Un Techo para mi País México vs. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, amparo en Revisión 635/2019

The Supreme Court ruled that the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) needs to include informal settlements in the country’s official census in order to fulfill their purpose of providing data to enable the full realization of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights. In particular, the judgment highlights the detrimental impact that the lack of census data collection has on the guaranteeing of the right to dignified housing for residents of informal settlements.

Date of the Ruling: 
Jun 17 2020
Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation
Type of Forum: 

The complainant, Un Techo para mi País México (Techo), claimed that the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) failed to collect census data for informal settlements. According to Techo, this failure resulted in the State’s non-realization of the right to adequate housing because State policies and policymaking depend on statistical information gathered in the census. The Court affirmed that the INEGI’s failure to collect and disseminate statistical information on informal settlements created a presumption of unconstitutionality that put the burden of proof on INEGI. The Court found that INEGI did not demonstrate that they had adequately exercised their authority to generate statistical information for national development in order to verify protection for the right to adequate housing and avoid negative impacts on vulnerable populations, specifically those in informal settlements.

Techo wrote that INEGI is obligated, by the Law of the National System of Statistical and Geographical Information, to produce information, disseminate said information, and promote awareness and utilization of the information. The information demanded for collection relates to the population and demographic data, including disaggregation along issues of income distribution, housing, water, land, and any other information necessary to support and create public policies, in line with obligations contained under Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Techo argued that it is unacceptable that INEGI has not carried out their census duties in a manner that accurately illustrates how many people live in informal settlements and the depth of their vulnerability and marginalization. According to Techo, that information on informal settlements is minimally required to advance the realization of the right to adequate housing.

In coming to its decision, the Court first dismissed procedural hurdles raised in the course of the litigation. In so doing, the Court cited, among other principles, “the direct effectiveness of human rights, given that their justiciability [‘exigibilidad’] is not subject to the decision of the State to activate [them], which implies the possibility of demanding compliance with these obligations to act via judicial protection mechanisms...” In its later reasoning on the merits, the Court cited United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment 3 and its language on the right to effective remedy when explaining that, “the Judicial Branch, as part of the State, also is obliged, via the resolution of cases, to impose compliance with duties through which to achieve greater effectiveness of rights, as in this case, the right to housing.”

The Court then reasoned that population and housing censuses are the most complete sources of statistical information on which to base an understanding of the reality of the nation because they identify vulnerable groups and the needs of the people, which are important to the ability to create plans and programs to improve living conditions. As the Court pointed out, Article 52 of the Law on the National System of Statistical and Geographical Information establishes that the INEGI is the public body responsible conducting national censuses, and Article 3 provides that it has the duty to supply society and the State with quality, pertinent, truthful, and timely information to assist national development. The Court further recalled that national law requires INEGI to provide information “following the best international practices” and “with the highest level of disaggregation possible.”

The Court noted that the State must adopt both immediate and progressive measures to advance economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, in line with obligations under Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights. It recalled that the obligation of “non-retrogression” is imposed in relation to the realization of these rights. As observed by the Court, the right to housing includes necessary measures to prevent homelessness, prohibit forced evictions, fight against discrimination, focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, and ensure security of tenancy. Informal settlements are particularly important to focus on as residential areas where: 1) many inhabitants do not have security of tenure over the lands or houses in which they live, under the modalities ranging from illegal occupation to informal rent; 2) neighborhoods often lack basic services and urban infrastructure; and 3) homes may not meet planning and building regulations and are often located in geographically and environmentally dangerous areas.

In this context, the Court reasoned that INEGI must generate statistical, geographic, suitable, pertinent, and effective information that provides tools for the State to effectively implement policies needed for public services in the informal settlements. This responsibility includes the dissemination of such information in a manner that makes it possible to evaluate the results of anti-poverty measurements to provide the necessary elements to assess budget allocations and programs meant to improve living conditions.

The Court granted the amparo, establishing that INEGI should gather and provide disaggregated and comparable information on informal settlements in census data going forward.

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

Techo reached out to INEGI regarding the formulation of a plan for implementation of the Court’s judgment.

Groups involved in the case: 
Significance of the Case: 

This ruling represents a vital decision connecting the role of data inclusivity in the full realization of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights. Having representative and inclusive data provides the foundation upon which public policies are designed, implemented, funded, and monitored. If individuals and groups are not represented in data, any policy made or decisions taken on the basis of that data will not be able to address specific issues that they face and will exclude them from equal enjoyment of human rights. Exclusion in data therefore means exclusion in reality. The Court’s decision can serve as an example in other jurisdictions containing struggles for human rights-based data inclusivity.

For their contributions, special thanks to ESCR-Net members: the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at Northeastern University.