Proposed: A Constitutional Right to Housing for All

In this Arsenal For Democracy mini-series, we propose new, progressive Constitutional rights. Part I: A right to housing, by Kelley.

Participating in the American dream requires a roof over one’s head. It does not have to be a fancy roof, but it does have to provide a little space to get yourself ready for work in the morning and a safe place to tuck your children in at night.

What if the American people and their government decided that having a home was not a privilege, but a right? Imagine a constitutional amendment to that effect:

“Every person has the right to adequate housing regardless of means. The legislature [or Congress] shall make such laws as are necessary to secure this right to all residents.”

The moral case for an absolute right to housing should be clear. All people deserve a little corner of the world to help them feel safe and stay healthy. They just do. A lack of housing can prevent progress in any other aspect of one’s life – from finding stable employment to keeping your children in school. Without stable housing, it is difficult, if not impossible, for people to break out of the oppressive cycle of poverty.

The economic case for a right to housing is also clear. Helping individuals and families to secure a place to live allows them to focus on finding employment, addressing health problems, or whatever other roadblocks may exist in their life. This allows them to contribute to the US economy and reduces their dependence on other government aid programs.

The history of housing policy in America is one tainted with efforts to help potential White homeowners, while making it nearly impossible for people of color to purchase a home. From Jim Crow laws to redlining loan policies to deed restrictions to the creation of ghettos, there is no doubt that the United States has an ugly and racist history when it comes to housing.

In recent years, states and cities have taken two distinct approaches to homelessness. The first approach is to criminalize homelessness, allowing individuals to be arrested for being outside at night or even adding active deterrence measures in public spaces. The second approach is to create long-term solutions for the homeless, particularly for homeless veterans.

What if the American people went farther? What if we no longer waited for cities and states to provide housing for their citizens but told our government that housing was a human right and demanded that they act accordingly, providing housing for all of America’s citizens?

We wouldn’t be the first country to do so. The EU has included the right to adequate housing as a part of its human rights charter. Many member states have taken significant steps in making this right a reality for their citizens. Notably, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden have enshrined the right to housing in their constitution.

The moral and economic imperative to make housing a right in the United States exists. The only question is – will anybody act?

Eritrea: East Africa’s Open-Air Prison Nation

Eritrea — a country of 6.4 million people, located on East Africa’s Red Sea coastline — separated by referendum from Ethiopia in 1993 following a brutal three-decade civil war. Since then, it has remained firmly under the single-party rule of Isaias Afwerki, who led the main rebel group since 1978 and the country since 1991. His reign has become ever more brutal and the country ever more impoverished in the elapsed time since.

The report of a year-long United Nations inquiry into the country confirmed the worst fears of many observers and critics. Eritrea has become one gigantic prison and a virtual hell on earth:

Slavery-like practices are routine and torture is so widespread that the commission said it could only conclude that the government’s policy was to encourage its use.
[…]
Eritrea effectively enslaves people by a system known as “national service”, but which really involves “arbitrary detention, torture, sexual torture, forced labour, absence of leave”, the report said.

National service is supposed to last 18 months, but the commission spoke to one witness who had fled after 17 years. Witnesses reported people being executed for trying to avoid being drafted into service as recently as 2013, it said.

 
The conditions are so horrifying and unbearable that as many as 10% of all Eritreans have fled the country, despite the government enforcing a Shoot-to-Kill border control policy to try to prohibit any emigration whatsoever. Some 5,000 citizens are leaving each month. The government insisted the UN report was a “vile slander.”

If you’re wondering why so many people in recent years have faced the incredibly treacherous (and often fatal) Mediterranean journey to enter the European Union illegally, look no further than Eritrea to find your answer. It has been one of the single largest source countries for migrants arriving without documents into the EU by boat. The unspeakable conditions of Eritrean daily life and the sheer difficulty of escaping the country in the first place make the intense dangers of crossing the Mediterranean with human smugglers look like the easy part. It is, fortunately, also why Eritrean migrants have a better chance than most of receiving asylum status.

