Sixty-first session
Agenda item 10

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

International Educational Development welcomes the report by Miloon Kothari, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing (E/CN.4/2005/48), which, in keeping with his thematic approach, this year addresses homelessness. His report rightly and ably looks at the homeless from many perspectives and causes.

We regret that this year was a particularly bad one for homelessness from the two extreme and most sudden causes of homelessness -- homelessness caused by armed conflicts and that caused by natural disasters, especially the terrible Asian tsunami. One is completely preventable and the other completely unpreventable. For homelessness caused by armed conflicts, there are inevitably gross violations of human rights and most likely grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions involved. In these situations, the international response is two-sided: the victims must have remedy and the violators must be found, tried and sentenced. For homelessness caused by natural disasters, the response both at the international and local level is rightly focused on remedies for the victims.

Conflicts in Africa, especially in Sudan (Darfur) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have caused much homelessness this year, as villages were destroyed, people ordered out of their homes or forced to flee approaching military forces, militias or mercenaries. As serious as all these situations are, we consider the situation in Iraq to be the most serious. This is because the occupying power has so completely defied the Geneva Conventions that it places the future of the Geneva Conventions themselves at grave risk. No where is the callous defiance of long-accepted rules of humanitarian law more apparent than in the attack on Falluja that began in early November, 2004. Virtually the entire surviving population of Falluja is homeless and the city is uninhabitable as it is reduced to rubble and is contaminated by depleted uranium, now for the second time.

The tragedy of Falluja invokes the mandates of other Rapporteurs under this agenda item: the rights to food, health, and a toxics-free environment. These rights each are also protected by the Geneva Conventions. We consider it especially distressing that the attack on Falluja began with attacks on the major civilian hospital, other medical facilities, storehouses and even every last ambulance. As we all know, protection of medical facilities was the whole purpose of the original Geneva Convention and that protection remains a cornerstone of humanitarian law today. It is also distressing that the United States forces continue to use illegal weapons under existing humanitarian law norms: weapons with depleted uranium, napalm and phosphorous bombs. There are now no civilian hospitals where sick and injured can be attended to, and humanitarian relief organizations, including the Iraqi Red Crescent, are severely restricted as they seek to carry out their mandates. Falluja is a total catastrophe.

It is equally distressing that there has been little discussion in the United States about the violations of the Geneva Conventions committed in Falluja as a whole and against medical facilities in particular. What lip service is paid to humanitarian law addresses the torture cases in US operated prisons. While serious in their own right, we believe the attacks in Falluja represent a far more open defiance of the Geneva Conventions as a whole and should have this Commission rightfully alarmed. It is for this reason that, along with the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers, we filed a petition against the United States at the Organization of American States human tights body (registered as P-1258-04, United States) on behalf of all the victims of the attacks on medical facilities. Due to the gravity of these violations we urge the Special Rapporteurs on housing, food, health, and toxics to undertake a joint mission to Falluja and elsewhere in Iraq. We also expect the international community as a whole to seek out and try persons accused of ordering or taking part in grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions that so overtly took place in Falluja.

As the conflict in Turkey leaves the battlefield in the southeast and hopefully enters a constructive rehabilitation phase, it is apparent that efforts to date to address the serious homeless problem of the 1 - 3 million persons displaced from that area are inadequate. For example, a July 2004 law setting up a compensation program provides inadequate time for claimants to file. Claimants are asked to sign falsely that they left because of the opposition forces, and also that they would not seek government assistance when they return to their villages. Many of the villages have been destroyed beyond habitation and homes in habitable villages have been taken over by State-sponsored village guards.

In September 2004, Gnter Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement visited Tuzla village in Diyarbakir where 30 families had recently returned after the security forces had burned down and forcibly evacuated the village in 1995 and stated: "These people want more economic, social and political rights. (xxx) Once again we call on the government to improve the living conditions in the Southeast. The people must be encouraged to return. In permitting Kurdish broadcasting and courses in Kurdish the government has taken first steps. More steps are needed. We give the Southeast a special importance. (xxx ) The government must support the return to the villages and lift the ethnic discrimination in the region."

Turkey could demonstrate its good intentions regarding these housing difficulties by seeking the advise of the Commission's Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari and other experts in this field and putting into place their recommendations.