Grenfell residents need to be at the centre of inquiry

Amnesty details concerns as inquiry begins

'Safe and dignified housing is a right, not a luxury' - Kerry Moscogiuri

On the day that the Grenfell inquiry gets underway (21 May), Amnesty International said it will be closely observing proceedings.

Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty UK’s Campaign Director, said:

“The Grenfell disaster raises massive human rights issues. Safe and dignified housing is a right, not a luxury.

“The residents and victims of Grenfell have had their rights ignored and denied before and after the Grenfell fire. It’s appalling that some survivors still haven’t been given adequate housing.

“Grenfell residents need to be at the very centre of this inquiry.

“The survivors of this tragedy have a right to justice including effective remedies for the horrors they’ve suffered. We put the inquiry on notice that we will be watching.

“Government ministers and local politicians and officials need to be held to account.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the inquiry’s current terms of reference make no reference to human rights and we hope that this can be rectified during the proceedings and the final report.”

Amnesty believes that there are several key human rights issues that need to be examined.

The right to life

Firstly, there is a clear need to investigate the cause of the loss of life. Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights places positive obligations on the authorities to ensure that people’s right to life is adequately protected and where this is not the case a comprehensive, independent and effective investigation should be undertaken and those responsible held accountable. Any such investigation must include the genuine participation of all victims to ensure the truth is fully explored and disclosed.

With respect to the loss at Grenfell of life, there are clear question marks over both the underlying systemic causes as evidenced by the multiple examples of dangerous cladding in other public housing and buildings, as well as the immediate specific causes.

Right to housing

Secondly, under Article 11 of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has ratified, the authorities are obliged to ensure that everybody enjoys the right to adequate housing without discrimination, whatever their status or circumstances. Indeed, housing laws and policies specifically need to take into account the particular needs of disadvantaged groups.

According to the UN, the right to adequate housing means “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity”. Adequate housing must be habitable –this includes being physically safe and not subject to structural hazards. It must also comprise certain facilities essential for health, security and comfort. All of these issues are relevant in the context of what happened at Grenfell.

Both the housing policies and actions of national government as well as the local authority need to be scrutinised to examine how they impacted upon the Grenfell residents. As social housing tenants, those living in Grenfell were entitled to expect that their right to adequate housing was both respected and fulfilled by the state – that both nothing was done either deliberately or negligently to violate that right, and that every effort was made to allocate adequate resources to ensure that all residents enjoyed decent housing. Both these negative and positive aspects of the state’s duties need to be examined.

In examining the subsequent response of the local authority to rehouse individuals and families at Grenfell, it will be important that the inquiry assess this against the relevant international standards on adequacy of housing given that many former residents are still in temporary accommodation, including families in hotel rooms nearly a year after the tragedy.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, when visiting the Grenfell site and community in March, expressed concern that residents were not being viewed as rights holders. Ms Farha was struck by survivors’ accounts:  

“They feel they are not being heard and that they are not always being treated like human beings. Those are the fundamentals of human rights: voice, dignity, and participation in solutions to their own situations…Residents told me they feel the government’s position is that they should feel lucky that they are going to be rehoused and that they should feel lucky that they had social housing. That doesn’t suggest residents feel the government recognises them as rights holders.”

Right to health, right to family life, right to education, right to employment and right to justice

Other rights that have potentially been impacted at Grenfell include the right to health, given the hazards and lack of maintenance of the building; the right to family life, particularly in the wake of the tragedy and the ongoing failure to find decent homes for many families. The latter in turns impacts on other economic and social rights such as employment and education.

Background

The UK government has accepted through treaty ratification a whole series of human rights obligations. This includes not just the European Convention of Human Rights which has been incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act and which is potentially applicable in the case of Grenfell – e.g. right to life; right to family life and home – but also UN treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child that guarantee the rights to adequate housing and health. All state actors at both national and local level are accountable for ensuring that people’s rights are not violated – government ministers as well as local authority politicians and officials.

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