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Fellowship Report (2004)


Fellow: Clay Collins
Fellowship Site:

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) Africa Programme office in Accra, Ghana.

Brief History of Organization (founding and salient steps):

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions was founded in 1994. The organization is almost single-handedly responsible for creating an international awareness of forced evictions as a gross violation of human rights. COHRE has also played a significant role in defining the nature of the right to housing.

Salient steps in COHRE’s history include the writing of General Comments #4 (on the right to adequate housing) and #7 (on forced evictions) of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. General Comment #4 declares that “forced evictions are prima facie incompatible” with a government's legal obligations with respect to the right to adequate housing as guaranteed in Article 11(1) of the Covenant and “can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances, and in accordance with the relevant principles of international law.”

The writing of these documents is significant because the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights -- mandated by the United Nations to monitor State Party compliance with the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights -- uses the general comments as a basis for evaluating state parties’ compliance with treaty obligations.

COHRE also wrote the UN Fact Sheet #25 on Forced Evictions ( for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

COHRE is an independent, international, non-governmental human rights organization that works to ensure the enjoyment of housing rights. According to COHRE literature, COHRE works for housing rights using a human rights approach that integrates the “full spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.” Started by a group of lawyers in 1994, COHRE applies human rights law to living and housing conditions worldwide in an attempt to enforce conformity to international standards, to stop violations of the right to housing, and to redress infringements of housing rights; further, COHRE “places particular emphasis on securing respect for the housing rights of groups that have traditionally been disadvantaged, including women, children and ethnic or other minorities.”

Departments/Programs in the Organization:

COHRE is comprised of several programs, including (1) COHRE Asia and Pacific Programme; (2) COHRE Americas Programme; (3) COHRE Right to Water Programme; (4) COHRE Restitution Programme; (5) COHRE Global Forced Evictions Project; (6) COHRE Africa Programme; (7) COHRE Women’s Housing Rights Programme; (8) and the COHRE Litigation Programme. COHRE’s Litigation Programme supports and promotes litigation through publishing resources, maintaining case law databases, intervening before courts, tribunals and international bodies, giving legal advice to NGOs and others, providing training, maintaining a global network of lawyers, and advocating for better complaint mechanisms.

Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:

During the fellowship, I did research on forced evictions in Nigeria from 1990-2004. After completing this research, I used the collected data to begin writing a 1503 petition to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission.

As one website explains: “The 1503 Procedure is named after the resolution of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which established it. It enables 2 bodies of the UN - the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection on Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights - to examine complaints which appear to show consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested human rights violations received from individuals or NGOs.”

Since completing the fellowship, I have continued to work on the 1503 petition. I continue my work on the petition until the petition is formally submitted in May of 2005.


Most of my research needed to be conducted on-line, and it was difficult to find reliable and functional Internet access in Ghana. This severely limited my productivity.

How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?

I did not know what to expect from my internship with COHRE. I had never worked on housing rights issues and I had never been to Africa. I did not know how being on this new continent would affect my work. Fortunately, the internship has exceeded my expectations. Not only did I learn a lot about housing rights issues in West Africa, I was passionate about the project on which I was working.

How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?

Prior to the fellowship, I had decided that I would apply to law school in the hopes of becoming a human rights lawyer. My fellowship experience has only reinforced this decision. Indeed, the work that I am doing this summer is the kind of work that I would like to do for the rest of my life.

I plan on focusing on housing rights issues in the near future. Housing rights issues are a nice fusion of my interests in economic and social rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights. By introducing me to some of the mechanisms of housing rights litigation, my time at COHRE has only served to ossify my interest in housing rights and to give me hope in the justiciability of economic, social, and cultural rights.

As a future human rights lawyer, I plan on working with, or starting a regional or local human rights NGO, and I believe that working with COHRE has helped to clarify this vision. I believe that my fellowship with COHRE will enhance my future law school experience because it provided me with an experience from which I can make more informed decisions about the internships I pursue, the classes in which I enroll, and the independent research projects in which I engage.

Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?

Bret Thiele, the Coordinator of COHRE Litigation Programme had the greatest affect on me during my fellowship. Although Bret was in Duluth, Minnesota during the fellowship, his worth ethic, dedication to human rights, and knowledge truly inspired and impacted me.

How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/ international human rights organization?

Before my fellowship with COHRE, I had never left the United States. Thus, the experience of doing human rights work in a severely penurious country such as Ghana has had a significant impact on my development. In Ghana, I experienced or saw something new nearly ever waking hour, and it has been difficult to process and articulate exactly how the experience affected me. At the very minimum, I can say that I am now much more aware of the inequalities that exist in the world. More profoundly, my experience in Ghana has ignited in me an almost inexhaustible urge to find answers to the almost unlimited questions raised everyday during my Ghanaian experience. These questions include: “What can I do about the inequality that I see in the world?” and “How can I affect change in the developing world in an ecologically appropriate way?”

After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?

I am currently seeking opportunities to share my fellowship experience with local high school and elementary school classes whose teachers are interested in integrating human rights education into their curricula. Furthermore, as an active member of a Minneapolis Toastmasters club, I have shared my human rights fellowship experience with the members of that organization via a speech delivered during one of our semi-monthly meetings. Also, I recently began attending the meetings of a Unitarian Universalist Church’s young adult group; being a socially conscious group, I am sure that I can lead a meeting on human rights, during which I could share my fellowship experiences. Finally, I am attempting to share my summer human rights experience through newspaper-style articles that I will write and submit to local newspapers and community newsletters--such as my neighborhood newsletter and the newsletter published by the church that I attend.

Organizational Profile
Full Name of Organization:

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions
Abbreviation and initials commonly used: COHRE

Organizational Address:

International Secretariat
83 rue de Montbrillant
1202 Geneva
Telephone number: + 41 22 734 1028
Fax number: + 41 22 733 8336
Email address:
Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff:
Scott Leckie, Executive Director
Bret Thiele , Coordinator, COHRE Litigation Programme
Date of Information: 10/4/04
Information Supplied by: Clay Collins

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