Assets and Struggles: 30 years after Vancouver Habitat Forum


Since Habitat I in 1976, international summits concerned with human settlements have sought to devise solutions to the magnitude of development problems, and coincided with both the global recognition of the human right to adequate housing, a growing inequality, sustainability, violation of internationally human rights treaty obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the right, and the rise of private interests over people’s well-being. The roundtable addressed five related action lines.

1. Ending forced evictions that violate human rights

Forced Evictions negate human dignity, well being, equal treatment before the law, security and privacy. Manifesting the most obvious failure of governmental is their assault on low-income communities’ rights and liberties under the guise of restoring order and/or "cleaning up" to make way for private-interested development.

2. Supporting community-based values and initiatives

Various social movements, NGOs, CSOs and other grassroots organizations have long committed to reversing this violative trend on diverse fronts, promoting and enabling the homeless and evicted, low-income tenants, indigenous people, women, disabled, minorities, migrants, youth, children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. These diverse civil formations are still struggling to link and articulate community-based values as an effective pressure group.

3. Confronting the negative effects of habitat privatization

Currently dominant economic-development favor the "commodification" of habitat. Coincidentally, State capacity-and authority- to regulate housing and land markets has eroded. In addition, global private finance capital has expanded at the expense of people’s ability to participate in decision making. Civil society’s main challenge is to defend public and collective ownership and control of the elements of housing, including infrastructure, services and facilities. Governments collude with a small group of conglomerates and multinational corporations to privatise social housing globally. These "white evictions" threaten to housing rights, communities and their assets.

4. Protection, rights and durable solutions for displaced people

Typically homelessness victims of violent conflict, violence accompanying development projects, and other serious threats and violations of human rights, the world’s millions of refugees/IDPs situations share common features issues and challenges with the spectrum of forced eviction and other habitat problems, not least is the common villainisation and/or formal criminalisation of victims for their poverty and homelessness. 14 million IDPs live under life threat; 6 million lack any humanitarian assistance; and UN assistance reaches IDOs in 16 countries, only 1/3 of all current situations. UNHCR’s undercounts refugees, probably well exceeding 17 million.

Civil society provides relief, services, legal defence, some advocacy, either in contract or in competition with the dominant UNHCR. C-S engages in little effort independent of that dynamic; thus, few monitor UNHCR conduct, despite the need. While remedial C-S responses are both indispensable and insufficient, all parties should emphasise more preventive strategies, addressing individual and collective government impunity and the rampant violation of relevant public international law framework-and even specific ICJ rulings-concerning population transfer and other war rimes/crime against humanity. Land rights partly form causes and solutions to IDP and refugees situations.

5. Involving local people in all aspects of post-disaster reconstruction

People facing a disaster have the right to return, to rebuild their homes and livelihoods according to their own memories, milieu, needs and values. Those affected consider themselves survivors, rather than simply victims, implying a passive character. Instead, unprecedented, self-determined civil formations have emerged as a survivor response to the tsunami. Meanwhile, opportunistic official and private land-grabbers are exploiting the disaster to dispossess the affected people and communities further. All intervening parties must allow the effected people to lead the design, implementation and maintenance of reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.

Civil society in its diversity is disposed to enhance coordination, articulation and joint actions. Emerging issues that deserve further attention include housing and HIV/AIDS and a (new) "human right to the city" (as an inclusive concept, taking into account the values and struggles of rural people as well).

The threats and outright violations of housing and land rights have never been graver than now. Governments have lost control of the housing sector to private developers, overseeing the decline of the State itself. The result for people is further marginalization, as well as criminalization of the poor because they are impoverished. The result for many human settlements is affective apartheid ("apartheid cities"). Hope, as always, lies in the human rights approach, holding governments accountable to their own covenanted standards.

Civil society organizations are committed to:

a. The global struggle against forced evictions;

b. Correcting civil and governmental misrepresentation of isolated "good practices" that fail to meet minimum human right to adequate housing criteria;

c. Allocating of resources and political will/commitment to support community-based initiatives;

d. Posing alternative solutions to human settlement problems in the framework of human rights (esp. housing rights);

e. Mobilizing to uphold the development and implementation of international standards, including a monitoring of governments that fail to comply with human rights.

CSOs call on UN Habitat to recognize the critical role of civil society by enhancing its relationship with civil society organizations, improving its structures and mechanisms that allow for a meaningful exchange with civil society and working with CSOs in education, standard-setting and monitoring of international housing and human rights standards.

Mr. Michael Shapcott, Senior Fellow in Residence: Public Policy The Wellesley Institute, Canada
Mrs. Evaniza Rodrigues, Uniao Nacional de Moradia, Brazil

Report prepared by: Ana Sugranyes and Joseph Schechla