South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

International human rights law recognizes the right of all to an adequate standard of living, and that includes adequate housing. The human right to adequate housing recognises that every man, woman, youth and child has the right to acquire and maintain a secure home and community in which to live in peace with dignity. The Interim Constitution of Nepal aims to establish a right for all citizens to education, health, housing, and employment. Despite this constitutional protection, millions of our people suffer from inadequate standards in housing, health and food. Questions must be asked. Why is there so little being done to improve matters? Why do only a few privileged elites and new elites enjoy most of the country’s resources and welfare programmes?

The Maoist-led government have demolished many areas of the capital evicting in the process hundreds of households and failing to provide alternative accommodation. The residents, including women and school children, had been living there for many years but were evicted to make way for a planned urban development project: many were left homeless. The Bhattarai-led alliance has been forcibly bulldozing the homes of people for many years in the name of development and carrying out road widening schemes without complying with the proper legal procedures. The evictions and the destruction of people’s residences were not carried out in compliance with applicable due process standards, and the government has not provided compensation or social services to those affected, including children.

International human rights law has been designed to protect the full range of human rights required for people to enjoy a full, free, safe, secure and healthy life. Many further questions need to be asked at this point: Do the forced evictions not constitute a gross violation of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing? Should our government not scrupulously avoid any type of forced eviction that does not conform to international human rights law? Should the displaced people not be compensated for their loss, and be assisted both in the removal and subsequently in the transition stage once they have arrived at the relocation site?

Article 33 of the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 provides for the pursuance of a policy of establishing the right of all citizens to education, health, housing, employment and food sovereignty. Article 12 provides that every person shall have the right to live with dignity; Article 13 provides the right to equality; Article 18 provides the right to social security; and Article 21 clearly mentions the right to social justice. These provisions form part of the right to life and are very much related to the right to adequate housing. The right to housing is mentioned under ‘directive principles’ and ‘states policies’ in the Interim Constitution: it may thus not be enforceable in a court of law, but this does not mean that the state is absolved from responsibility for it. In India, the Supreme Court has interpreted the right to adequate housing as a fundamental right protected under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as a part of the right to life.

Nepal has its tripartite obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right to adequate housing. These obligations are derived not only from the constitution but also from the various other international human rights covenants to which Nepal is a party. The obligation to respect requires that our government refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. The obligation to protect means preventing third parties from interfering with the same right, and the obligation to fulfil requires adopting appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, promotional and other measures to realize fully the right. There is no indication of any improvement made since the country entered into the democratic process a few decades ago. There are growing problems not only of homelessness and inadequate housing but there are also greater disparities between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and between city dwellers and those who live outside. Thousands were displaced internally during the ten-year so-called Maoist People’s War. People’s properties and were looted and occupied forcibly by the Maoists. The government has done nothing yet to address these issues even though the country entered into the peace process seven years ago. People displaced during that horrible time still cannot go back to their homes: the properties that they lost have still not been returned to them.

Equal opportunities must be provided for all and special policies and plans should address the needs of the homeless, the backward classes and the most vulnerable in our society. The government should provide adequate alternative housing and infrastructure for those forcibly evicted as well as compensation for their loss of livelihood and for the violation of their human rights. Any relocation plan should consider the people’s enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights including their right to work and to have dignified living conditions. International law demands complete rehabilitation, taking into account the needs of the special groups: women, children and the aged.

Source: The Himalayan Times – 28/02/2013 (