UN rights expert condemns ‘systematic’ war-time mass destruction of homes

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Citing alarming examples in Aleppo, Grozny, Mariupol, Myanmar, Sudan and Gaza, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said an “increasingly systematic, massive and arbitrary destruction of civilian housing and infrastructure” during too many conflicts around the world is in blatant violation of international human rights and humanitarian laws.

“We have seen or are seeing such destruction in Aleppo, Grozny, Mariupol, Myanmar and now, in Gaza and parts of Sudan,” he told the Human Rights Council, the UN’s top human rights body.  

“When people lose their homes, they lose more than physical structures. A home is more than property; it is also the repository of memories, hopes and aspirations.”

Gaza: Massive destruction

Since Israel declared war following Hamas’s deadly attacks in October, more than 70 per cent of all housing stock in Gaza, and more than 80 per cent in parts of northern region have been damaged or destroyed, displacing over 1.5 million persons.

“What is happening in Gaza shocks the conscience of humanity,” he said.

More than one million people are now crowded into Rafah, grossly lacking in adequate shelter during winter, facing starvation and disease.

All that makes housing ‘adequate’ – access to services, jobs, culture, schools, religious places, universities, hospitals – have all been levelled,” the Special Rapporteur said, adding that the scale and intensity of destruction in Gaza is “far worse” than in Aleppo, Mariupol or even Dresden and Rotterdam during the Second World War.

Calls to end ‘domicide’

He said that last week, with other Special Rapporteurs, “I called upon States to stop arms transfers to Israel that are being used to destroy housing and displace the people in Gaza.”

“Such arms transfers risk complicity in systematic violations of the right to adequate housing, which may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of genocide under international law,” he continued.

The international community must take action to prevent and end massive violations to the right to adequate housing, he said, referring to his call to the General Assembly in 2022 for recognition of these violations as “a crime against humanity of its own standing – domicide”.

“I regret to note that so far my call has not seen adequate response,” he told the Human Rights Council.

Action areas must aim to outlaw the use of explosives with wide-area impacts in populated areas through an international treaty. Further, such crimes should be investigated through national and international tribunals and impunity for perpetrators must end, according to his 2022 report.

Homelessness and displacement

In his report, he also drew attention to a range of housing-related concerns, among them calling on States and other actors to renew their commitment to ensure affordable housing and to address homelessness.

He also provided several recommendations, including strategies for averting affordability crises, strategies for safeguarding against human rights violations stemming from housing unaffordability, and strategies for addressing the repercussions of housing unaffordability.

The number of people displaced due to conflict, disasters, development or climate change has sharply increased and is expected to continue to grow, he said.

Some of the drivers of large-scale displacement include unplanned urbanization, land speculation and over-commodification of land and housing and infrastructure projects.

As such, he underlined a need to develop resettlement guidelines to ensure that any plans are carried out in conformity with human rights.

Special Rapporteurs

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and form part of what is known as its Special Procedures. They are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations.

Special Rapporteurs are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and receive no salary for their work.



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