European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) v. France, Complaint No. 39/2006
Complaint alleging that the manner in which legislation related to housing is implemented in France resulted in a situation of non conformity with the right to housing; Article 31 (right to housing ) and Article E (non-discrimination) of the Revised European Social Charter; Housing Rights; Forced Evictions; Equality / Non-discrimination; Roma/Traveler's Rights.
FEANTSA alleged that France was in violation of Article 31 of the Revised European Social Charter (RESC) due to its failure to ensure an effective right to housing for its residents in a range of different contexts. Article 31 on the Right to Housing states: "With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to housing, the Parties undertake to take measures designed (1) to promote access to housing of an adequate standard; (2) to prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination; (3) to make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources."
Having considered a wide range of French housing-related legislation, policies and plans (as well as the implementation of such), the Committee made the following findings:
(1) There was a violation of Article 31§1 on the grounds of insufficient progress as regards the eradication of substandard housing and the lack of proper amenities of a large number of households;
(2) There was a violation of Article 31§2 on the grounds of unsatisfactory implementation of legislation on the prevention of evictions and the lack of measures to provide rehousing solutions for evicted families;
(3) There was a violation of Article 31§2 on the grounds that measures in place to reduce the number of homeless were insufficient, both quantitative and qualitative terms;
(4) There was a violation of Article 31§3 on the grounds of insufficient supply of social housing accessible to low-income groups;
(5) There was a violation of Article 31§3 on the grounds of the malfunctioning of the social housing allocation system, and the insufficiency of related remedies available to people denied social housing, and
(6) There was a violation of Article 31§3, taken in conjunction with Article E on non-discrimination, on the grounds of the deficient implementation of legislation on stopping places for Travellers.
While the Committee agreed that the wording of Article 31 'cannot be interpreted' as imposing an 'obligation of results [sic.]', it emphasized that Charter rights must take a 'practical and effective' form (para 55). Therefore, for a situation to be compatible with the Charter, states parties are obliged to: adopt the necessary legal, financial and operational means of ensuring steady progress towards achieving the goals set out in the Charter; maintain meaningful statistics on needs, resources and results; undertake regular reviews of the impact of the strategies adopted; establish a timetable; and pay close attention to the impact of the policies adopted on each of the categories of persons concerned, particularly the most vulnerable (para 56).
Following the Committee's decision, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers (COM) adopted Resolution CM/ResChS(2008)8, July 2nd 2008 in which that body noted, amongst other things, that even before the Committee's decision, France had taken measures to bring the situation into conformity with the revised Charter. The Resolution stated that France undertook to follow up these measures by taking into account the Committee's findings, namely by implementing Act No.2007-290 of March 5th 2007 on the enforceable right to housing. While a justiciable right to housing was enacted in France prior to the complaint, under Act No. 2007-290, subsequent housing laws have not been oriented towards the resolution of the deficiencies identified by the Committee. The decision has been employed by housing rights advocates in applications to district and national courts while some local authorities have used it in their strategic guidelines and budget discussions with central government. Thus far, there has been only one decision exclusively based on the Committee's conclusions. This was taken by the Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l'Egalité (the national anti-discrimination agency).
On the same day as its decision in FEANTSA v France, the Committee transmitted its decision on the merits with regard to International Movement ATD Fourth World v France, Complaint No.33/2006, which alleged violations of the right to housing of persons in extreme poverty. The Committee had previously held a joint public hearing with representatives of the parties to both collective complaints. In its decision, the Committee made similar findings on a number of the same issues as those addressed in the FEANTSA decision. The Committee also held that families living in poverty were discriminated against in respect of effective access to their rights in violation of Article 30 in conjunction with Article E. This was due to, amongst other things, denial of national identity cards to families living in huts and caravans in municipalities on the grounds that such families had no address, resulting in their being denied other social rights which require possession of such a card.
FEANTSA - European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless Webpage: www.feantsa.org
This decision is significant due to the Committee's extensive definition of the nature and extent of the housing rights obligations of those European States that have ratified Article 31 of the RESC. It provides a valuable guide to evaluate housing systems from a human rights perspective. Notably, the Committee used the ICESCR as 'a key source of interpretation' of Article 31, as well as the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights' General Comments No.4 and 7 and the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. The Committee thus made a clear link between the scope of the right to housing under international human rights law and the right to housing under the Revised Charter. While the Committee has previously made extensive use of the ECHR and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in its housing rights decisions, the same has not been true with regard to the work of the UN ESCR Committee.