AUGUST 26, 2020 – Following the shocking hard lockdown of nine public housing towers in Melbourne, Leilani Farha, Global Director of The Shift, has issued a letter of concern to Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews.
Researchers at The Shift, the international movement to secure the right to housing, have found that the State government of Victoria has violated the human rights of the 3,000 residents of the North Melbourne and Flemington estates sent into a hard lock down in July.
Based on review of the actions taken by the Victorian government and consultation with residents, the letter cites a number of grave human rights concerns.
“A number of factors indicate that the government of Victoria has contravened its international human rights obligations, in particular with respect to housing, and non-discrimination and equality,” said Leilani Farha, Global Director of The Shift and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.
The hard lockdown only being applied to residents of public housing which are largely racialized and immigrant communities without any prior consultation or due notice is in direct violation of key principles of the right to housing, which requires governments to ensure the right to everyone without discrimination. It also equally requires meaningful engagement with residents about decisions that will impact their lives and consideration of the potential impact any decisions might have on their enjoyment of their human rights.
Human rights principles also require governments to make attempts to communicate with residents in languages they understand. Given that many residents do not speak English, the government of Victoria is obligated under international human rights law to take this into consideration when providing them with information about policies that will affect them.
“A public announcement in the middle of the workday, in English, immediately enforced by police and with no consultation with affected residents is a shocking move that highly discriminatory against these residents who have suffered from a long history of marginalization based on their status as a majority racialized and publicly housed community. It is contrary in every way to international human rights law and human rights principles,” said Ms. Farha.
“This is a public health issue that warrants a response, grounded in human rights, not a police-led response.”
The letter also addresses the management of the lockdown, which was marked by the failure of the Department of Health and Human Services to provide residents with adequate access to edible food, medication, PPE and healthcare.
In the context of a drastic public health measure like a hard lockdown, the government of Victoria is obligated to ensure provision of medication, adequate food and other supplies to ensure the health, wellbeing and dignity of residents. Failure to do so not only represents an infringement of their right to adequate housing, but also impacts on many other human rights, including the rights to food, life, liberty and security of the person, and health.
“Not providing medicines, sending out of date food or culturally inappropriate food, is a minimal effort that falls very short of human rights standards,” said Ms. Farha.
The letter also addresses the profound and lasting impact on the mental health of residents.
“The residents with whom I communicated indicated that the Government’s actions in implementing and enforcing the hard lockdown measures left them feeling as though they were not seen as human beings. This is obviously, the most grave human rights concern,” says Ms. Farha.
The letter makes a number of recommendations including ensuring access to justice for residents to address these violations, risk assessments of conditions of the housing blocks and supports for residents to overcome the trauma of this experience.
Read the letter here: maketheshift.org/resource/letter-of-concern-melbourne/
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Photograph: David Crosling/AAP