In this blog, Geeta Koska examines housing, land and property rights in the context of internal displacement in the face of climate change, development and urbanisation.


Housing, land and property (HLP) rights embrace the protection of the home as a place that offers shelter, safety and the ability to secure a livelihood, free from the fear of eviction. As such, HLP rights are closely linked to the enjoyment of many international human rights, including the rights to food, water and health. In her new report, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, addresses the important question of HLP issues in the context of internal displacement.

Housing, land and property issues in the context of internal displacement

The report brings attention to the significance of HLP issues in the context of displacement, and the increased risk to HLP rights due to climate change, development and urbanisation.

The report highlights how security of tenure is fundamental to the protection of HLP rights internationally. Just as in this jurisdiction, security of tenure protects people from forced eviction, harassment and other threats and encroachment. Despite the centrality of security of tenure, around 75% of the world’s population do not have access to formal systems to register and safeguard their land rights.  This insecurity means that people are more vulnerable to displacement, and that those who become displaced are often denied compensation or restitution.

Transnational corporations and housing, land and property issues

The broad definition of internally displaced persons set out in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement can include people and communities displaced by development projects and climate change.

Transnational businesses may be complicit in or responsible for development induced displacement in the context of their business activities, including by “land grabbing”, mining and urban development. In the context of development projects, the risks created by insecurity of tenure are acute, in particular where land rights are informal or customary as will be the case for many indigenous peoples.

In Cecilia Jimenez-Damary’s report on internal displacement in the context of the slow-onset adverse effects of climate change, published last year, she similarly found that businesses may be responsible for climate-induced displacement through the emission of greenhouse gases.

Extra-territorial obligations to protect, respect and fulfil HLP rights

Cecilia Jimenez-Damary’s report is an important reminder that the interference with HLP rights may be linked to our own government and UK-based businesses, as well as international financial institutions.

In order to address and mitigate the risks to HLP rights in the context of development projects and climate change, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary highlights the importance of implementing the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rightsand the responsibility on businesses to exercise due diligence to ensure their activities do not violate human rights, which include HLP rights.

Recently, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has emphasised the extraterritorial obligations on states to respect the rights set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in land-related contexts in their draft general comment on Land and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The obligations in the Covenant require states to prevent trade, investment and climate change mitigation policies from interfering with the enjoyment of human rights outside their own borders. In addition, the obligation to protect means that states should act to prevent domiciled investors from infringing HLP rights, which may include establishing due diligence obligations in law.

Action and intervention

Housing, land and property rights provide the basis for the fulfilment of human rights and international cooperation, and solidarity is crucial to their protection and enforcement.

As part of Cecilia Jimenez-Damary’s mandate, she is able to act on allegations of violations connected with internally displaced persons. The Special Rapporteur can send communications to states and corporations seeking to end violations or obtain redress. This is an important tool that can be engaged by UK-based lawyers and activists to promote accountability for HLP related human rights violations of displaced persons.  This mechanism could be used to hold the UK government and UK-based companies to account for potential violations and strengthen the movement to protect HLP rights of internally displaced persons.

Geeta Koska recently recorded a podcast with Cecilia for Junior Housing Law Practitioners’ Association, which can be listened to here.

1MCB international has expertise in UN Special Procedures, international human rights and business and human rights.