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Brazil must end evictions during COVID-19 crisis: UN expert

Portuguese version

GENEVA (9 July 2020) – The UN’s expert on housing rights today called on Brazil to end all evictions during the COVID-19 crisis, after more than 2,000 families were thrown out of their homes. Thousands more are at risk of evictions in cities and in the countryside in São Paulo state.

“Brazil has the duty to urgently protect everyone, especially communities at risk, from the threat of COVID-19, which has affected over a million and a half people in the country and killed over 65,000,” said Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing. “Forcefully evicting people from their homes in this situation, regardless of the legal status of their tenancy, is a violation of their human rights.”

Although some courts are suspending eviction orders until the health crisis is over, others continue to issue new orders. Local officials also seem to prioritise repossession of properties owned by large companies and land-owners over the health and safety of vulnerable people.

Evicting people now – without offering them emergency shelter or long-term housing – also conflicts with measures to prevent the spread of the disease, Rajagopal said.

“The Brazilian Ministry of Health has asked people to stay at home if they have symptoms, to thoroughly wash their hands and to keep physical distancing in order to prevent contagion,” he said. “At the same time, hundreds of families have been evicted in the state of São Paulo without any alternative accommodation, making it impossible for them to comply with official recommendations and rendering them at high risk of contagion.”

He also expressed concern that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vetoed an effort by the Brazilian Congress to limit the impact of evictions. Congress has not yet voted on a broader bill that would suspend all judicial or administrative evictions during the pandemic.

“I encourage the legislative and executive powers in Brazil to urgently prioritise the protection of human rights of communities in vulnerable situations,” Rajagopal said.

“The current health crisis requires emergency measures, including an immediate moratorium on all evictions. Solving’s Brazil’s housing crisis, with an estimated shortage of over 7 million housing units, will entail further, more transformative steps, which the country also needs to consider without further delay.”


Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal (United States) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. He took up his mandate in May 2020. Mr. Rajagopal is a Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. He is the founder of the Displacement Research and Action Network at MIT. He has conducted over 20 years of research on social movements and human rights advocacy around the world focusing in particular, on land and property rights, evictions and displacement. He has a law degree from University of Madras, India, a masters degree in law from the American University as well as an interdisciplinary doctorate in law from Harvard Law School. He served as a human rights advisor to the World Commission on Dams, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia. He has published numerous books and scholarly articles, including research reports on evictions, displacement, human rights and housing.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact Jon Izagirre (41 22 91 79715 / jizagirre@ohchr.org), or write to srhousing@ohchr.org.

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org) and John Newland (mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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