HIC Statement at Quito: Toward a Human Rights Habitat


Habitat international Coalition (HIC)—the global
movement of over 400 organizational Members working to realize the human rights
to habitat, land, housing, and related rights—was formed at the great
convergence at the first Habitat Conference at Vancouver in 1976.[i] Over the past 40 years, HIC
has remained inspired by, and committed to upholding the Habitat Agenda and
developing it in the normative framework of human rights to meet the habitat
challenges of the day.

At this Habitat III Conference, we all come together
once again at a crisis point.

Since Habitat II, our Members
have witnessed an acceleration of gross housing and land rights violations,
including violent forced evictions and land grabbing across the globe. These
have been made worse by the global financial crisis, with large banks and
equity investors reshaping our cities in a neoliberal, market-driven pattern,
exacerbating disparities and warping the housing rights vision advanced at
Habitat II. As a result, we see instead mass
displacement and growing inequality in and around cities across the planet, with
private interests driving vulnerable people from their homes and lands. These “urbanization”
phenomena are related to mass displacement from rural areas in many countries,
where large corporations and investors are buying up or leasing land and dispossessing
people from their homes and sources of livelihood, echoing the serious crime of
population transfer.

Our human habitat currently also faces a multitude of converging
crises: the breakdown of politics; flagrant disrespect for human rights and general
principles of international law;unprecedented waves of displacement, migration,
and refugees; unregulated markets and cyclical financial disasters; ominous
climate change; disparity of wealth and income that is greater now than ever in
recorded history; alien food systems and inadequate nutrition;population
explosion in the absence of adequate policy discussion; insufficient decent
work opportunities;and unbalanced urbanization that both drives and embodies
these crises and challenges.The Habitat III outcome document should be a global
agenda fit to the purpose of resolving these challenges and crises facing human
habitat. However, with the loss of the scope and concept of the human habitat,[ii] this “New Urban Agenda,”
conceived as guidance solely for urbanization, addresses only a part of the habitat
challenge facing the world today.

The Habitat process, at its inception, had reflected
the 1972 Stockholm realization that: “We belong to a single planet. We are one,
inescapably one.”[iii]
It provided a hopeful sign that we had reached a moment at which morality,
self-interest, and evidence-based knowledge coincided to guide necessary action
with a forecast behavioral change. We recall the spirit of Vancouver (1976) and
the commitments made in Istanbul (1996), but without seriously evaluating the
implementation of those promises, this Habitat process could not—would not—learn
from, and build on the efforts toward that pledged transformation.

For example, the Vancouver Plan of Action
especially recognized that:

The ideologies of States are
reflected in their human settlement policies. These being powerful instruments
for change, they must not be used to dispossess people from their homes and
their land, or to entrench privilege and exploitation (Preamble, paragraph 3).

We only need to look around us to find that this
warning has gone largely unheeded. In fact, the multiple global crises tell us
that the 2016 “New Urban Agenda” has not begun to address this persistent political
reality. The promised new era eludes us still, and today’s world is grossly out
of balance. As the Habitat I visionary Barbara Ward also warned the Vancouver
plenary, “Where private interest tips the balance, we are deferring the costs
and correctives to future generations.”

At Habitat
III, HIC once again calls upon all states to uphold their Habitat I and II
commitments and their binding human rights obligations.While the Habitat III
outcome document includes some positive text and developments, it ignores the historic
commitments made in Vancouver and Istanbul, including to “protect from and
remedy forced evictions,”
[iv] “combat homelessness”[v]
and to achieve “the progressive fulfillment of the human right to adequate
housing.”[vi] In
essence,Habitat III has narrowed the Habitat Agenda’s scope, as also reflected
in its title:”New Urban Agenda.” It also posits a worldview of an exclusively
urban future, without addressing structural causes of unbalanced urbanization
and inadequate housing, or attempting to address them. Critical issues such as food
production and small farmers’ rights; the crucial role of the social,
solidarity and care economy;regulation of financial and housing markets; land
grabbing and protection of communities’ land rights; and the need to question
the current macroeconomic framework and foreign policies that promote the
violation of human rights, have not been adequately addressed. Explicit
references to the need to strengthen democratic processes and institutions have
been removed from previous drafts.

While HIC welcomes the inclusion of “special
attention…to…countries and territories under foreign occupation,”this Agenda
offers no effective measure to resolve this illegal situation, or the warring
destruction of human habitats. The Sustainable Development Goals left this particular
gap, which Habitat III failed to fill. We are disappointed also about the
omission of key constituencies such as
and the neglect of half of humanity that is still rural and often pays the
price for uncontrolled and resource-intensive urbanization and consumption. That
exclusion does not align with the commitment of the 2030 Sustainable Development
to “leave no one behind.” The absence of an accountability and
reparations framework in the “New Urban Agenda,” especially for victims of
forced evictions, displacement, war, occupation and protracted crises, is also
a grave shortcoming.

