Year: 2011 (Date of Decision: 30 June, 2011)
Forum, Country: European Committee of Social Rights; Portugal
Standards, Rights: Non-discrimination and equal protection of the law; Right to adequate housing; Ethnic minorities
Summary Background: The complaint submitted by the European Roma Rights Centre (the “ERRC”) alleged that a range of housing related injustices suffered by the Roma community in Portugal violated rights protected under the Revised European Social Charter including the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection (article 16), the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion (article 30), the right to housing (article 31), alone or in conjunction with the right to non-discrimination (article E).
Holding: In examining the case, the Committee took particular note of three issues: the precarious and difficult housing conditions for a large part of the Roma community; the high number of Roma living in segregated environs; and, the inadequacy of rehousing programmes for the Roma community [para. 15].
In its decision, the Committee addressed the need to implement integrated housing policies for the Roma in a non-discriminatory manner, underscoring that one of the primary purposes of the Charter is to strengthen solidarity and promote social inclusion [para. 18]. The Committee clearly stated that both direct and indirect discrimination (including failing to take account of relevant differences and failing to take adequate steps to ensure accessible rights) are prohibited [para. 19].
The Committee further observed that the disproportionately high percentage of Roma living in poor housing conditions triggered a positive obligation of the authorities to take this into account and respond accordingly [para. 30]. It quoted the ECHR in noting that, as a vulnerable minority, the Roma required specific protection measures.
In addition, the substandard housing conditions of the Roma [paras. 32-35, 38] prompted the Court to affirm that the right to housing includes a right to fresh water [para. 36]; adequate space, protection from harsh weather conditions and other threats to health as well as a dwelling that is structurally secure [para. 37]; a location which allows access to public services and other social facilities [para. 41]; and a residence that is culturally suited [para. 49]. The Committee placed the issue of location within the broader issue of segregation and declared that States must be vigilant in implementing housing policies so as to prevent spatial or social segregation of ethnic minorities or immigrants [para. 41].
In light of its findings, the Committee concluded that there were violations of articles 16, 30 and 31 of the Charter in conjunction with the right to non-discrimination.
Additional Comments: This case examines the State’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human right to housing.