adequate space and protection, access to employment and various social services, affordability, and accessability of the disadvantaged, etc. Various UN resolutions and legal resources were adopted recognising the issue of housing rights for all citizens. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Dec 1998 (Article 25) enshrines specific rights of tenure and equal access to land for all people including women and those in poverty.

The last decade of the 20th century witnessed considerable advancements in human rights law and the seriousness accorded to human rights concerns by States and the international community. The prosecution of international war criminals and the development of an international criminal court, the vast expansion of attention and action on women's human rights and the growing realisation of the need to prevent impunity for human rights violations are just some of the more important steps forward.

There is now a UN Housing Rights Programme providing much needed institutional support to the expansion of housing rights protections throughout the developing world. Dozens of new housing rights laws are now in place that were not there a decade ago and popular awareness of housing rights as human rights has reached a high point.

The global housing rights situation of many hundreds of millions of people has certainly not improved at anywhere near the pace as laws and practices should have allowed. There can be no doubting that the oft-cited gap between law and practice - which affects so many human rights is sadly alive and well when it comes to housing rights. This glaring disparity between the very positive legal norms in support of treating housing as a human right and the massive scale of housing deprivation throughout the world, though, must not be viewed as inevitable nor something which cannot be put right.

Some legal resources for housing rights
These international laws address housing rights and have been ratified by Bangladesh INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS (1966)
Article 11(1) recognises 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. It also states that the States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right.

Article 5(e) (iii) guarantees the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights:...(e) in particular...(iii) the right to housing.

Article 14(2)(h) ensures to women the right...(h) to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.

Article 27(3) states that States Parties must take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child and provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.

Article 25(1) states:

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 in circumstances beyond his control.

Many national Constitutions throughout the world specifically address housing issues, and some contain explicit references to the right to adequate housing. Others suggest more the general responsibility of the State to ensure adequate housing and living conditions to the population at large. Approximately 40 percent of the world's

Constitutions refer to housing or housing rights. There are, of course, no guarantees -legal or otherwise- that the mere inclusion of housing rights within a Constitution will inevitably lead to this right being implemented.

However, the establishment within Constitutions of both individual and family rights to adequate housing and the corresponding series of State obligations to create the legal, social and economic conditions necessary for the satisfaction by all of this right, represent important legal foundations for further actions towards ensuring this right.

The general manner by which most Constitutional provisions are worded, implies the necessity of adopting implementing legislation, designed to specify the bundle of entitlements for individuals and families, as well as the legal duties of the national, regional and municipal authorities. In many countries, if not most, it remains difficult at best to base legal complaints on housing rights before a court of law exclusively upon Constitutional provisions.

Moreover, many courts remain reluctant to entertain complaints dealing essentially with economic, social and cultural rights, let alone housing rights as such. Indeed, where such test-cases have been submitted by homeless or inadequately housed persons and groups, these have often resulted in failure.

Housing rights appear in the Bangladesh Constitutions-
People's Republic of Bangladesh (1972), Article 15

It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing its citizens:

a) The provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care.

The inclusion of housing rights within national Constitutions alone will generally do little to alter existing economic, political and social processes currently impeding access for everyone to a place to live in peace and dignity. However, when legislatures have agreed to include housing rights clauses in the highest laws of the land, this signifies at the very least, a political commitment that everyone possesses not just a need for housing, but is entitled to it as a matter of rights.

-Compiled by Law Desk.



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