WUF6 Civil Society Organizations’ Roundtable Report on The Right to Land and the City


Tuesday September 4, 2012
Naples, Italy

For WUF 5,
preparation of the roundtable was coordinated by COHRE, FNRU, HIC and IAI as
part of a global strategy to promote the recognition of social movements’ and
organizations’ efforts towards realizing the Right to the City all over the
world. The roundtable explored the development of the right to the city by
focusing on social justice. The right to the city is exercised largely through
gaining access to physical assets and services required to live in urban
environments. Land is one of the most important assets which shapes any
individual’s or community’s quality of life in the city. For WUF 6 HIC was the
main partner to organize the Roundtable around the theme: The Right to Land and
the Right to the City.
This CSO Roundtable
is a follow up of WUF 5, as part of a global strategy coordinated by HIC, FNRU,
and IAI. Land is one of the most important assets that shapes any individual’s
or community’s quality of life in the city The Human Right to Adequate Housing
(HRAH) requires access to land. Secure land tenure is a subject of social equality
and is essential to ensuring Women’s and Children’s Human
Rights. It is not only an urban issue, but also related to
the rights of small-scale farmers, migrants, indigenous peoples, victims of
war/occupation and to the trends of corruption all over the world: a matter of
public policy and social equality for all. The following debate shows that the causes
and social effects of the current global crisis are not reflected in this WUF 6.
During the last decade, the market has been positioned as the only possible
producer of the city. The main themes that UN-Habitat focuses on do not tackle
the widespread neoliberal trend of commodification of housing and land. From
the speakers and comments emerges the need to formulate a common statement along
the lines of the HRAH. Land issues go far beyond access to credit and subsidies
to gain ownership of a tiny housing unit in a non-urban environment. The
redistribution of land is the core issue of the right to a place to live in
peace and with dignity in all cities and territories. Land issues cannot be
solved on the sole basis of financial resources, because as is widely known,
subsidies to land actually increase its value. The greatest challenge is to
stop placing the acquisition of financial assets and individual ownership as
the primary issue in the design of land and housing policies. Another paradigm
has to be built in order to ensure secure land ownership and the social
function of land. A strengthening process for open dialogue among CSOs provide a
way towards stronger advocacy with local and national governments, and
international bodies such as UN-Habitat to recognize the Right to Land.
75 representatives of civil society organizations; four representatives of international bodies (World Bank and UN-Habitat); a journalist and eight interpreters, English, Spanish, Italian, French.

UN Habitat officers
Mariam Lady Yunusa, Tanzania, Coordinator Partners Branch, UN-Habitat; and Lucia Kiwala, Kenya, Partners and Youth Branch, UN-Habitat.

Chair: Lorena Zárate, Argentina, President
Habitat International Coalition (HIC)
Maggie Cazal, France, President Urbanistes sans
Frontières (USF); Joseph Schechla, USA, Coordinator HIC-Housing and Land Rights
Network; Gustavo González, Uruguay, Coordinator Swedish Cooperative Center
Latin America; Cesare Ottolini, Italy, Coordinator International Alliance of
Inhabitants (IAI); Mirjiam van Donk,
South Africa, Director Isandia Institute;
Lajana Manandhar, Nepal, Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR);
Nelson Saule, Brazil, Foro Nacional de Reforma Urbana (FNRU); Raquel Rolnik,
Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Adequate Housing (HRAH).
Maggie Cazal, France, USF President:
The regulation of land in informal districts is the first step to realizing
the right to the city. Real estate speculation and megaprojects produce negative impacts on spatial
justice. Due to rising costs of land, poor inhabitants and low income
populations do not have the financial resources to access housing in the formal
city. This is the principal reason why slums are generally created in informal
areas, at risk of natural disasters. What action(s) could be promoted to ensure
the realization of the Right to Land? Which legal tools can be used in the
design of land policies that promote a democratic approach to land management?
What are the administrative actions that emerging or developing countries
should implement for land regularization? It is extremely urgent to capitalize on
the multiple lessons learned in the field of land policy all around the world,
in order to determine the best ways for building inhabitant-centered cities.

Joseph Schechla, USA, Coordinator of the HIC-Housing
and Land Rights Network:
The right to land is included into the Human Rights. We
must fight for its recognition, the same as the Right to Water which has been recently
formally recognized as a Human Right. We
must also focus on ensuring the realization of the Right to Land for women and
children, small-scale farmers, and other marginalized populations. The right to
own land is always a matter of equality. This is why we must link this issue
with global struggles for democracy and justice, as was done during the Arab
Spring when people claimed their access to land and demanded an end to corruption.
The right to land is a matter of policy and equality for all.

