isiQaloBetween 17 and 19 October 2018, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha, presented a new report on informal settlements and human rights to the UN General Assembly in New York City. The report finds that informal settlements present a critical human rights challenge: On the one hand, informal settlements represent a "systemic human rights violation" that arises as a result of state action, inaction or policy; and on the other hand, informal settlements "are often an incredible accomplishment, a profound expression of individuals, families and communities claiming their place and their rights to housing". Her report urges states to adopt a rights-based appoach to informal settlements by urgently upgrading informal settlements in situ and avoiding relocations or evictions (except in exceptional circumstances where such relocations would be unavoidable). As she writes: 

"The world has come to accept the unacceptable. It is a human rights imperative that informal settlements be upgraded to meet the basic standards of human dignity." 

The report follows a data gathering process in terms of which the Special Rapporteur invited interested parties to furnish her with relevant information on informal settlements and human rights from their countries. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), in collaboration with the Steering Group of the South Africa’s Ratification Campaign of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol (the Campaign) and some individual experts, made a submission on informal settlements and human rights in South Africa on 22 May 2018 (the submission was written by SERI's Michael Clark, Maanda Makwarela and Daiyaan Halim, SERI board member and professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Lillian Chenwi, and the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights (DOI)'s Gladys Mirugi-Mukundi).

The Special Rapporteur relied on SERI and the Campaign's submission throughout her report. In particular, she strongly voiced her support for the South African courts' approach to informal settlements as articulated in the case of Melani and the Further Residents of Slovo Park Informal Settlement v City of Johannesburg (a case in which SERI represented the residents of the Slovo Park informal settlement). As the Special Rapporteur wrote in her report:

"The approach taken by the South African courts moves in the right direction and should be applied by other courts. In the  Melani  case, the Slovo Park informal settlement challenged the decision of the City of Johannesburg not to apply for in situ upgrading and instead to relocate the community to an alternative location 11 km away.The court held that the Government’s upgrading policy, as required by the constitutional right to housing, envisages 'a holistic development approach with minimum disruption or distortion of existing fragile community networks and support structures and encourages engagement between local authorities and residents living within informal settlements'.Relocation must be 'the exception and not the rule' and any relocation must be to a location 'as close as possible to the existing settlement'.On this basis, the City was ordered to reverse the decision to relocate the community and apply for funding for in situ upgrading." 

  • Read the Special Rapporteur's report here.
  • Read SERI and the Campaign's submission to the Special Rapporteur here.
  • Listen to a radio interview about the submission with SERI senior research associate, Michael Clark, here