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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 12:55 GMT
Housing report slams US and Sudan
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC correspondent in Geneva

A homeless man in Los Angeles, California
The US is criticised for legislating against the homeless
The United States, Russia and Sudan have been accused of being the biggest violators of housing rights in 2004.

The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions cites the US because of its high homelessness rates.

Other countries are named because of forced evictions - in the cases of Russia and Sudan, on a grand scale in the Caucasus and Darfur.

The centre aims to prevent forced evictions and make sure everyone has the right to a home.

It promotes the clause in the United Nations' 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states that all people have the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including housing.

The group criticised the US because of its high levels of homelessness, and the increased tendency in many American states to criminalise acts such as sleeping on a park bench.

There's a realisation... unless you resolve these issues, the chances are that these issues will form the basis of the next conflict
Scott Leckie
Director, COHRE
It was also cited because of its activities outside US borders. The centre claims indiscriminate bombing in Iraq has destroyed thousands of homes.

In Russia, the centre is critical of the forced repatriation of Chechens from Ingushetia back to Chechnya, where there is no adequate housing for them and where, it is claimed, many now live on the streets.

In Sudan, the centre points simply to the displacement of 1.6 million people from their lands and homes in Darfur.

They are three very different housing situations from three very different countries.

But the centre's director Scott Leckie, says the right to a home is universal, and abusing it is a key source of conflict.

Sao Paulo commended

"Housing, land and property - those issues are actually the key," he told the BBC.

"Traditionally housing concerns, land concerns, property concerns have been more or less excluded from the mainstream human rights discourse.

"I think there's a realisation, particularly in the case of conflict such as Iraq, Sudan, one could also go back to Cambodia and Kosovo... unless you resolve these issues, the chances are that these issues will form the basis of the next conflict."

The centre gathered information from housing authorities and activists all over the world before making its decisions.

Its award to the best housing rights protector goes to the city of Sao Paulo in Brazil - a country which has often been criticised for its treatment of slum dwellers.

But the centre says Sao Paulo's legal neighbourhood programme has helped 45,000 low income families get a legal right to their land and saved them from forced eviction, proving, the centre says, that the right to housing can be a reality if the political will exists.

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