Stop evictions during COVID-19 pandemic, says UN housing rights expert

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The UN’s expert on housing rights has expressed alarm on the global increase in forced evictions during a pandemic and called upon world governments to halt all evictions until the COVID-19 crisis ends.

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing said: “The right to housing is central to any response to the pandemic, but now we are seeing an acceleration in evictions and home demolitions.”

“Losing your home during this pandemic could mean losing your life. The rights to life and adequate housing are intrinsically linked,” he added.

While some governments have put in place temporary bans on forced evictions, many people still continue to lose their homes.

More than 11,000 people were thrown out of their homes in Brazil and Kenya, and more are at risk of eviction. Forced relocation is a threat in countries like Haiti and increasing in many others, and Rajagopal emphasised that the danger is global.

“Temporary bans in many countries have ended or are coming to an end, and this raises serious concerns that a tsunami of evictions may follow,” he warned.

“Governments must not allow people to become homeless during this pandemic because they lose their job and cannot pay their rent or mortgage.”

A moratorium is also essential on clearing encampments or tent cities of homeless people, he said.

“Forced evictions are an outrageous violation of human rights, including the right to adequate housing,” Rajagopal said.

“During a pandemic, when people are asked to stay home to protect themselves and others, forced evictions are even more odious and may constitute grave violations of humanitarian law.”

He warned that when people are deprived of shelter, they become more vulnerable to COVID-19 “and this heightens the risk of widespread contagion.”

“I call upon all States to comply with their human rights obligations and ensure that no one is left in a position of increased vulnerability to COVID-19,” Rajagopal said.

Individuals, families or communities that have already been evicted must be guaranteed access to justice, he said. He called on governments to follow the guidance note on forced evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic issued by his predecessor. (Source: OHCHR)

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