Monday, March 20, 2017

AUS : UN condemns Melbourne's homeless camping ban

Sleeping rough (Pixabay)A move to ban rough sleeping in Melbourne has been condemned by a senior United Nations official as violation of human rights law, reports The Age.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Leilani Farha, said a plan to outlaw people camping in the city and fine those who leave their personal items unattended was a serious international human rights concern.

"The criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law," Ms Farha said via a statement from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

"The proposed law goes further and is discriminatory – stopping people from engaging in life-sustaining activities, and penalising them because they are poor and have no place to live."

Ms Farha has contacted the Attorney-General's Department about her concerns.

The statement follows a chorus of criticism from local law and homelessness experts, which has so far failed to deter City of Melbourne officials from pressing ahead with the changes.

The City of Melbourne has insisted its reforms do not "ban" homelessness.

But Homeless Law manager and principal lawyer Lucy Adams said the changes could effectively ban rough sleeping by preventing homeless people from sleeping on the streets with swags or blankets.

Ms Adam said it was "quite concerning and embarrassing" for Melbourne that the actions of the council had attracted international attention.

"We should be doing better than this," she said.

City of Melbourne chief executive Martin Cutter said the council "is not banning homelessness".

"It is not illegal to be homeless and council is working hard to reduce homelessness in the City of Melbourne," Mr Cutter said.

He said Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton had asked the council to consider changing its local laws in response to large homeless camps around the central city.