CSD-13 Must Translate Rights Into Action


The Habitat International Coalition (HIC) is the leading global network of more than 400 social movements, research centers and NGO’s working on housing rights and human settlement issues. The recent horrific tsunami in Asia, and the continued disruptions of human settlements caused by armed conflicts, ethnic cleansing and population transfer in Africa and elsewhere, have focused the world’s attention on environmental and development needs as never before. CSD-13 has a unique opportunity to achieve concrete progress for sustainable development by using Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s) as milestones to redirect resources from wealthier countries to match an unprecedented mobilization by people and civil society organizations towards a liveable planet for all.

The Secretary-General’s Draft Implementation Report on Human Settlements for CSD-13 (herein the Draft Report) represents a good first step in addressing some of the challenges discussed at CSD-12. However, we are disappointed that neither the Draft Report nor the Chairman’s Summary from the IPM respond to key recommendations by HIC, NGO’s and other Major Groups, and several Governments which have been made at several points in the CSD process. Today, HIC reiterates a few of these missing themes and urge the CSD-13 delegates and the Secretary-General to address them in the Final Implementation Report.

Action to Realize Human Rights. The Draft Report omits any reference to human rights. This is a glaring error which much be addressed. Sustainable human settlements can only be achieved through policies that progressively realize the universal rights to adequate shelter, access to land, secure tenure, and provision of infrastructure, including water and sanitation. States and the private sector must be challenged to recognize these rights and implement them through national laws and regulations, programs and implementation plans; adequate funding for socially based provision of shelter, water, sanitation and other basic services; and aggressive enforcement of housing and water rights.

States should also be encouraged to support the empowerment of independent rights monitoring organizations in civil society, affirm the rights of women and excluded or marginalized groups, and strengthen local governance structures. Human rights education must be given higher priority, both within formal and informal education. The capacities of states to meet these goals should be matched by dramatic increases in global financing for sustainable development. The Final CSD Report should add a separate section on human rights approaches in each of the thematic areas, and add appropriate references in the remaining sections.

Fight Forced Evictions and Destruction of Habitat. The forced evictions of more than 100,000 people each year are an obstacle to slum and squatter improvement. The impact of militarism, armed conflict and war on human settlements is particularly destructive. Not only are people killed and the built infrastructure destroyed, but also vast resources are reallocated from basic human needs. CSD-13 must propose the redirection of resources spent on wars to build sustainable, culturally diverse habitats for peace.

Governments and the private sector must stop mass forced evictions and the illegal destruction of houses. The Final Report must acknowledge this crisis and propose concrete measures to address it, including binding minimum global standards for the tenure rights of tenants, renters and owner-occupants, especially women and socially marginalized groups. Community based change agents should be given the opportunity to mobilize and advocate their grievances to local, national and international bodies. To achieve progress in this field, the role of UN Habitat to monitor the legal situation and campaign for security of tenure should be strengthened as well as the capacities of the UN Human Rights Commission, the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, and the Advisory Group on Forced Evictions.

Stop Privatization, Build Social Capital. Privatization, commercialization and deregulation of housing and infrastructure creates shortages, displacement and social exclusion in many countries. The final report must address this problem and its manifestation in different regions and recognize that unchecked private sector investment is often the problem, not the solution, for sustainable development. The fundamental role of government investment and direct development aid to meet basic human needs cannot and should not be replaced by private capital investment or “public/private partnerships.” Governments must protect democratic social control of housing and land and public ownership of water and other necessities against their privatization by predatory multinational corporations. CSD-13 should also oppose the privatization of public planning and management functions and support strengthened integrative, participatory planning and management by government bodies at all levels.

Governments must also provide the conditions for the contribution of all sectors involved in housing construction and facilitate the democratic management and control of resources, including appropriate regulations to secure public, socially-owned and government subsidized housing. CSD-13 should recommend the application of UN Human Rights Norms on Business to the housing sector and transnationals should be held accountable as secondary duty holders after States. Programs to regularize and legalize informal settlements should encourage the development of social capital, collective management, and restrictions on private use of tenure, as have been achieved by numerous NGO’s in Latin America. CSD-13 should develop guidelines for regularization which promote these models.

