The Geneva based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) has identified the countries guilty of most consistently abusing and defying international housing rights law in 2002 for its new annual Housing Rights Violators Award. Israel is among the ten states chosen to receive the award.
The list of the top ten housing rights violators includes Burma (Myanmar), Columbia, Croatia, Guatemala, India, Israel, Pakistan, the United States and Zimbabwe. The countries were selected on the basis of reliable data which confirmed the widespread occurrence of housing rights violations in recent years with a particular focus on the previous twelve months.
Over the past two years Israel has continued with impunity to violate international human rights and humanitarian law. International human rights organizations have denounced the brutal policies of the Israeli government, including the practice of house demolition, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Israel fails to abide by its obligations under all international human rights conventions, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a.o.
Israel’s major housing rights violations identified by COHRE in 2002 include the following:
* In April 2002 Israeli forces destroyed hundreds of homes in the Jenin Refugee Camp leaving 4,000 people homeless. From April 2001 to April 2002 over 400 houses were completely destroyed and another 200 seriously damaged in the Gaza Strip, leaving 5,000 people homeless.
Between September 2000 and September 2001, 5,000 residential buildings were destroyed in the West Bank. Homes are demolished for ‘administrative’ and ‘punitive’ reasons.
* Palestinian Arabs - who in 1948 owned most of Israel and now own only 3 per cent of the land - are severely restricted from building on this 3 per cent because of discriminatory laws and practices. Thus thousands of Palestinians who had no chance of ever getting a building a permit live in fear of having their non-permitted homes demolished by the Israeli Authorities. In July 2002 the Israeli cabinet voted for the adoption of a bill to restrict access to ‘state land’ (predominantly expropriated land from Palestinians) to Jews only. Non-Jews may not purchase the land and are rarely permitted to even use the land, leaving them with nowhere to go.
* In January 2002, the Israeli Attorney General rejected a request to compel the Israeli Custodian of Absentees’ Property to release information on property belonging to Palestinian refugees on the grounds that it might damage Israel’s foreign relations and would require too much effort. Since 1948 more than five million Palestinians have had the entire contents of their homes and businesses taken, with no recompense, by the Israeli government.
On the other hand, COHRE was able to identify a number of governments with outstanding performance in the area of housing rights in 2002. “Brazil, East Timor and South Africa exemplify what can be done when the political will of governments is genuinely applied toward protecting human rights and safeguarding human dignity. Emerging from violent and repressive histories, these three governments have taken notable steps in redressing the human rights abuses of the past.”
The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) is an international, non-governmental human rights organization whose mission is to promote and protect the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights for everyone, everywhere, with a particular focus on the human right to adequate housing and preventing forced evictions.
COHRE was established in 1994 and has its International Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland. COHRE currently has thematic programmes in Women’s Housing Rights, Housing and Property Restitution, and Internally Displaced Persons, as well as three regional programmes in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas.