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Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law


DECEMBER 16, 2021: The hearing is virtual and open to the public; click here to register.  Further information on the IACHR’s hearings, schedule, and registration is available here

With the rise of so-called “anti-homeless ordinances” that have placed unhoused persons at greater risk of loss of life and loss of mental and physical health, cities and municipalities across the United States have engaged in the practice of criminalizing homelessness and poverty through issuing these ordinances, conducting police sweeps, and forcibly displacing encamped communities across the United States.

On Thursday, December 16th at 14:00-15:30 ET, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on the right to housing in the United States. The objective of the hearing-the first of its kind on this topic-is to establish the legal nature of housing as a human right, and to demand that housing be guaranteed to each person without discrimination. The hearing will outline how the failure to provide adequate shelter and housing subjects unhoused persons to numerous violations of their fundamental human rights, e.g., the rights to personal security, health, property, and the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment.

The current executive administration of the USG was elected on a platform that explicitly affirmed housing as a human right. However, recent discourse has largely failed to recognize the United States’ existing legal obligations to ensure adequate housing as a human right under international human rights law. Likewise, there has never been a high-level formal articulation of the serious and ongoing violations arising from the criminalization of homelessness, with either a human rights framework or a racial justice lens. Addressing the rising crisis of unhoused persons in the United States using the human rights framework would ground this discussion in the protection and preservation of fundamental human rights, paying particular attention to issues affecting minority and other vulnerable groups.


The Center for Human for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law has convened a delegation of experts working to combat the criminalization of homelessness in the United States, including advocates from the National Homelessness Law Center, the ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU of Southern California, and California-based NGO Reach for the Top.  This delegation of organizations is united by its commitment to recognizing housing as a human right through research, advocacy, and the implementation of policies aimed at ensuring respect for individual rights without discrimination.  Directly impacted people from across the country will also testify to the Commission, calling attention to human rights violations and offering emerging better practices.  Given its specific focus on the United States, the delegation believes that it is imperative that government representatives be present, testify, and respond to the Commission’s questions.   

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Role of Thematic Hearings

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Commission) is one of the institutions of the Organization of American States whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the Americas.  The Commission is composed of seven independent members whose role is to monitor State compliance with its human rights obligations.  The Commission holds two types of hearings: case-based (or petition) hearings and hearings of a general nature (also known as thematic hearings).  Thematic hearings are held in response to requests from civil society and governments in order to address a wide range of human rights concerns.  Thematic hearings can advance general awareness of a human rights issue, serve as a coalition-building tool, reinforce advocacy at the United Nations, and focus the Commission on a particular human rights concern.  Recent hearings have addressed solitary confinement, juvenile justice, national security, indigenous rights, racial discrimination, human trafficking, rights of migrants and farm workers, detention at the U.S.-Mexico Border, the right to water, and conditions at Guantanamo Bay, among many others.

For additional resources and readings on this topic: