A Commentary on Housing and Human Rights on St Helena

Executive Summary

❖ Housing is a human right. The right to adequate housing was recognised as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It was later included across many other international human rights treaties.
❖ There is still work to do for this right to be fully realised on St Helena, and to make sure that everyone has access to a safe, secure and affordable home.
❖ Everyone needs good quality housing to live and thrive in: a home is central to every aspect of our wellbeing, from health to educational attainment to happiness.
❖ Our existing laws fail to adequately protect housing rights and the human right to housing, there is no legal right to a safe, secure and affordable home in our Constitution (1), no legal definition of homelessness and no Statutory duty on St Helena Government to provide shelter to the homeless.
❖ The right to an adequate standard of housing as defined in international human rights law is not easily enforceable at an individual level, on island because the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other associated conventions have not been included in our Constitution or local law.
❖ A new law on equality and human rights would be a step in the right direction, however people need to know their rights, and be able to enforce them, for their rights to be realised in practice therefor public awareness campaigns are also important.
❖ SHG is failing to meet the international standard that it has signed up to and agreed to be judged against and its own commitments in its 2012-2022 housing strategy and The UN Sustainable Development Goals on housing.

Recommendations

❖ A new Ordinance or update to our Constitution to include civil and political rights would go some way to clarifying the right to adequate housing. Existing domestic legislation does not cover the right to adequate housing, and legal rights are essential to enable the achievement of adequate housing. New legislation would be a significant step towards legal protection for a safe, secure and affordable home for everyone.
❖ The EHRC recommends the establishment of a Chief Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Development, to develop recommendations and actions on how to protect and expand on our human rights on St Helena and bring them into line with international standards.

❖ Education and awareness on the right to adequate housing and any legislative changes must be carried out to empower those with housing problems to seek solutions.
❖ There must be true recourse to justice including access to legal assistance and support to challenge inaction or injustice. We need to ensure these rights are enforced and protected to prevent systemic breaches, as well as ensuring there is adequate funding and support for the housing and benefits offices and other duty bearers to deliver these rights for our people in practice.
❖ Seek alternative solutions to the current housing crisis, for example housing associations or cooperatives, joint equity mortgages, rent subsidies for those on low incomes.
❖ By taking a human rights-based approach, we can help increase accountability for the fulfilment in practice of human rights. We can ensure that rights to housing in international human rights law are achieved and enforced in practice, by holding SHG and potentially the United Kingdom Government, as duty bearers, accountable and giving a clear remedy to individuals where rights are denied.
❖ Until such time that the right to adequate housing is incorporated in our local law, should use the internationally agreed right to an adequate standard of living for everyone, as defined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as a template.
❖ SHG and Elected Members should apply political pressure to UK Government to take steps to achieve the right to adequate housing over reasonable time.

References:

(1) The Constitution of St Helena, Ascension & Tristan da Cunha 2009. Available at https://www.sainthelena.gov.sh/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Constitution-of-St-Helena-Ascension-and-Tristan-da-Cunha-2009-Updated-180620.pdf

To read the full report you can visit our Publications page

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