UN Experts Statement on Habitat III: New Urban Agenda Must be Based in Human Rights


Geneva, 29 June 2016

As independent human
rights expertsappointed
by the Human Rights Council, we call for a New Urban Agenda that embraces the
transformative potential of human rights as a necessary framework for
inclusive, vibrant and sustainable cities. At a time of unprecedented migration
and urbanization, human rights are increasingly under threat and their
protection is a central challenge of our time.

As the negotiations
on the revised zero draft move forward in New York, this week (27 June-1 July)
we appeal to Member States to ensure that human rights are placed at the centre
of the agenda. This means including firm commitments to the realization of
human rights in cities, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development. It will require the full participation of civil society and
marginalized groups, including women, children, older persons and persons with
disabilities, the establishment of transparent mechanisms for monitoring, as
well as the assurance of ensuring access to justice for all human rights.

No other Habitat
Conference has grappled with a majority of the world’s population living in
urban centres. The New Urban Agenda is an exceptional opportunity to ensure
that human rights engage effectively with contemporary challenges, bringing
back the notion that cities are made by and for all its inhabitants to live,
work and prosper. It is imperative that the New Urban Agenda prioritize the
needs and the human rights of millions of urban dwellers, many of whom are
minorities, or who are homeless, living in extreme poverty, and who experience
forced and violent evictions and displacement, limited physical environments,
lack of access to food, drinking water, sanitation, health services, land or
adequate housing and rely on precarious, underpaid work.

Too many cities are
in crisis. Reciting vague commitments to human rights sporadically is not
enough. The new urban agenda must institutionalize and concretize human rights
commitments to make all levels of government and other actors truly accountable.
It must create mechanisms through which all decisions are required to be
consistent with human rights and all urban dwellers are recognized as equal in
dignity and rights.

The revised zero
draft has evolved in its references to human rights; we appreciate the efforts
so far made. It expresses a vision of “cities and human settlements that are
inclusive and free from all forms of discrimination and violence, where all
inhabitants, whether permanent or transitional, enjoy equal rights and opportunities.”
It takes note of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other
international human rights treaties. The revised draft also makes explicit
references to the crucial role of local and subnational governments in urban
life. We welcome references to several population groups that are marginalized
and in the most vulnerable situations, notably persons with disabilities, older
persons, refugees, internally displaced persons, migrants, minorities,
indigenous peoples, women, and people who are homeless.

However, in our view,
economic development and growth should not be affirmed as an overriding goal in
the New Urban Agenda without considering its effect on the people living in
poverty, or those who are excluded and marginalized, and in some countries, indigenous
peoples who have been evicted from their traditional lands which became
urbanized. While it may be true that cities have become “the engines of
economic growth” as the zero draft affirms, it is increasingly clear from what
we have seen in our visits and work around the world that current models of
economic growth – which have been divorced from human rights – have resulted in
gross inequalities, social exclusion and violence.

A realistic, credible
vision of inclusive and sustainable cities cannot affirm the importance of
productivity without demanding a new approach to economic policymaking based on
the realization of human rights and more equitable distribution of resources in
cities, including land and access to public space. Affirming the importance of
affordability and non-discriminatory access to housing and essential services
remains hollow if the financial forces that profit from the commodification of
housing, land and property, public space and basic services, are free from
robust and effective human rights monitoring and accountability mechanisms.

The human rights
responsibilities of local and subnational governments cannot be fulfilled if
developers, contractors, and investment funds continue to use housing and land
as investment for personal gain without regard to the human rights consequences
of their actions, and if multilateral banks and financial institutions continue
to fund urban projects and infrastructure developments that lead to forced
evictions, displacement, ghettoization and further exclusion.

The paradigm shift
that would place human rights at the centre of the New Urban Agenda and provide
a framework for its realization would include the following elements currently
absent in the Revised Zero Draft:

1. As part of the Principles and Commitments, a
recognition (in paragraph 14) of people who are homeless as a distinct social
group who experience inequality and discrimination, and a clearly stated
commitment to ending homelessness and to the realization of the rights to
adequate housing, food, water, sanitation and just and favourable conditions of
work and participation in cultural life. The New Urban Agenda must explicitly
recognize these as human rights obligations to which all levels of government
will be held accountable.

2. In light of the potential for cities to exacerbate
social exclusion and extreme inequality when viewed primarily as engines of
growth, the agenda should explicitly address States’ obligation to regulate
private actors, such as landlords, real estate agents and utilities companies,
to ensure that their activities are conducive to the realisation of human
rights. While several paragraphs of the Zero Draft recognize the role of market
forces in relation to a number of issues, there is no reference to the role and
obligations of governments at all levels to monitor and regulate private actors
to ensure that financial considerations do not trump human rights, particularly
in relation to forced evictions, displacement, migration, affordable housing,
lack of accessibility, waste management, use of renewable energies, land
grabbing and illegal land acquisition, infrastructure development and real
estate speculation.

3. Furthermore, international, national and
multilateral financial institutions, beyond being invited to consider the
priorities of the New Urban Agenda (as per paragraph 124), must also be
considered as crucial actors accountable for the results of their projects,
policies and programmes. Given well-documented negative outcomes of projects
that undermine human rights standards and principles, it is of utmost
importance that the New Urban Agenda clearly and concretely affirm that these
institutions must comply with international human rights law.

4. In keeping with Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development, mechanisms must be in place in city governance
structures to ensure effective monitoring, accountability and access to justice
in line with international human rights treaties. In doing so, explicit
references must be made to the important roles to be played by international
and regional human rights mechanisms as well as National Human Rights
Institutions to provide protection against violations of civil, cultural,
economic, political and social rights.

5. Urban laws, policies and programmes as well as land
management must be in line with international human rights standards and
obligations. The New Urban Agenda must refer explicitly to human rights as
paramount elements of legislative and policy approaches relating to urban
space, and should recognize the right of all peoples to utilize public spaces
without any discrimination whatsoever, and in particular regardless of their
age, socio-economic situation, ethnic, religious or minority identity, or
migration or housing status. It must recognize the need to redress situations
of Indigenous Peoples who have been discriminated against and displaced from
their traditional territories or whose lands have been illegally acquired.

6. The New Urban Agenda will guide the next two
decades and be implemented in harmony with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development. States should commit to developing goals and targets for the
realization of rights in cities and be held accountable for meeting these
goals, be it through financing, programming or legislation.


1. Special Rapporteur
on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard
of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Special
Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Special Rapporteur on extreme
poverty and human rights
Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Independent Expert on the effects of foreign
and other related international
financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights,
particularly economic, social and cultural rights; Special Rapporteur on the
right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health; Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous
; Special Rapporteur on the human
rights of internally displaced persons; the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; the Special Rapporteur onminority issues; Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all
human rights by older persons; and the Special Rapporteur on the human right to
safe drinking water and sanitation pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 31/9,
26/20, 26/3, 22/9, 25/16, 24/6, 24/9, 23/8, 26/19, 25/5, 24/20 and 24/18

* Original source