The law of Real Estate Tax violates the right to housing, EOHR launches a campaign to “Abolish housing tax “

December 23rd, 2009 by Editor

     The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) expresses its deepest worries on the government tendency to impose an additional burdens on the vast majority of citizens through the Law of Real Estate No. 196 -2008 and its implementing regulations No. 493 of 2009. The law will impose more burdens on poor categories , particularly that the value of rents will  jump to 12 fold during the first stage  of the implementation of the law. The  Ministry of Finance expects that the total number of real estate taxes after the passing of the bill will reach about 9 billion pounds, while now it is not  more than 450 million pounds, the matter which violates the international conventions on human rights, particularly the right to housing , this can be explained as follows:

  

– Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that

 
” Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.


– Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic and  Social rights stated that
“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent”.

  

– Comment No. 4 of December 12, 1991 for the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

  
The United Nations committee  on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights referred in its comment No. 4 -December 12, 1991 that

  

“The full enjoyment of all  rights – such as the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of establishing associations, the right to freely choose place of residence and the right to participate in public decision-making – is an indispensable right if we need to give effect to the right to adequate housing . The committee determined some aspects of the right to adequate housing as follows:

  

(a) Legal security of tenure. Tenure takes a variety of forms, including rental (public and private) accommodation, cooperative housing, lease, owner-occupation, emergency housing and informal settlements, including occupation of land or property. Notwithstanding the type of tenure, all persons should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats. States parties should consequently take immediate measures aimed at conferring legal security of tenure upon those persons and households currently lacking such protection, in genuine consultation with affected persons and groups;

(b) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure. An adequate house must contain certain facilities essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition. All beneficiaries of the right to adequate housing should have sustainable access to natural and common resources, safe drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, means of food storage, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services;

(c) Affordability. Personal or household financial costs associated with housing should be at such a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised. Steps should be taken by States parties to ensure that the percentage of housing-related costs is, in general, commensurate with income levels. States parties should establish housing subsidies for those unable to obtain affordable housing, as well as forms and levels of housing finance which adequately reflect housing needs. In accordance with the principle of affordability, tenants should be protected by appropriate means against unreasonable rent levels or rent increases. In societies where natural materials constitute the chief sources of building materials for housing, steps should be taken by States parties to ensure the availability of such materials;

(d) Habitability.  Adequate housing must be habitable, in terms of providing the inhabitants with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, structural hazards, and disease vectors. The physical safety of occupants must be guaranteed as well. The Committee encourages States parties to comprehensively apply the Health Principles of Housing prepared by WHO which view housing as the environmental factor most frequently associated with conditions for disease in epidemiological analyses; i.e. inadequate and deficient housing and living conditions are invariably associated with higher mortality and morbidity rates;

(e) Accessibility. Adequate housing must be accessible to those entitled to it. Disadvantaged groups must be accorded full and sustainable access to adequate housing resources. Thus, such disadvantaged groups as the elderly, children, the physically disabled, the terminally ill, HIV-positive individuals, persons with persistent medical problems, the mentally ill, victims of natural disasters, people living in disaster-prone areas and other groups should be ensured some degree of priority consideration in the housing sphere. Both housing law and policy should take fully into account the special housing needs of these groups. Within many States parties increasing access to land by landless or impoverished segments of the society should constitute a central policy goal. Discernible governmental obligations need to be developed aiming to substantiate the right of all to a secure place to live in peace and dignity, including access to land as an entitlement;

(f) Location. Adequate housing must be in a location which allows access to employment options, health-care services, schools, child-care centers and other social facilities. This is true both in large cities and in rural areas where the temporal and financial costs of getting to and from the place of work can place excessive demands upon the budgets of poor households. Similarly, housing should not be built on polluted sites nor in immediate proximity to pollution sources that threaten the right to health of the inhabitants;

(g) Cultural adequacy. The way housing is constructed, the building materials used and the policies supporting these must appropriately enable the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing. Activities geared towards development or modernization in the housing sphere should ensure that the cultural dimensions of housing are not sacrificed, and that, inter alia, modern technological facilities, as appropriate are also ensured.  


On the other hand, there are several provisions on the right to adequate housing in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the international Convention on the Suppression and Punishment
of the Crime of Apartheid and  the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees . All these conventions  ratified by the Egyptian government.

 
EOHR believes that the real estate  tax will violate  the right to adequate housing which  is guaranteed by international covenants concerned with  human rights mentioned above, However,  citizens can get their rights through the  domestic ways and  according to the legal system in accordance with the Committee on Economic and  Social rights as follows:

  

(A) The legal appeals which aim at preventing the planned  process to  evict or demolish houses.


(B)The  legal procedures to pay compensation after illegal  eviction.

 

 (C) The complaints against illegal procedures  carried out or supported by owners of houses  (whether public or private) regarding the levels of rent and maintenance, and racial or other forms of discrimination.
(D) Allegations of any form of discrimination in the allocation and provision of houses.
(E) Complaints against owners of houses  concerning unhealthy housing conditions.

 

EOHR confirmed that this law will violate the rights of the major sector of middle and poor categories especially in the light of the following facts:

  

– The wages system in Egypt is not only under the level of minimum wages, however,  it lacks any form of international standards on the Status of minimum wages as well. Minimum wages in Egypt is under the extreme poverty line which is internationally determined by two dollars for individual per day. According to the social policy guide issued by UN in January 2009 , 

  

we find that minimum wages in the Government and private sector amounted 142 pounds, less than the minimum poverty line in Egypt which amounted 150 pounds per month. According to the guide, Egypt ranked the fifth level in the Middle East ,while it ranked the sixty two level on the world within 112 countries involved in the survey.

  

– According to data issued by the World Bank , minimum wages in Egypt amounts 425 $ annually  compared to 875 $ for Algerian worker and 1675 $for Moroccan  and 1775 for Tunisian and 1850 $ for Senegalese !!. It is worth noting that the increase number of work hours(ranging between 54 and 58 hours per week)  in Egypt will decline the rate of  minimum wages in accordance with the data of Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

 

– The increasing of  unemployment rates ,  there are more than 5 million unemployed graduates from universities and institutes , according to official figures, the number of unemployed in Egypt increased from 112 thousand   and 535 unemployed in 1950 to reach more than 5 million unemployed at the beginning of this year, this means that  the  number of unemployment  increased by 4000% over the last 54 years if these numbers and statistics are true . If the successive governments were really serious in addressing unemployment,  the rates would not   rose from 1.2% of the total labor force in 1950 to reach 3.4 in 1970 and 7.1% in 1986 and 11 .1% in 1990 and 13% at the beginning of this year, this percentage means that it exceeded the safe limits, where economic studies agree that the safe limits  for the rate of unemployment in any society, ranging from 3-4% only.

 
-52% Of Egyptians live on less than two dollars per day,  according to international reports that about 23% live below the poverty line. The Human Development Report,  entitled “Egypt’s Social Decade:  The Role of Civil Society” which was issued in 2008 indicated  that there are a thousand Egyptian villages include  5 million persons living under the “poverty line” which is equivalent to about 37% of the total number of poverty rate in Egypt ( 13.6 million persons). This map indicated that poverty is concentrated in rural areas, especially rural Upper Egypt, which represented 25% of Egypt area  and including more than 56% of the total population according to official statistics.


– The housing problem which faces  Egypt in the light of high prices of steel, cement and various other building materials, in addition to the increase of lands  prices, and the exacerbated problem of shanty towns, and government’s failure to provide houses  for young people.

  

In the light of the increase of  poverty and unemployment rates , and the low of  minimum wages, as well as the housing problem in Egypt, compared to high prices  , we find that the real estate tax law will be an additional burden on the ordinary citizen, especially in light of the deteriorating status of economic and social rights,!! .

 

In view of the fact that  the  adequate housing is an essential element to ensure human dignity, the Egyptian Organization For Human Rights launched a campaign against the imposition of tax on the right to housing, in order to convince the Egyptian legislator to amend the real estate tax law to conform with article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social rights  and comments of the United Nations committee for  economic, social rights and paragraph I of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified by the Egyptian government . Also EOHR calls for imposing this tax on owners of real estate units of a different nature from the housing, and the owners of more than one house , also it invites all civil society organizations , representatives of trade unions, political parties, research centers and specialists to join this campaign. 

  

At the same time, EOHR recommends the following:

  
-The Government has to  sign and ratify the optional   Protocol on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which was  signed by many countries in September 2009,
In accordance with the provisions of the protocol, individuals are allowed to submit a complaint to the committee  of economic and social rights on violations which they face in this regard, the committee  has the right to take the necessary action accordingly. This protocol reflects the commitment of States to develop effective mechanisms for victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights as part of a balanced system of human rights under international law of human rights.

  

 The article (2) of the Protocol provided that ” Communications may be submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals, under

the jurisdiction of a State Party, claiming to be victims of a violation of any of the economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant by that State Party. Where a communication is submitted on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals, this shall be with their consent unless  the author can justify acting on their behalf without such consent.

 

– The need for the government to adhere to all appropriate means to ensure the availability of houses with  acceptable and reasonable price for everyone, and to take a series of measures to reflect the policies and legislation in all elements of the right to housing, and protection of residential areas  and not to enhance  its  the level not to assault  or damage it  pursuant to international conventions concerned with  human rights.

  
– The Government has to  review its housing policies by enabling low-income and poor people  to enjoy  with the right to adequate housing  where there are privacy and safety and health standards , also to provide  financial  and in kind aids and other compensations  to the victims of forced evictions and demolition of houses and to find suitable alternatives for people living in that house, and to prepare a comprehensive plan to eradicate shanty towns which  can not be developed, and to  supply of new cities, utilities and basic services

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