Waiting for Someone to Lead By Example

This morning the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik, presented her report on the U.S. to the UN Human Rights Council.  Douglas M. Griffiths, Deputy Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations made our government’s formal response, continuing a legalistic avoidance of our human rights commitments, rather than fulfilling Obama’s pledge to “lead by example.”  Rep. Griffiths stated, “While the U.S. has not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, we have made a political commitment to a human right related to housing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  Although US law does not treat adequate housing as a legally enforceable right, our law does provide certain legally enforceable rights and protections related to housing such as anti-discrimination requirements and provision of adequate housing to persons in government custody.”

How long can the government continue to hold this awkward position?  The “human right related to housing in the UDHR” is the right to adequate housing – why not call it such? And if we have made a “political commitment” to that right, but “U.S. law does not treat adequate housing as a legally enforceable right,” then how are we possibly fulfilling our commitment?  And if the government is going to cite its provision of a right to “adequate housing to persons in government custody,” I think there’s a lot of people doubled and tripled up in jail cells and immigrant detention centers across the country who would dispute that is being provided.

If, as Mr. Griffiths concluded, “we look forward to engaging with the Special Rapporteur on questions like this as we continue to explore how to improve housing in the US and contribute to a global conversation to address significant problems such as homelessness,” a good place to start would be to make a clean break with the past and simply declare our unqualified, unparsed, unavoidable commitment to the human right to housing.

-Eric Tars,  Human Rights Program Director

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