Flag_of_Eritrea

Beware the aid of Chad

Al Jazeera America, “US support for Chad may destabilize the Sahel”:

Washington’s support for Déby assumes U.S. interests in the region align with Chad’s. U.S. policymakers should realize, however, that Chad has demonstrated a vested interest in promoting instability and empowering regional militias. Far from a bulwark of stability, Chad has proved a purveyor of chaos.
[…]
Chad’s domestic policies are no less problematic. The country is one of the world’s least free, according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World index. Under Déby’s rule, Chad’s already dismal record for political and civil rights has continued to decline.

 
Related background: Chad: How China Created an African Power – The Globalist: How Chinese investment made Chad a vital Central African military ally of the West.

The previous regime in Chad, ejected in the 1990 coup, was also a close U.S. military ally, with success against Libya but horrible results domestically.

Chad’s regional interference in the past 15 years has included repeatedly supporting rebel groups in Sudan, Central African Republic, and elsewhere, in addition to its provision of support and troops for French and US military operations in Mali and Nigeria. Its Central African Republic intervention, which included overthrowing the government and then sending troops to “keep the peace” in the ensuing chaos, ended in disaster, as I previously recounted on this site:

[…] neighboring regional power Chad announced its intention to withdraw its forces from the 6,000 strong African Union multinational intervention force. (Most of that force will be replaced by the new UN force, rather than supplemented.) Chad’s move followed mounting accusations (which were probably true) that it was not a benevolently intervening impartial force but was rather a full-fledged party to the conflict.

Although it’s never been entirely clear just how much meddling Chad’s government was doing before the reciprocal atrocities in C.A.R. began last year, many Christian civilians on the ground had become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Chad was taking sides and facilitating Muslim militia activities. As a result, various Christian militia groups had begun attacking Chadian peacekeepers more and more frequently, culminating in an alleged recent massacre of Christians (supposedly in self-defense) — all of which prompted their decision to depart. The UN’s newly expanded force will mostly be coming from other African nations, like the existing peacekeepers, but UN officials seem relieved to have Chad’s controversial troops out of the picture, without needing to ask them not to participate anymore.

 
The intervention in Nigeria seems to be the one most closely motivated by economic fears (BBC):

Chad has been impatient to act in order to protect its supply routes, crucial to its economy. Goods come through Cameroon’s Far North while it exports oil through a pipeline running through Nigeria’s Adamawa state.

(That state is just south of current Boko Haram territory.)
Wall Street Journal:

Rampaging through northeastern Nigeria and attacking neighboring Cameroon in January, Islamist militants squeezed paths used by herdsmen who walk one of Chad’s main exports—cattle—to market in Nigeria. Boko Haram also choked off the flow of manufactured goods into Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. Prices for everyday imports like plastic tubs have skyrocketed.

 
Nigeria has done very poorly against Boko Haram, but Chad’s deepening involvement (some of it undertaken without the permission of Nigeria’s government) should be at least as troubling to as welcomed by the international community, if not more so.

flag-of-chad

Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi on Islamic democracy

Qantara.de, a Germany-based publication promoting Western-Islamic dialogue, yesterday published an interview by Daniel Bax and Tsafrir Cohen (translated by Katy Derbyshire) with Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s mainstream Islamist party, Ennahda. That party, which initially led the country’s transition government after the December 2010 revolution, recently lost the first regular legislative and parliamentary elections, and it is now the largest opposition party in the Assembly.

Below are some excerpts from the interview that I found particularly interesting.

On the new constitution (background) and on Islamic democrats:

…we’re very proud of this constitution. We not only supported it; we also helped develop it. I don’t regard it as a secular constitution, but as one that unites Islam, democracy and modernity. We don’t see any conflict between moderate secularism and moderate Islam. There are Christian democratic parties in many European countries, such as Germany; elsewhere, there are democratic parties with Buddhist or Hindu backgrounds. Why should there not be Islamic democratic parties?

 
On the right to non-belief and secularism in an Islamic society:

…Islam guarantees freedom of religion and conscience, and that this applies in both directions: for adopting and rejecting the faith.

 
On the internal diversity and divisions of Islam (background):

There have always been different schools of thought throughout the history of Islam. But for 14 centuries of Islamic history, Islamic societies have always been pluralist and accepted people who followed other religions or none at all, and guaranteed this freedom and diversity. This acceptance of diversity is not something we had to import from the West either. When we look at Western countries, acceptance of diversity only evolved there after the Renaissance. Before that, there were religious wars that lasted for decades.

 
On universal rights:

Q: The French Revolution is regarded as the birth of enlightenment, democracy and human rights. What’s your position on these values?

Ghannouchi: The Tunisian constitution is founded on two pillars: the principles of Islam and the principles of modern society and human rights, which are a product of the Enlightenment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [in 1948] was drawn up by people of many different cultural origins.

Q: There is also an “Islamic Declaration of Human Rights”, which was drawn up in 1990 by several Muslim states and which deviates from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a number of points, for instance on equal rights for women and men or rights for minorities. What do you think of it?

Ghannouchi: It represents an attempt to combine the principles of Islam with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But for me, there’s no contradiction between human rights and Islamic values. We accept that in our constitution, and that’s also part of the foundations of my thinking.

 
He also addressed the country’s severe terrorism recruitment problem, but he mainly attributed that to the decades of misery under repressive rule, which only began to end four years ago.

Flag-of-Tunisia

China has some thoughts on the US Torture Report

International reactions to the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary of the Torture Report continue to roll out, including China:

China urged the United States on Wednesday to “correct its ways” in the wake of the U.S. Senate report.

“China has consistently opposed torture. We believe that the U.S. side should reflect on this, correct its ways and earnestly respect and follow the rules of related international conventions,” China foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing.

China is frequently accused by rights groups of using torture. The government has in the past said it has been used and vowed to stamp it out, following a series of cases of wrongful convictions after confessions were extracted under torture.

China and the United States often spar about each other’s human rights records. China has even begun issuing its own annual report on the U.S. rights record, criticising the United States for issues ranging from racism to gun crime and homelessness.

 
Ouch.

With airstrike allies like Bahrain…

Retired U.S. General Jack Keane, notorious paid hype-man for war, was doing international interviews overnight bragging about the participation of five Arab, “Sunni-based” air forces in US-led “coalition” airstrikes in Syria against the Arab, “Sunni-based” ISIS organization:

“We have five Arab Muslim Sunni-based nations attacking a Sunni-based terrorist organisation and that is … something we have not seen in the past. That is really quite an accomplishment.”

 
According to Reuters the five were:

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain were all involved, although their exact roles in the military action were unclear. Qatar played a supporting role in the airstrikes, the official said.

 
We’re all familiar with the record in Saudi Arabia and recent activities by Qatar and by the United Arab Emirates. But Bahrain stands out on that list as particularly problematic to be celebrating militarily, especially as an “Arab Muslim Sunni-based nation,” in the words of former General Keane.

For one thing, Bahrain actually has a repressive Sunni monarchy ruling over a Shia majority. During the Arab Spring in 2011, the government of that small Gulf state violently suppressed democratic protests in the capital, with the help of the armed forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (both of which, as noted above, also participated in the airstrikes in Syria on Tuesday).

For another thing, maybe nobody was paying attention to what was going on literally just 4 days ago in Bahrain:

Activists in Bahrain said thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets on Friday, rejecting a proposal made by the Gulf State’s monarchy on reforming the legislative, security and judicial sectors.

The rally was organised by the island’s opposition and came a day after Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa issued a statement detailing proposed reforms with the aim of accelerating “the resumption of dialogue” with opposition groups.

