Realizing the right to housing for all requires counting everyone: third-party submission to the Supreme Court of Mexico

Publish Date: 
Thursday, May 28, 2020

Update: On June 17, 2020, the First Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in Mexico ruled unanimously that the statistics bureau, INEGI, must indeed include informal settlements officially in the census. The final ruling develops jurisprudence on the right to housing and on human rights data standards in Mexico. Further information and initial reactions from the plaintiffs, Techo México, are available here.  


Twitter Amicus
Techo para mi País Tweet announcing the decision


A group of 10 ESCR-Net members submitted a third party intervention (amicus) [in Spanish] in a case before Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation challenging the exclusion of informal settlements from Mexico’s official census: Un Techo para mi País México vs. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), amparo en Revisión 635/2019.

Having representative and inclusive data is important because it 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.

This is even more important in the current context of #Covid-19, where the lack of data on the realities of specific groups, particularly marginalized ones, prevents the development and implementation of measures to address the needs of all during the pandemic. The pandemic highlights the enormous costs to human rights and public policy inherent in the decision to exclude informal settlements from the census.

On this premise, we filed an amicus curiae brief to support a case brought by Techo para mi País (Techo) México against the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI - Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía), which is in charge of the national census in Mexico. Ten members from the Strategic Litigation Working Group and the Monitoring Working Group of ESCR-Net co-authored the submission drawing on international, regional, comparative (Colombia, India, South Africa, United Kingdom) and domestic standards and jurisprudence.

The amicus opens with an overview of international law guaranteeing access to an adequate and effective remedy for human rights violations—including for systemic violations of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights—and the role of the Court in ensuring its implementation.  

It then focuses on the state’s legal obligation to collect official data concerning informal settlements in order to guarantee the full realization of the rights to adequate housing, to equality and non-discrimination, and to access to information crucial to participate in public life and democratic decision-making.  

INEGI’s exclusion of people living in informal settlements from the ongoing census entails that the state will lack information crucial to developing public policies and taking measures to guarantee economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of this population, particularly the rights to an adequate standard of living and substantive equality. INEGI’s exclusion breaches Mexico’s human rights obligations under a number of legal instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  

The amicus discusses how the three dimensions of equality—formal equality; prohibition of discrimination, and substantive equality— apply in relation to the living conditions of people in informal settlements, as a group facing substantial exclusion from basic entitlements, such as water, sanitation, health, education, etc. The brief stresses the obligations of states to identify and address all forms of discrimination through accurate data collection and planning.

The lack of this type of data, such as demographic and socioeconomic data, also de facto denies people living in informal settlements access to the information they need to meaningfully participate into public affairs, further aggravating discrimination and exclusion. In addition, it does not allow for the monitoring of Mexico’s progress in meeting its obligations to fulfill economic, social,cultural and environmental rights, as required under international law.

Lastly, the amicus discusses how the state should approach data collection and analysis in line with human rights laws and principles and existing guidance by human rights and regional bodies. This includes combining quantitative and qualitative data, utilizing different types of indicators, disaggregating data according to key groups, and ensuring that data collection and analysis involves communities in informal settlements and reflects lived experiences.