International Human Rights in Anti-poverty and Housing Strategies. Making the Connection

AuthorBruce Porter
ProfessionExecutive Director
chapter 1
Bruce porter
Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
in 1948, poverty and homelessness, and the adverse health consequences
that f‌low from them, have been understood not only as i ssues of economic
and social deprivation but al so as matters of basic human rights. In recent
years, calls for a “right s-based” approach to addressing povert y and home-
lessness have become commonplace, particula rly within the UN hum an
rights system.1 Since t he mid-1990s UN human rights bod ies have urged
Canadian governments to adopt and implement strategies to address
the crisis of increa sing poverty and homelessness with in a human rights
framework, based on the recogn ition of the right to an adequate sta ndard
of living and the right to adequate hou sing as guaranteed in intern ational
human rights law rat if‌ied by Canada.2 These recommendations have been
* This paper h as been developed from the author ’s contribution to a longer paper
which was jointl y written with Ma rtha Jackman . The author gratefu lly acknowledges
the University of O ttawa Institute for Popu lation Health, the Soc ial Sciences and
Humanities Research Council Community-University Research Alliance (SSHRC-
CURA) prog ram, and the Law Found ation of Ontario for their s upport.
Executive D irector, Social Rig hts Advocacy Centre and Co -Director (Community) of
the SSHRC-CUR A Research Projec t “Reconceiving Human R ights Practice,” onli ne:
1 These are desc ribed in Section B, below i n this chapter.
2 See S ection D, below in this chapte r.
34 bruce porter
echoed by Senate and House of Commons comm ittees, a wide range of civil
society organiz ations, and many human rights, legal, a nd policy experts.3
What is meant by a rights-ba sed approach, however, is not always clear.
Is the point of armi ng housing and freedom from poverty a s fundamen-
tal rights in t he context of housing and anti-poverty strateg ies simply to
create a moral imperative on governments to act to improve housing and
income support programs? Does a right s-based strategy rely on accepting
these rights as just iciable and allocati ng a central role to courts? Does it af-
fect the design and content of housing and anti-poverty st rategies or merely
describe their goal?
In this chapter, call s for rights-based approaches to housing and anti-
povert y strategies will be situated w ithin the context of new understand-
ings of social right s that have emerged internationa lly. In earlier years,
socio-economic rights such as the r ight to housing and an adequate st an-
dard of living were relegated to a “second generation” of human rights,
conceptualized as wort hy goals or future as pirations of government policy
rather than as en forceable rights. Socio-economic right s are now generally
understood within t he UN system as equal i n status to civil and political
rights not just in conceptual ter ms (as being equally i mportant), but equal
in terms of human r ights practice. They are u nderstood to be claimable by
rights holders and subject to ef‌fective remedies. T hey are also seen as a site
for a revitalized huma n rights practice, centred on right s claimants a nd
parallel to more traditiona l civil and politica l human rights prac tice. This
sea change in the understanding of human rights as a unif‌ied framework
for human rights practice ha s occurred gradu ally over the course of a gen-
eration, but it was f‌irmly entrenched at an in stitutional level when, on 10
December 2008, the UN General A ssembly adopted the Optional Protocol
to the ICESCR and, on 5 May 2013, when the Optional Protocol came i nto
force.4 The Optional Protocol perm its the Committee on Economic, Socia l
3 Martha Jack man & Bruce Porter,Internat ional Human Rights, Health and Strategi es
to Address Homelessness a nd Poverty in Ontario: Making the Connect ion, Exchange
Working Paper Series , PHIRN, 3(3): 2012 at 40–46, onl ine: RRASP/PHIR N
4 T he Protocol entered into force th ree months after the tent h ratif‌ication, see Optional
Protocol to the Internat ional Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultu ral Rights, 10
December 2008, G A Res A/RES/63/117 (entered int o force 5 May 2013) at art 18(1)
[Optional Protocol]. For updates on sig natures and rati f‌ications, see United Nation s
Treaty Collection, on line: http://treaties.un.or g. The Government of Can ada has
indicated th at it does not intend to ratify t he Optional Protocol, see United Nations
Human Rig hts Council, Report of the Working G roup on the Universal Periodic
Review: Canada, Addendum, Views on Conclusion s and/or Recommendations, Voluntary

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