Fight Social Segregation and Exclusion. Social equity in human settlements is a prerequisite to sustainable development. Growing spatial and social segregation in cities contributes to social exclusion of large parts of the population, vicious circles of poverty and degradation, challenges for urban governance, cultural conflicts and social violence. It is an obstacle to sustainable development worldwide, both in wealthier countries and wealthy areas in poorer ones (for example, the growth of “gated communities” and urban sprawl), and is related to the explosion of informal or irregular settlements spawned by rapid urbanization far from employment, transportation, and community services.

We urge CSD-13 to acknowledge this problem and propose innovative governance mechanisms to enhance equitable, accountable, transparent and participatory management of urban development in its various forms at the local, national, regional and global levels. The Final Report should cite some of the myriad best practices forged by NGO’s and governments to address this issue, including strategies for the regularization and legalization of informal settlements. In this regard, we urge CSD-13 to highlight the World Charter to the Right to the City, proposed by a variety of social movements, NGO’s and HIC, and supported by the government of Brazil. The Charter includes rights-based measures to enhance equity and social inclusion through strategies of empowerment and participation in urban areas, based on popular initiatives in several countries.

Empower Communities and Civil Society. In response to the expansion of urban slums, NGO’s have long been providing programs for land registration and tenure, the social production of affordable housing and the empowerment of the world’s poor, often with the most meager of resources. It is past time for governments and private sector institutions to support and legitimize the production of housing and community facilities and to work with independent community groups to define, plan, implement and fully fund the actions required to implement Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, and MDG-7.

The Draft Report acknowledges that self-organization of the poor has proven to be a critical factor in improving people’s lives and achieving sustainable development. But CSD-13 should also explicitly recognize the right of people to independent self-organization, free of harassment, intimidation or interference from governments or private corporations, which remain a problem in many areas and are a significant obstacle to community participation. CSD-13 should affirm basic civil rights including participation, association, freedom of expression and security of person, with a special effort to guarantee the rights of women and marginalized populations, including those living in irregular or non-legalized settlements.

Wealthier Countries Should Do More. The number of homeless and those inadequately housed continues to increase, deeply impacting the physical, mental and spiritual health of more than a billion people. In the coming decade this trend will vastly outpace the MDG-7, Target 11 for slum improvement unless there is a radically increased commitment by governments, particularly from wealthier nations, which can best assemble the resources to address it. CSD-13 should encourage governments and international aid institutions to embrace time-bound, measurable implementation plans and goals to ensure that all people have easy access to land, safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, affordable transport and new and renewable energy sources, even for traditional, hand made houses located in slums and squatter settlements.

While addressing the urgent need for slum improvement, CSD-13 must also address the related wasteful patterns of production and consumption in wealthier countries and enclaves of the wealthy in poorer ones. Wealthier governments and citizens must be challenged to promote sustainable “green” building technologies, renewable energy sources, replacement of auto-centered transportation with public transport systems, and location of development closer to transportation and employment through integrated “smart growth” planning. Governments which have not yet subscribed to the Kyoto Accords on global warming must be challenged to do so. Rapidly developing countries should be challenged to adopt these more sustainable development strategies to leapfrog the outmoded production and consumption patterns of the past and help lead humanity to a more environmentally sound and economically productive future.

Redirect Development Assistance. While we applaud the language in the Draft Report heralding NGO self-help initiatives, the Final Report needs to balance this with more detailed calls for wealthier governments and institutions to do their fair share, lest the praise of self-help by the poor provides an excuse for the wealthy and powerful to do less.

We therefore applaud the recent initiatives of the Government of the United Kingdom to increase its development aid to MDG target levels and to write off the debts of the poorest countries, particularly those hit by the recent tsunami and the poorest countries in Africa, without prejudice to countries’ future access to sustainable development capital. Debt write-off should be tied, as the UK Government has suggested, to transparent, accountable and strengthened government and civil society capacities. Governments should redirect resources freed up in this manner to balanced, people-centered development of human settlements, water and sanitation systems. The Final Report should challenge the other wealthy countries to follow suit.

Regarding disaster aid, CSD-13 should recommend rehabilitation actions that guarantee return, restitution and resettlement in full safety and sustainability, with affected people fully involved in decisions. Measures must ensure that distribution of disaster aid is managed so as to reduce–not aggravate–social injustices and oppression of marginalized communities, especially in areas suffering from civil conflicts. CSD-13 should urge future urban and rural development strategies to avoid environmental degradation that aggravates vulnerability to natural disasters.