Human Rights: Collective Complaints

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Publications: Collective Complaints

Scaling up: The Collective Complaint against The State

In the course of our work with Dolphin House, it became clear to us and to many others who were part of the Rialto Rights in Action coalition that the same story of substandard housing conditions and failed regeneration was repeated in many other local authority estates in Dublin and around the country. And it was also felt that the experience of bringing together a community of interest to campaign for housing human rights in one local authority estate could usefully be repeated in other areas.

Across a broad coalition of people, the idea that emerged was that of lodging a collective complaint against the State for its failure to meet its human rights obligations in relation to local authority tenants.

What is a Collective Complaint?

A Collective Complaint is a mechanism that enables groups or collectives to allege the violation of some aspect of the European Social Charter by a national state. The European Social Charter sets out to guarantee fundamental social and economic rights – for example, in areas such as employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare.

By definition, a Collective Complaint must relate to a general situation and not just to individual cases, and it must present evidence of how the State has failed to meet its obligations under the Charter. The complaint can be submitted directly to the European Committee of Social Rights via an accredited organisation.

Making a Collective Complaint involves a complex legal process, requiring time and expertise in many areas. 

To download more detailed information about Collective Complaints, follow the Publications link at the top of this page.

The substance of the Collective Complaint

The substance of the Collective Complaint is that poor conditions and other issues on housing estates violate key articles of the Revised European Social Charter, to which Ireland is a signatory – including the right to health, the right of families and children to have social, legal and economic protection and the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion.

To download more detailed information about the European Social Charter, follow the Publications link at the top of this page.

Gathering the evidence

Putting together a Collective Complaint requires painstaking gathering of evidence of the alleged human rights violation. Over a period of five years, CAN worked with residents of 20 local authority estates around Ireland to gather irrefutable evidence of substandard housing and of the failure of local authorities to offer redress.

The Collective Complaint was lodged with the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) in July 2014 by a broad coalition of people included, among others, Tenants First, CAN, NUI Galway, Ballymun Community Law Centre, the Department of Geography of NUI Maynooth, Irish Traveller Movement and Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC). In July 2014, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), a recognised accredited body lodged the Collective Complaint: FIDH v Ireland Complaint no 110/2014.

To download a number of documents relating to this particular Collective Complaint, follow the Publications link at the top of this page.

The ECSR’s ruling

In October 2017, the ECSR published its ruling that Ireland has indeed failed to take sufficient and timely measures to ensure the right to housing of an adequate standard for many families living in local authority housing across the country.

Specifically, the Committee found that Ireland was in violation of Article 16 of the Revised Social Charter, which protects the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, including the provision of family housing.

Sharing the experience

CAN has sought to disseminate the experience of bringing the Collective Complaint more widely, so that human rights and their vindication can remain central to discourse about equality and disadvantage.

In December 2016, we launched a short film, Keep Your Eyes On The Prize about the making of the collective complaint, and with support from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, we hosted regional workshops in Dublin, Cork, Donegal and Galway for over a hundred community and voluntary organisations. Each workshop lasted two and a half hours and was an opportunity for groups to learn about the Collective Complaint process and to share their own experiences of working in their communities.

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Collective Complaints
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Rialto Rights In Action
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Publications: Human Rights