A national dialogue process has been stalled since January due to sharp differences of opinion over Bahrain’s three yearlong uprising and a failure to agree on a format and agenda for the talks.
[…]
Opposition leaders have criticised the crown prince for not consulting them on the initiative and said it does not go far enough to meet their demands – authorities have been previously accused of failing to follow through on promises of reform by activists and human rights groups.

Protesters on Friday rejected this offer en masse with banners showing their steadfastness in holding out for full democratic reform of the governance system.

 
Sounds like that “Arab Muslim Sunni-based” leadership is still not going over so well with the democratic activists who continue to mobilize, more than three years later, under threat of death.

Then again, those detail ares probably not what people like Keane care much about:

Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.

To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.

 

Map of Bahrain (Credit: CIA World Factbook)

Map of Bahrain (Credit: CIA World Factbook)

Bahrain, a small island nation in the Persian Gulf with a little over twice the area of the City of Las Vegas, is the permanent home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

Foreign human rights investigators arrested by Qatar government

Not a great couple weeks for Qatar, in their quest to present a good face to the Western world via soft power campaigns. The latest development was that two British human/labor rights investigators, representing a Norwegian organization, disappeared suddenly on assignment in Qatar. Al Jazeera America, the US arm of the Qatari royal family’s media empire, reported that the government had confirmed yesterday that it had arrested them. They are still in detention but have now been afforded access to representatives from the British embassy.

In the first official comments made by the emirate in regards to the missing men, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the pair were “being interrogated for having violated the provisions of the laws of the state of Qatar,” the Qatar News Agency reported.

The announcement follows calls on Qatar from rights groups including Amnesty International to reveal the whereabouts and ensure the safety of the two men, named as Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev.

Researcher Upadhyaya, 52, and Photographer Gundev, 36, work for the Norway-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD).

Both went missing on Aug. 31 as they were preparing to leave Qatar. GNRD had suggested that Qatari security services were behind their disappearance and has called for both men’s release.

On Sunday, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said that all actions taken against the men are “consistent with the principles of human rights” outlined in the laws of Qatar, and that British Embassy officials have visited them to check on their situation.

 
Qatar, slated to host the 2022 World Cup, has been plagued with serious and credible allegations of migrant worker abuse and enslavement generally, as well as specifically with relation to World Cup construction activities. Other British investigators delivered a damning report at the start of 2014 alleging that 4,000 enslaved workers were projected to die during World Cup preparation between now and 2022. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track. The ruling family and local citizens are extremely wealthy.

But the other recent development has been on the topic of Qatar’s increasingly hard to ignore state sponsorship of terrorism across the globe. It’s by no means new — involving a mix of official government money and “fundraising” by local and foreign Gulf-area plutocrats, all flowing into active conflict zones — but the condemnation is starting to intensify as Qatar continues to funnel donations, weapons, and ransom payments to extreme groups so destabilizing and threatening that virtually every other country in the area has opposed or abandoned them publicly, despite their own past histories with terror sponsorship. The cozy relationship that allows for easy “negotiation” with terrorist organizations holding kidnapped Western citizens is rapidly becoming more of a reputation liability than a strategic asset. Even Qatar’s support for somewhat more moderate organizations has been criticized heavily because it has become out of step with the agenda of the other regional powers.

(The New York Times today also attributed the rising criticism and attention in Western media to the fact that Qatar’s regional rivals have been hiring U.S. consulting firms in Washington to feed stories to journalists on the subject. But one also suspects that the sheer clash of Qatar’s soft power pretensions and modernizing aims with its terrorism ties and slave labor is a pretty tempting target for journalists anyway.)

For the latest discussion of 2018 Russian and 2022 Qatari World Cup controversies and potential consequences, listen to my radio segment with Nate on last week’s Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 98 Part 2:
Part 2 – Russian and Qatari World Cups – AFD 98

For our prior discussion of the problems surrounding the Qatar World Cup, listen to my radio segment with Nate on Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 87 Part 2 – FIFA/World Cup:
Part 2 – FIFA World Cup – AFD 87

Flag of Qatar.

Flag of Qatar.