Iran

Iran: UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on adequate housing - Preliminary findings

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News and Press Release
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Originally published
Mr. Miloon Kothari
Country Mission to Iran
19 to 31 July, 2005
General Overview of the Mandate and Scope of the Mission

Since his appointment in 2000, the Special Rapporteur has undertaken a series of country missions with a view to fulfilling the directives of the Commission on Human Rights. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed for the Special Rapporteur to undertake a country mission to collect information and examine issues relevant to his mandate in the specific context of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Special Rapporteur was particularly interested in examining the issues related to:

- General situation of housing and the process of realization of housing rights;

- Specific situation and rights of children, minorities, migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons and the indigenous peoples with regard to housing and other related services;

- Specific situation and rights of women with regard to housing and other related services;

- Issues related to evictions and land tenure;

- Follow up to relevant conclusions and recommendations of other special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights;

- Current and potential scope of international cooperation that will assist the efforts of the government towards securing the rights relevant to his mandate;

- Role of the national human rights institution;

- Role of the civil society in monitoring, protecting and promoting the rights relevant to his mandate.

- Role of the United Nations, its agencies and programmes;

- Good practices and lessons learnt in all the issues listed above, including experiences in disaster prevention strategies and post-disaster and post-conflict settlement and community-based solutions.

The indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights find clear expression through the right to housing; the full enjoyment of such rights as the right to human dignity, the principle of non-discrimination, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to security of person and of the home, among others, is indispensable for the right to adequate housing to be realized by all groups in society.

During the mission, meetings were organized with the Minister of Housing and the Minister of Welfare and Social Security, and senior officials from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs; national institutions and organizations such as the Management and Planning Organization, the Housing Foundation, the Welfare Organization and the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee; the National Red Crescent Society; the Housing Bank (Maskan); members of the Judiciary, the Headquarters for the Execution of Imam's Order and Parliament (Construction Commission); local authorities; independent commissions, such as the Iranian Islamic Human Rights Commission; civic and community organizations and lawyers dealing, among others, with women's human rights, situation in disadvantaged neighborhoods, rights of prisoners and victims of violence; and United Nations programmes and agencies.

The Special Rapporteur places a particular emphasis on the need to undertake field visits, both in urban and rural areas, in order to gain first-hand understanding of different types of accommodations enjoyed by various social groups in the country. For this reason, visits were organized to different neighborhoods in and around Teheran and to the provinces of Kermanshah, Kerman, Khuzestan, Boyerahmad va Kohgiluye and Fars. In addition, testimonies were received on the land and housing situation from the provinces of Ilam and Sistan-Baluchistan.

Some Positive Trends and Best Practices

During the two weeks of his visit to Iran, the Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to observe an overall concern among Governmental officials in relation to access to adequate housing and acknowledgement of the housing rights challenges faced by the country. According to the information received by the Special Rapporteur, a widespread feeling of continuing improvement in economic, social and cultural rights standards in the last 27 years has been verified. Water, electricity and sanitation were generally extended to distant villages in the country and roads have been built to provide access to those areas, although - according to information received - the quality of services is sometimes below standards and available only during some periods of the day.

Within this context, the Special Rapporteur would like to especially welcome:

- the constitutional recognition of the right to adequate housing as a public right of all people in Iran;

- the considerable number or governmental bodies or government-related organizations carrying out work to improve housing conditions in the country;

- existence of a 5-year development plan and a 20-year perspective guidelines;

- the focus given on governmental housing policies to the groups in most vulnerable situation in the Iranian society -- women heads of households, youth, elders, disabled, orphans and families of martyrs of war;

- the nation's reconstruction efforts in Bam, and the plans for strengthening of houses across the country to prevent large scale destruction in case of disasters.

The Special Rapporteur would like to particularly highlight the Government of Iran's openness to discuss most matters arising from the right to adequate housing and the full support given to his mission.

