Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Right to Water and Sanitation for Informal Settlements

A case pending before the European Court of Human Rights, Hudorovic and others v Slovenia, provides an opportunity for that Court to clarify the clarify the scope of protection afforded by the European Charter of Human Rights in contexts of tolerated informal settlements characterized by unsanitary conditions.  The case may have resonance for homeless  communities facing similar challenges in the United States. 

At issue is the treatment of an informal, but longstanding, Roma settlement in Slovenia.  As explained in the court's summary of the matter,

    "The applicants live in a caravan and have no access to basic infrastructure such as water, sewage, sanitation and electricity.     They collect water from the cemetery or the nearby polluted water stream or else they acquire it from other houses.     Moreover,  due to the lack of sanitation services, the applicants have to use the area around the caravan for defecation;     hence, they cannot maintain their privacy, dignity or an appropriate level of hygiene, all of which contributes to frequent     health problems."

The case passed the initial admissibility threshold and the Court asked the parties to address whether positive steps to provide drinking water and sanitation to the community are required under Articles 3, 8 or 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In August 2015, the European Roma Rights Center intervened in the case to provide information about similar treatment of Roma camps throughout Europe, and to set out its analysis of the affirmative obligation to provide water and sanitation access.  The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University also submitted written comments, asking the Court to use the case to elaborate the scope of positive duties in the field of equality and non-discrimination.

The question of whether there is an affirmative obligation to provide water and sanitation is a persistent one, with wide relevance to homeless populations worldwide.  This is a case worth watching, both for its significance in Europe and for its relevance to the U.S.


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