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November 23, 2015

Forced evictions

A complex case which has recently attracted ACTEDO’s attention is that of several families in the city of Cluj-Napoca, almost 80 people in total, who are at risk of being forcefully evicted from the houses they have been living in for many years and becoming homeless. Their precarious housing situation, coupled with the fact that almost all of them are Roma – a minority often discriminated in Romania – emphasizes the general vulnerability of the group. Moreover, the lack of alternatives for these people, such as social housing, signals that local authorities have no solutions.

As soon as the case reached the Pro Bono Network for Human Rights, it was taken by the Pro Bono Lawyer Paula Petean, who is offering legal assistance in order forprofil Paula the families to defend their right to adequate housing. Ms. Petean represents these families in their relation to local authorities and offers support with the necessary documentation meant to reduce the risk of forced evictions and to obtain the rights they are legally entitled to. What exactly motivated Ms. Petean to take this case: “I consider that the legitimate rights and interests of any individual, regardless of their ethnicity, must be defended. I have chosen to offer support to these vulnerable people because of their precarious financial situation and because they are overwhelmed by their legal problems. The solution is not easy, as it has to respond to their social and housing needs, but in the same time comply with the urbanism standards imposed by authorities.”

This case has been throroughly documented by Desire Foundation, by Enikő Vincze and Simona Ciotlăuș, and by the Common Front for Housing Rights Cluj: “Experience has led us to conclude that, in many situations, it is not sufficient to prevent forced evictions, but also to offer housing alternatives and/or improve housing facilities for those at risk of becoming homeless. In the case which has reached the Pro Bono Network for Human Rights there is negligence on the part of local authorities, who are not able to or do not want to offer marginalised families access to proper housing or to correlate urbanism with social legislation. These institutional failures are not involuntary: they are supported by the mentality of those who hold public office, who believe that the development of the city implies supporting grand real estate programmes, while in the same time pushing to the periphery those who are weakened by the capitalist economy. In these circumstances we continue to militate for the state institutions to assume their responsibilities to ensure de facto social rights and for the institutions to adapt and implement the law so as to achieve social justice.”

The right to adequate housing is a fundamental right recognised by numerous international human rights conventions and treaties, such as The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As a signatory and as a member state of the EU, Romania has obligations to take necessary measures to prevent forced evictions and to guarantee the right to adequate housing for its citizens. The state also has the obligation to consult these individuals on issues which may affect their lives and provide effective solutions – such as social housing, social or housing assistance, as stipulated by Art. 34 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Forced evictions in Romania, especially of Roma, have been documented by various human rights organisations: Amnesty International, Romani CRISS, European Roma Right Centre (ERRC) and, more recently, The Common Front for Housing Rights, but this has not stopped these abuses throughout the country. Despite the fact that 3 in 4 Roma live in poverty in Romania (compared to 1 in 4 ethnically Romanians)[1] and that this minority often faces discrimination and restricted access to various services, the criteria for social housing allocation evidently put Roma at a disadvantage. In addition, social housing is scare, given that 97% of real estate in Romania is private[2]. These abuses are possible, among other reasons, due to the decentralisation of public policies regarding housing, which has been transferred from the Ministry of Regional Development and Tourism to local authorities. The consequence is that the responsibility to hold local authorities accountable often falls on the shoulders of those who face forced evictions, who rarely have the means to do so.

The solution is never simple, particularly in the case of vulnerable groups, who often face various legal problems in the same time. As long as public policies are not designed to protect the most vulnerable, the state will continue to tolerate or even exert abuses against its citizens, with the risk of creating, in a not so distant future, a dystopian Pata Rât in each community.

[1] Amnesty International, Mind the Legal Gap: Roma and the Right to Housing in Romania, , p.2, available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR39/004/2011/en/ (accessed January 20th, 2016).
[2] Ibidem.

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