Challenges to be Faced

The Special Rapporteur would like to recognize the significant difficulties imposed on Iran by:

- the fact that most part of the country's territory is located within an earthquake alert zone;

- the fact that many parts of the country are constantly subject to severe draughts;

- the long-lasting impacts of the eight years of the war against Iraq that has resulted in massive destruction of houses and infrastructure in border areas;

- embargos imposed on some of the country's economic activities reflect in the overall economic situation of the country and may limit access to material and technology coming from abroad;

- the continuously increasing demand for housing resulting from population increase and the concentration of such demands in urban areas resulting from migration.

Some Points of Concern

Despite all the good practices observed and the real challenges recognized above, the Special Rapporteur would like to express his concern in relation to some situations that call for further and urgent action by the Government of Iran. Some of these concerns include:

Affordability:

- affordability appears to be the main obstacle to adequate housing and governmental plans in the area seem to only touch this problem; many of the interviewed indicated that rents and loan installments may represent 50 to 70% of a family's income, resulting in severe shortage of remaining income for other basic necessities such as education, food and health care; this situation is especially concerning in provinces like Ilam, where 80% of the population live in poverty;

- the housing plans designed to incentive the private sector in many cases appear to ignore the threats of land speculation and the commodification of housing that result in increase in the prices of land and property, specially in urban areas;

Housing Loans and Facilities:

- although loan and saving facilities have been created to facilitate access to individual credit for housing purchase and construction, large numbers of the population do not present the financial conditions necessary to assume down payments and loan installments; such programmes, therefore, end up benefiting only the middle and upper-middle sectors of Iranian society;

Urban Bias:

- after discussing with officials about the housing projects of different governmental bodies and organizations, the Special Rapporteur verified a visible urban bias in the housing initiatives carried out by them; such urban bias has represented a certain neglect in relation to rural areas and inefficiency in addressing the problem of migration of rural workers and families to the cities;

Housing and Living Conditions of Ethnic and Religious Minorities:

- as a consequence of this migration, irregular and unplanned neighborhoods have been growing around Iranian cities, where the overall living conditions can be extremely unsatisfactory; the situation of some neighborhoods in the outskirts of Kermanshah and places like Ghal'e Channan and Akhar Asfalt in Ahvaz were particularly adverse, in some cases with complete lack of services and hazardous health conditions, in addition to security problems;

- the field visits carried out by the Special Rapporteur also pointed out to a significant degree of neglect in relation to the housing necessities of ethnic minorities (Kurds, Arabs, Laks) that seem to have been suffering from a poor and uneven distribution of development resources; projects designed to create facilities in the fields traditionally occupied by nomad groups in Yassoj, for example, have been limited due to alleged lack of budget and some groups have to walk up to 9-10 hours to have access to drinking water; regions historically occupied by Kurds, such as Ilam, seem to suffer from disproportional inadequacy of services such as water and electricity and unsatisfactory reconstruction efforts;

Land Confiscation and Land Grabbing:

- land confiscation and "confiscation-style" purchase of lands by the Government seem to disproportionably impact on the land and property of some religious and ethnic minorities; information collected by the Special Rapporteur seems to indicate the existence of a number of cases of confiscation of Baha'i property; another example of such practice was observed in Khuzestan, where lands historically cultivated by Iranian-Arabs were compulsory purchased by the government for particularly low prices to open space for sugar cane plants and other development projects, such as Dekhoda;

- cases of "land-grabbing", by means of modification in the use of land, purchase and division for sale to the private sector were also reported to the Special Rapporteur, specially concerning migrant neighborhoods and traditional fields for camping and routes of nomad groups (in the outskirts of Shiraz, for example);

Women's Access to and Use of Land and Property:

- women seem to face special difficulties in relation to access to and use of land and property; such difficulties arise from cultural and financial restrictions resulting, for example, from women's non-autonomous management of her or her family's income and the limited shares assigned to women in inheritance schemes;

- still in relation to women's access to housing, the Special Rapporteur would like to express special concern in relation to the lack of safe houses for women victims of violence, runaway girls and street women, which may lead to homelessness;

Insufficiency of Current Welfare Programs:

- the assistance provided by some organizations to groups in vulnerable situation (orphans, elderly, disabled, women heads of households and families of prisoners) seem to be inadequate to solve their special difficulties in accessing adequate housing; in the interviews carried out by the Special Rapporteur, the amount of Rials received through pensions provided by the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and the Welfare Organization were generally perceived as insufficient and irregular;

Forced Evictions:

- cases of forced evictions carried out in "irregular" neighborhoods (both in Shiraz and in Teheran) for reurbanization were also brought to the Special Rapporteur's attention;

Lack of Coordinated Action in Housing Policies:

- despite the multiplicity of institutions carrying out housing projects, a lack of coordinated action was observed. This is clear as many people and families are falling thought the system.

Lack of Statistics:

- a lack of important statistics concerning housing-related issues - such as the number of homeless people in the country and the estimated number of people unable to access the housing savings and banking system -- hinders a complete assessment of the overall housing situation in the country;

Quality of Services Provided:

- many of the neighborhoods visited by the Special Rapporteur only had limited access to services such as water and electricity (available only a few hours a day and constantly subject to cuts), while in others, the quality of services (such as drinking water) was very poor.

Preliminary Recommendations

With a view to collaborate with Iran's efforts to secure the full enjoyment of the right to adequate housing within its territory, the Special Rapporteur would like to recommend the Government of Iran to:

- fully implement the Constitutional provision which establishes the right to adequate housing to all Iranians, despite their ethnic or religious origins, resulting in equal distribution of development resources, respect for traditional lands, and elaboration of culturally sensitive housing policies;

- develop further policies to address discrimination against women in relation to equal access to housing, land, property and inheritance, including the urgent creation of safe houses for women subject to violence, runaway girls and street women;

- ratify the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW);

- consider policies to intervene in the housing market and avoid land and housing speculations and commodification; in addition to incentives given to the private sector to facilitate mass construction of accessible housing, measures should be taken to guarantee that the final price to be charged for low income houses is actually affordable; measures to control the price of rent (set up a ceiling, for example) could also be considered;

- harmonize of the work of the different governmental and government-related organizations carrying out housing programs, with clearer identification of responsibilities, overall observation of human rights standards, targeting the specially disadvantaged groups, and setting up of monitoring and accountability mechanisms;

- need for special focus on historically marginalized provinces, such as Ilam, Khuzestan and Sistan-Baluchestan;

- increased attention to the situation of the people affected by the earthquake in Bam, who are still living in camps where sanitation and water conditions continue to be grave;

- strengthen public participation in the elaboration of development plans and in the preparation and assessment of housing projects; in connection to this, the Special Rapporteur would like to highlight the important role played in democratic societies by NGOs, which independent work should be supported and facilitated by the Government;

- reinforce, expand and dully implement policies aimed at groups in vulnerable situation and ethnic and religious minorities (Kurds, Baha'i, Laks, Arabs);

- be increasingly transparent in the development of policies, including by the publication of data concerning not only beneficiaries, but also the population not yet covered by the programs; openness in the assessment of priorities and results, with space for public monitoring, including full participation of the intended population;

- improve awareness among officials about the human rights obligations of Iran under international human rights instruments and further implementation of Special Rapporteur's recommendations and treaty-bodies concluding observations, as well as regular reporting to those bodies;

- translation into the domestic legal system of the commitments undertaken by Iran under international human rights law.

And to the international community:

- provide technical cooperation to facilitate an increase in the construction of earthquake-proof houses and cooperation in the area of disaster prevention across the country;

- increase funding to housing projects, specially those aimed to the groups in vulnerable situation;

- increase support, including training and capacity building programs, to the civil society carrying out human rights and community development projects in Iran.