Gustavo González, Uruguay, Coordinator of the Swedish
Cooperative Center in Latin America:
The main problem lies in private ownership, and people’s
awareness and empowerment on this matter is indispensable. It is important to combine
the struggles among professionals, academics and social movements that are fighting
for the right to the city. Nowadays, the State’s role has almost vanished and
it seems that power is concentrated in big transnational corporations like
Coca-Cola that are involved in land grabbing. Private ownership of land
highlights the limits of leading trends in terms of economic growth and the
plundering of the planet; Mother Earth and its natural resources are limited. Everyone
has the right to access land. Many social movements in Latin America are
struggling for this right and contributing to build alternatives through the
development of collective land ownership, land banks and cooperatives.

Cesare Ottolini, Italy, Coordinator of the International
Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI):
UN-Habitat has turned the World Urban Forum into a kind
of commodity, with its commercial vision of partnership. This is not compatible
with the Human Rights approach and works against peoples’ struggles for these
rights. UN-Habitat’s actions are inconsistent with its discourse on the issues
that affect people’s daily lives. We must protect land and the natural
resources that make up our Commons. The second Urban Social Forum has been
organized in this perspective. People shall no longer accept that the earth, land,
beach, and water are being sold to private interests.

Mirjiam van Donk, South Africa, Director of the Isandia
In South Africa, the main principles of the Right to
the City are active citizenship, urban planning and resource allocation, and
local governance. There is an active collaboration between grassroots movements
and urban NGOs on these main principles, as well as on the struggles to fulfill
urban citizens’ rights. The urban poor agenda and options have to be recognized
and enabled. We have to achieve effective integration, compensation and
redistribution, and the social function of urban land and property. There is an
important need to recognize the differentiated impacts of policies and programs
on women, youth and vulnerable groups, according to sustainability and environmental
justice. There have been different moments in the construction of the Right to
the City in South Africa: the first step was the anti-apartheid struggle for
the right to be in the city, followed by the right to access the city’s
resources and opportunities, and finally the right to be recognized city

Lajana Manandhar, Nepal, Lumanti Support Group for
In Katmandu, several forced evictions were carried out
by the government aiming to clean up the city river bank which resulted in the displacement
of slum dwellers. The inhabitants were not consulted and they have started to
organize with the support of local and international CSO.

Nelson Saule, Brazil,
FNRU, Director of the Polis Institute:
For the last 25 years, FNRU has been fighting for the Right
to the City and for the social function of land. FNRU managed to build concrete proposals, legal tools and concepts
on urban reform and the Right to
the City, which resulted in the creation of a well-known set of laws, the City Statute. It is very important to develop strategies with international networks to implement the
Right to the City, such as the World Charter on the Right to the City formulated in 2005.
FNRU is now leading a national and international campaign for the social function of
ownership and of urban and rural land.
Rights have to be realized and
implemented. The social movements’ proposals are not supported by UN-Habitat: in Rio, the WUF 5 slogan was the “Right to the City”, without any follow up of the Rio document; in Naples, WUF 6
does not even address this issue anymore.

Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing:
We are facing a very deep crisis
of the system, and even though the WUF 6 is being held in Europe, -which has
been severely affected by the crisis-, this issue is completely absent in this
Forum. UN-Habitat’s language is merely mercantile and this is dangerous as,
since the last 10 years, the market has been the primary producer of the city,
generating many inequalities in the access to housing and land. We must make it
clear that the Right to the City is not the right to secure a loan for a tiny
housing unit in “a non-neighborhood and in a non-city”, but it is the
right of all to share a place in the city. UN-Habitat must uphold Human Rights
and stress that land and housing are not financial assets based on the individual
ownership of land. We have to switch from the importance given to land
ownership to the real security of tenure. Switch the importance given to access
to land to the right for all to a place to live in territories.

Lorena Zárate, HIC President:
The UN-Habitat vision is too far-removed
from peoples’ realities, from neighborhoods, and from the real world outside
this Forum. We do not need this Forum to have a real dialogue with the
authorities; neither to meet among CSOs and debate these issues. What we need
from UN-Habitat is for this UN body to take on the Human Rights approach
throughout all of its political and programmatic actions, with a clear
political will to ensure the realization of citizens’ rights to participation.

Main outcomes
From the debate among the participants the main agreements were the following:

  • There is a clear difference of perspective between the present CSOs
    representatives and UN-Habitat
    : We do not agree that all the people have to live in megacities. UN-Habitat’s document “Manifesto for
    Cities” does not represent our
    opinions and strategies. Urbanization is
    not inevitable, and we must fight for the Right
    to the City including the Right to

  • CSOs are contributing with concrete proposals, demanding UN-Habitat to join this work and support our proposals and agenda. The peoples and communities are the heart of a real democracy;
    we have to build an analysis of power against capitalism, our structural problem.
    This should be our starting point.

  • UN-Habitat has to get involved with the peoples’ main problems and
    support them in the fight for the Right to the City and the Right to Land,
    avoiding the lack of access to land, forced eviction caused by economic powers,
    speculation, land grabbing.