In addition to the UN-based International legal instruments, the Right to Housing is also protected at European level through the Council of Europe, which brings together 47 European Countries and 820 million citizens. These include the:
EUROPEAN CONVENTION FOR THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS
Although not explicitly included in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) of 1950, the right to housing is enshrined in numerous concrete legal norms, which are relevant in the fight against homelessness and housing exclusion;
- Article 2 – right to life
- Article 3 – prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment
- Article 6 – right to a fair trial
- Article 8 – right to respect for private and family life
- Article 13 – right to an effective remedy
- Article 14 – prohibition of discrimination
- Article 1 Protocol 1 – protection of property
The Convention has been ratified by each of the 47 members of the Council of Europe, as well as by the European Union.
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The ECHR provides for a strong mechanism of accountability and enforcement. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which is based in Strasbourg, applies the Convention and ensures that States parties respect the rights guaranteed by the ECHR. The Court examines complaints lodged both by individuals and States, and its judgements are binding.
The individual complaint mechanism allows individuals, who have personally or directly been a victim of violation of a right, to take legal action against a State and seek justice when this was denied domestically. This is a key tool, which can be used to reinforce the human rights approach to homelessness and housing exclusion. Also, reference to Court's judgments relating to adequate living conditions and respect for home, which clarify State obligations and accountability, can prove to be a very useful support in this context.
EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF SOCIAL RIGHTS
States that have signed and ratified the ESC and the RESC have committed themselves to the effective realisation of a number of human rights (see accepted provisions by country). The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) monitors the application of the Charter by States parties and evaluates the conformity of national law and practice. The Committee regularly examines national reports and adopts conclusions in this context.
In September 2008 the ECSR issued a revised version of its Digest of Case-Law, which presents its interpretation of the different articles of the European Social Charter.
REVISED EUROPEAN SOCIAL CHARTER
The European Social Charter (ESC) complements the European Convention on Human Rights in the area of economic and social rights. It was adopted in 1961 and revised in 1996.
The Revised European Social Charter (RESC) is gradually replacing the initial Charter. The rights guaranteed by the Charter concern all individuals in their daily lives. Provisions relate to housing, health, education, employment, legal and social protection, the movement of persons, and non discrimination. Article 31 of the RESC is devoted to the right to housing.
Article 31 on the Right to Housing of the Revised European Social Charter reads:
With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to housing, the Parties undertake to take measures designed:
- (1) to promote access to housing of an adequate standard;
- (2) prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination;
- (3) make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources.
COLLECTIVE COMPLAINTS MECHANISM
The Additional protocol to the European Social Charter providing for a system of collective complaints aims at improving the effective enforcement of the social rights guaranteed by the Charter. It entitles NGOs enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe to lodge collective complaints against a State, which has ratified it, for non-compliance with the Charter.
After assessing whether a complaint meets the formal requirements, the European Committee of Social Rights declares it admissible. Once the complaint has been declared admissible, a written procedure is set in motion, consisting of an exchange of memorials between the parties. The Committee may decide to hold a public hearing. The Committee then takes a decision on the merits of the complaint, which it forwards to the parties concerned and the Committee of Ministers in a report, which is made public within four months. Finally, the Committee of Ministers adopts a resolution. If appropriate, it may recommend that the State concerned take specific measures to bring the situation into line with the Charter.
FEANTSA have lodged 3 Collective Complaints over the past few years:
COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Since 1999 the Council of Europe has a Commissioner for Human Rights, whose mandate is to promote the awareness of and respect for human rights in Council of Europe Member States.
The current Commissioner, Mr Thomas Hammarberg, has raised the issue of homelessness and housing rights in several ways, including by publishing the following documents:
- Viewpoint "No one should have to be homeless: adequate housing is a right" of 29 October 2007.
- Issue paper "Housing rights: the duty to ensure housing for all" of 28 April 2008 (also available in French)
- Recommendation "Recommendation on the implementation of the right to housing" of 30 June 2009 (see French version).