Habitat International Coalition (HIC) is mindful of the integral and interdependent relationship between human civilization and the natural environment on this Earth, our only home. We realize that sustainable development is essential to the survival and advancement of our human civilization on a planet with finite resources and fragile environments. Naturally we share the concerns of States, peoples and communities across the globe over the negative effects of globalization, depletion and privatization of environmental resources, global warming, deepening poverty, social and racial exclusion, and deteriorating living conditions for rowing numbers of people.
Despite certain accomplishments achieved so far, over 100 million people in the world live with no shelter at all. Worldwide, some 1.6 billion people live in precarious housing situations, 70 % of whom are women. Millions of children live on the streets, and 1.7 billion people live without potable water. Denying land access and tenure rights continues to relegate women to permanent status as “working poor” and impede their participation in environmental protection.
Forward progress is urgently needed to address underdevelopment, poverty and environmental protection comprehensively. Nonetheless, we remain convinced, that sustainable development is within reach if governments manifest the necessary political will and ensure the participation of the affected people in determining and implementing solutions to environmental, development problems and dilemmas.
This requires more-ethical governance and a spirit of cooperation between States, as duty holders, and citizens, as rights holders. This cooperation also must be built on the recognition that all parties bear responsibility in the further development of our common future and environment. This intersection at which we collectively stand forms a convergence of rich, varied experience and approaches toward sustainable development.
Our own network of 400 members in 80 countries, organizing many hundred of thousands of inhabitants, has shared and amassed means for identifying and proffering solutions to problems that arise from seemingly diverse places and circumstances. From HIC’s case-based and comparative experience, the way forward must take full advantage of the guidance and wisdom that emanate from popular problem solving, as well as the principles and obligations enshrined in international public law.
The social, economic, and environmental dimensions of development form three pillars standing at cardinal points and upholding our common efforts to build a sustainable future. Civil, economic, cultural, political and social rights are the interdependent and mutually reinforcing braces that hold these pillars upright. Together, respect for human rights and sustainable development are the inextricable components of any successful programme to advance civilization, ensure harmony and preserve peace and security both within and across borders.
However, we have witnessed the crafting of WSSD documents by excising all references to human rights and related State obligations under law, even from passages otherwise incorporated from pre-existing international agreements. HIC urges the restoration of the relevant human rights content to the WSSD Declaration, Plan of Action and Institutional Framework documents. To fail in this is to give aid and comfort to the most unscrupulous interests, which seek to supplant the people-centered development process promised at Rio and weaken the State’s authority to uphold human rights and dispense justice.
Human rights, humanitarian law and practical cooperation for sustainable development are among the tools for States in a civilized world to build legitimacy and facilitate governance and sustainable development. These complementary tasks can be achieved only through the exercise of States authority and responsibility. Naturally, we seek to uphold the authority, capacity and responsibility of States jointly and separately to ensure sustainable development with human rights, including through international assistance and cooperation.
This includes the duty of States to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right to housing, as set forth in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and elaborated in practical ways through General Comments and jurisprudence of the treaty system, in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 (1992), Biodiversity Convention (1992), Vienna Declaration and Programme (1993), Desertification Convention (1994), and the Istanbul Declaration and Habitat II Agenda (1996).
These instruments and others clarify rights and responsibilities consistent with a safe and healthy environment, social advancement and equitable economic activity that serve the goal of sustainable development. Achieving sustainable development means no going back on these norms and commitments. Just as States already have committed to implement human rights through their codification in numerous declarations, covenants and conventions, we reaffirm here our faith in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of women and men, and of States and nations large and small. We look forward to the efforts of States to bring practical meaning to their covenanted obligation to international cooperation for the “progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights.”
We also welcome a pledge from States at WSSD to live up to standing commitments, incorporate the lessons of diverse experience and ensure that States and other partners in the development process build on these without retrogression.
A specific Plan of Action toward Sustainable Development from WSSD should be a practical expression of international cooperation and a guiding instrument for governments to ensure citizens’ well-being and progressively improved living conditions.
The members and affiliates of Habitat International Coalition hold a vital stake in that process-just like citizens in general-both in the design and implementation of the solutions to problems we all share. Therefore, we realize that it is imperative that the most vulnerable citizens and directly affected people be at the center of decision making in our collective task of sustainable development. Squalid living conditions persist and loom as a major impediment to the development of individuals, institutions and States, despite efforts at economic growth and international assistance. Poverty, coupled with a common denial of access to land and potable water as means of subsistence, especially for women and other neglected groups,, poses a core challenge to learn from-and correct-past errors.
To do that we request the by mobilization of all available means and resources, including through international cooperation (ad minimum 0,7% of GPN), debt cancellation, the Tobin tax on financial transaction and an end to corruption. Anything less will fail to ensure progress toward an adequate standard of living for all.
Tragically, human conflict and, particularly, warfare continue to deteriorate environments and reverse development around the world. Armed conflict, often arising over resources and/or human rights violations and resistance to them, is therefore doubly devastating to efforts at sustainable development. This is particularly true in cases of foreign occupation and alien domination. Respect for, and enforcement of the converging body of law framing our concerns here can go far to provide the needed alternative to man-made disaster and de-development. Natural disasters inevitably will obstruct sustainable development in the future. States and other parties must share the lessons of experience to devise better humanitarian relief and preventive measures so as to mitigate the human, structural and environmental destruction. Not all obstacles to sustainable development are predictable or avoidable.
However, knowledge and experience are sufficient at the time of the WSSD to avoid most man-made disasters, including those ongoing and others looming on our horizon. From the perspective of Habitat International Coalition, the most desirable outcome of the WSSD is for States to reaffirm, and find more-practical ways to live up to their existing obligations to respect human rights and the environment for all living and future generations.
This can and must be done through rational implementation of human rights and with the meaningful involvement of the neediest of people, the subject of our convergence at Johannesburg.