HIC comments on Habitat III Policy Paper Frameworks


Since the very early stages of the Habitat
III preparations, Habitat International Coalition (HIC) has called for the
integrity of the Habitat II (1996) commitments and modalities; this demand
has three related aspects:

must uphold the Habitat II-established principle to be as inclusive as

the Habitat Agenda, not pose a narrower and more-divisive “urban

The human
rights and good-governance approaches must continue to anchor and guide
global human settlement policy and corresponding commitments.

The various Habitat III preparations,
reporting and deliberation processes and contents must be grounded in (1) a
faithful evaluation of commitments made at Habitat II; (2) a review of
housing-rights and good-governance practices consistent with those essential
aspects of the Habitat II promise, while taking into consideration the
lessons learned and greater conceptual clarity of the issues since Habitat
II; and (3) realistic preparation for the emerging human settlement-development
challenges that light the way toward improving “balanced rural and urban
development,” as pledged since Habitat I (1976).

This message has been delivered to the
Habitat III Secretariat, States and other Stakeholders in different
occasions. Regretfully, we observe how these fundamental principles are
omitted—again—in the Policy Paper Frameworks (PPFs). These documents
generally point out challenges, priorities and ways of implementation to
resolve problems. They succeed, in part, but they fail, in general, to
address the fundamental causes of these problems.

The official narrative production on
Habitat III, despite the number of documents and stakeholders involved, has
left important questions unanswered: these Frameworks are not an exception.
Habitat International Coalition expected that these PPFs would fill the gaps
already identified in the Issue Papers and in several other documents and
discussions, gaps that should have been filled by now with the discourse and
intended consensus that will take the form of Habitat III principles and
commitments on a similarly broad range of issues.

This review points to some outstanding
considerations, in particular, civil society issues that have yet to find a
home in any of the existing forums and mechanisms; unfortunately they are
essential and too numerous. The authors of this document have been
fundamental to the Habitat I and Habitat II processes, defining related
normative frameworks, informing public policies at all levels, as well as
analyzing, training, multi-actor awareness raising and mobilizing around
habitat-related human rights and the right to the city.

All PPFs would benefit from a regimen of
both maintaining integrity with, and challenging Habitat II issues and
commitments made in 1996. HIC has insisted that that is rather the heart of
the exercise, otherwise the conversation falsely presumes to start from zero
and come from nowhere, especially for any newcomer to the process. Rather,
the exercise forms part of a continuum of forty years of policy discourse and
commitments, currently enshrined in Habitat II (expiring and coming up for
renewal this year).

It is clear that the PPFs can stimulate
discussion and they point at many fundamental issues but, at the same time,
they reflect a deliberate purpose of ostensibly dismissing or forgetting what
has gone before. This consistent omission of Habitat II commitments from the
discussion has not been addressed yet, and we fear never will be.

The PPFs did not achieve such a goal,
leaving the question of Habitat III’s purpose, relevance and coherence
unresolved, particularly if Habitat II issues and commitments are now
rendered to oblivion. Such treatment does not augur much relevance,
coherence, impact or hopes for implementation of a Habitat III. Besides the
broken promises of Habitat II implementation and missing links between
Habitat II and Habitat III, the discontinuity puts into critical focus the
tremendous resource demands now on all Habitat III stakeholders to
participate effectively, especially to salvage the Habitat II values that
risk being lost. If the supposed guardians of Habitat II and its commitments
(UN-Habitat, ECOSOC, the UN Secretariat and UN member states) cannot show
continuity and integrity of that Habitat process since 1996, then the current
and future one must be doubted.

The apparent structural amnesia of what
went before is closely related to the other gap wanting to be filled: As
mentioned above, the PPFs succeed in presenting problems and posing
solutions; however, they need a greater emphasis on root causes and the
normative aspect of remedial responses, including the applicable
international norms—not least including Habitat II commitments—that already
address, prohibit, seek to prevent and/or avoid many of the problems identified.

The PPFs’ general silence on the existing
normative framework and the needed attention to causative factors for habitat
problems it’s alarming, especially at this stage of the HIII process.

The assumption that urbanization is
inevitable prevails and remains immune to any prospect of mitigating it,
except for only its direst consequences. The PPFs conclude with apparent
contentment at technical adjustments to ensure some measure of comfort for
those who can afford them. The apocalyptic Habitat III Secretariat’s vision
of a mechanized countryside, of depopulated rural areas without peasants and
devoted to the prosperity of cities, of megacities “nurturing and embracing”
all newcomers, is reflected to some extent in the PPFs.

This approach is highly ideological in
nature and disposition, having the ostensible purpose of lulling dominant
stakeholders into a sense of gratification with whatever they are presently
doing, and encouraging an agenda for simply doing more of the same (i.e.,
inviting a rather cynical interpretation of “sustainability”). The preventive
and remedial behaviour changes required, as well as the behavioural changes
already long-ago committed (in Habitat II), are not prominent.

Issues that should define the Habitat III
debate are missing, such as the reparations framework, a significant UN
General Assembly clarification (A/RES/60/147) since Habitat II, the discourse
on human security in its human settlement context or the essential human
rights standards that specifically apply in the context of human settlements,
which are a binding purpose and constant pillar of action in the UN Charter.

Despite the UN Charter’s contractual
guidance and the abundance of normative references developed to date,
especially since 1996, the PPFs mostly do not take a human rights approach,
and do not incorporate human rights principles, especially the indivisibility
of human rights, nor the over-riding treaty-implementation requirements of
gender equality, and non-discrimination. Certain PPFs claim to take a
rights-based approach, but do not follow through with that assertion. Most of
them are weak on gender and women’s rights, but they should be a
methodological standard of such products from any UN Charter-based
specialized organization or Secretariat body dealing with habitat issues.

Therefore, Habitat International Coalition
misses the references to the relevant norms and human rights standards,
including those from the UN—as well as trends in practice—that have evolved
since 1996. The wholesale omission of these aspects suggests a bias toward
avoidance of the law when it is inconvenient to embedded interests. The
absence of international law and related norms, in general, and Habitat II
commitments, in particular, suggests something deliberately hidden, rather
than something merely overlooked as unimportant. Each PPF needs a legal
review to ensure universal reference to the applicable international norms
and to correct some errors and misunderstandings, in some cases, and to
provide appropriate emphasis in others.

The body of PPFs reveals also the need for
additional Papers on (1) population trends (growth, ageing, youth bulge) and
related global and state policies (or lack thereof) and on (2) global
financialization of real estate as a challenge, providing recommendations
toward adequate social and political regulation of the related markets and
actors and on alternatives to “free” housing, land, mortgage
markets and to private property. That would complete the picture and address
some of the causes and consequences behind the looming assumption that
current trends are, perforce, immutable.

The needed debate over curative responses
eventually will propel the importance of the Habitat III processes. This
phase of Habitat III discourse should have reached that stage by now, through
the rigorous deliberation that should follow and fill any gaps.

Macroeconomic policies are not mentioned at
all, despite the repeated Habitat II commitment to take that factor into
consideration in all related fields of policy, housing affordability,
finance, land tenure, et al. This forms one more example where the
abandonment of the Habitat II commitments has weakened the PPFs and the
Habitat III discourse, in general.

As a whole, the PPFs do not justify
narrowing the subject of habitat to only an “urban” agenda, despite
several comments about urban-rural linkages. The concepts and ideas listed in
the PPFs make a strong conceptual case for restoring the “Habitat”
Agenda and dropping the divisive, inadequate and lopsided messaging of a
development agenda only for spaces considered as “urban” (although that
term has no uniform definition). The evidence does not support the
presumptive conclusion that we all are facing the need for an “urban
agenda,” at the ideological expense of other values, communities, contexts,
human practice and planning-and-governance wisdom.

It would be useful also to include a
contextualizing introduction that stresses the Habitat II commitments and
assesses their implementation, laying out a path for strengthening, actually
implementing, developing and updating—instead of
omitting/ignoring/diluting—them, something that Habitat International
Coalition, hand in hand with its Members, Friends and allies, have been
hammering since the early Habitat III preparations.

* Click here to download HIC
comments on Habitat III Policy Paper Frameworks.