It is perhaps too late to rectify the text of the “New
Urban Agenda.” However, in order for it be meaningful and truly
transformational, it must adopt the human rights framework and the
corresponding legal obligations of states in its implementation, monitoring and
evaluation. This necessitates the development of human rights indicators explicitly
aligned with the relevant norms in order to achieve sustainable development for
both urban and rural areas and to “end poverty in all its forms and dimensions.”[vii] Otherwise,this Agenda
will remain merely an aspirational document without any incentive to operationalize
it, or mechanisms to monitor and evaluate performance. Effective
implementation, monitoring, and evaluation should align with the unitary system
of international law norms and standards, including the Paris Agreement on
climate change and the 2030 Agenda in the new UN Sustainable Development
System, and integrated with the UN Human Rights System.

As we create our collective vision for the future, beyond
Habitat III, HIC reiterates the need for states—through all spheres of
government—to harmonize the implement of their international law obligations
and, correspondingly, fulfill their cumulative Habitat Agenda commitments;
actively and effectively consult and involve civil society, peoples’ movements,
local communities and democratic local governments; adopt a just macroeconomic
order (as pledged at Habitat II); and incorporate and implement human rights
principles of environmental sustainability, gender equality, nondiscrimination,
accountability, reparations for harm done, inter-generational equity with a
strong focus on the rights of women, children, youth, and older persons, as
well as persons with disabilities, sexual minorities, indigenous peoples, small
farmers/peasants, pastoralists, forest-dwellers, and fishers, among others.

HIC, along with other social movements, civil-society
organizations, and community groups around the world reaffirms its commitment
to continue to struggle for, and advocate the right to the city within a human
rights habitat, enabling realization of “buen-vivir” (sumak kawsay)[viii] for all, irrespective of,
and beyond the Habitat process and government authorization. We still seek
real, community-based and people-centered solutions to the multiple crises
facing human habitat, prioritizing local innovation so that the costs and
correctives are not deferred to today’s youth and future generations.

Habitat III, states, through all spheres of government and authorities, must embrace
strategies and policies that regulate global financial transactions; end or
limit opaque speculative financial instruments; steeply tax real-estate speculation;
regulate rents; enhance the social tenure, production and financing of housing
and habitat; and prevent privatization of the commons, which is subject to
attack under the neoliberal development model.

need a New Habitat Agenda, not merely a new “urban” agenda, one that recognizes
that urbanization in its current form is not inevitable or sustainable. We need
a New Habitat Agenda that respects the habitat metabolism of the
physical environment in both rural and urban areas. We need a New Habitat Agenda that recognizes
the continuum of human habitat experience, respecting and securing multiple
forms of housing and land tenure, where partnerships prioritize people and the
public interest and states support the social production of habitat. We need a New Habitat Agenda that recognizes
and celebrates, not criminalizes, social movements and popular participation
and enables the coproduction of knowledge, emphasizing local
solutions and innovation.

aspire to live in human rights states composed of their peoples, territory and
democratic institutions. In order to realize that habitat vision, our communities
insist: “nothing about us without us.”

Quito, 16 October 2016

Watch the video of the Statement delivered by the Representative of Habitat International
Coalition at the 7th plenary meeting of Habitat III, the United Nations
Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Quito, Ecuador, 17 –
20 October 2016).

[i] HIC’s genesis actually dates
back to the proposals of civil society at the seminal United Nations Conference
on the Human Environment, at Stockholm, 1972; however, the formal agreement of
its founders in the original name of the Habitat International Council, before
eventually taking on the name of “coalition,” reflecting the civil-society
nature of the organism.

[ii] Defined
as “a regional and cross-sectoral approach to human settlements planning, which
places emphasis on rural/urban linkages and treats villages and cities as two
[points on] a human settlements continuum in a common ecosystem,” The Habitat
Agenda, A/CONF.165/14, 14 June 1996, para. 104, at:

[iii] As characterized by Habitat
Conference visionary Barbara Ward in her address to the first United Nations
Conference on Human Settlements, Vancouver, June 1976, video at:

[iv] The Habitat Agenda, op. cit., paras. 40n,
61b, and 98b.

[v] Istanbul Declaration, para. 4; The Habitat
Agenda, paras.
8; 11; 38; 40(l); 61(c)(iv), 61 (d); 115; 119(k) and 204(y).

[vi] Mentioned 61 times in the
Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements, para. 8, and The Habitat Agenda, Ibid.

[vii] “Our
principles and commitments,” New Urban Agenda, 10 September 2016 version, para.

[viii] Buen
vivir, or good living, is a principle based on the concept of sumsak akwsay in Qichua
language and cosmology, which includes a worldview centered on the human being
as part of a natural and social environment.

[ix] See
Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933), Article 1,
defining the criteria of statehood, at: