NGLS Roundup 79, August 2001
ISTANBUL+5: UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY REVIEW OF THE HABITAT AGENDA
From 6 to 8 June 2001 in New York, the 25th UN General Assembly Special Session reviewed the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, the main outcome document adopted at the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in 1996 in Istanbul (Turkey). At the Special Session, referred to as Istanbul+5, Member States adopted by consensus a political statement entitled Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium. The document reviews progress in implementing the Habitat Agenda, including an analysis of “gaps and obstacles,” and outlines a range of further actions and initiatives to accelerate implementation of Member States’ Habitat II commitments. This includes a commitment to examining options to review and strengthen the status, role and function of the Nairobi-based United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS-Habitat), the main UN agency responsible for supporting the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
Habitat II was widely regarded as a landmark UN event in terms of its inclusive framework of negotiations, and the strong emphasis it gave to partnerships with local authorities and NGOs. This included the active participation of NGOs and local authorities (referred to as “Habitat partners”) in Habitat II’s intergovernmental drafting committee, which took on board many of the partners’ substantive contributions. The Habitat Agenda contains a far-reaching programme of action to promote adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development, and to broaden popular participation and civic engagement. A cornerstone of the Habitat Agenda is the reaffirmation of adequate housing as a fundamental human right, which many NGOs uphold as a key advocacy tool for the progressive realization of adequate shelter for all, and in their efforts to prevent or counter abuses resulting from forced evictions.
In this context, Habitat partners and several Member States had voiced their disappointment with the decision taken at the second Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom) in February 2001 to hold most of the negotiations on the political declaration (to be adopted at Istanbul+5) in closed sessions (see NGLS Roundup 72). This decision, which was a reversal of the earlier arrangement adopted at the first PrepCom in May 2000, was made at the insistence of a few delegations, including the United States, on grounds that the rules governing General Assembly meetings are more restrictive than those for UN conferences.
NGOs and local authorities felt that their exclusion from the negotiations was a “step backward from the partnership spirit of Istanbul.” Many partners said they did not have a sense of ownership of the Declaration adopted at Istanbul+5 in the way they had about the Habitat Agenda (for instance, the absence in the final Declaration of any explicit reference to adequate housing as a human right). The Habitat Agenda rather than the Declaration, many stated, would remain their main reference document in their future human settlements development work.
However, NGOs and local authorities did have the opportunity to address the Plenary of the General Assembly and the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole (although their right to speak at the Plenary had to be submitted to a vote at PrepCom 2, and three States—Iran, China and the United States—voted against it). In addition, Istanbul+5 was an opportunity for the General Assembly to engage in an innovative framework for deliberations, by way of a Thematic Committee that was held throughout the three days. In the Thematic Committee, Member States, UN agencies, NGOs and local authorities were able to exchange experiences and best practices in human settlements development, based on 16 country case studies on themes such as shelter, social development and eradication of poverty, environmental management, economic development, governance and financing for urban development.
“The evaluation of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, with about 100 countries having submitted their reports, clearly demonstrates that the international community shares a common purpose, the political will to face the global urban challenge and the desire to work collectively in search of effective strategies to achieve our objectives. This stock-taking exercise has shown that problems cannot be willed away and homelessness and squalid living conditions will not disappear by decree. It requires from each one of us, be it as individuals, members of civil society groups, local authorities, national governments or international organizations to make provision of adequate shelter our priority in both word and deed. At all these levels resources need to be invested into the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
For as my own report on the review of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda concludes, Distinguished Delegates, progress has not been what it should be. Although commendable progress has been made, 25 per cent of humanity is still without adequate shelter. We must do better.”
—Address by Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UNCHS (Habitat) to the Istanbul+5 Plenary session, 6 June 2001
STATE OF HUMAN SETTLEMENTS
On 4 June, the UNCHS-Habitat secretariat launched a report it produced to coincide with Istanbul+5. Entitled Cities in a Globalizing World: Global Report on Human Settlements 2001, the report is based on some 80 background papers prepared by urban experts worldwide and extensive statistical information. Among other points it argues that technology-driven options for growth and development—which spur globalization—have led to divided cities where the lines of stratification between people, places and groups are becoming more magnified. The costs of globalization are unevenly distributed both within and between cities. “Homeless people are living in cardboard boxes on sidewalks of gleaming corporate skyscrapers, whose budgets exceed those of many countries,” the report says. Studies presented in the report indicate that while some population groups have improved their housing conditions since Habitat II, a disproportionate share of the world’s populations has seen its housing situation deteriorate further. In many countries, real income has fallen, the cost of living has gone up and the number of poor households has grown, particularly in urban areas. Sixty countries have become steadily poorer, it says.
The report notes that one billion urban inhabitants live in inadequate housing, mostly in slums and squatter settlements of developing countries. In Africa, only one-third of all urban households are connected to potable water. In Asia and the Pacific, just 38% of urban households are connected to a sewerage system. In Europe, the processes of social exclusion marginalize many low-income and minority households, while urban crime and the decline of peripheral housing estates undermine the social cohesion of many communities. In North America, problems of residential segregation, discrimination in housing markets and affordability persist, particularly in larger cities, despite recent economic growth. In Latin America—which on average has the most inequitable income distribution in the world—the poorest 20% earn a mere 3.5% of total income, and in the 1990s the absolute number people living in cities has increased.
A consistent theme throughout the report is how to overcome the limits of market mechanisms that have characterized globalization processes, which it says are dominated by transnational corporations seeking to maximize profit. The report emphasizes the importance of what it calls “globalization-from-below,” with goals of social justice and environmental sustainability. Access to goods and services required for meeting daily needs, it argues, should be less dependent on people’s ability to pay and based more on basic human rights recognized in international agreements.
At the launch UNCHS-Habitat Executive Director Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka said the report presented the United Nations with an additional tool to monitor urban conditions and trends. “In the report, we have tried to differentiate between national development and urban development, which helps us make recommendations on city data.” Ms. Tibaijuka said this is a significant step forward in the United Nations efforts to provide up-to-date information on the state of the world and how well or badly it is performing in various areas of development.
Against this backdrop, and on the basis of over 100 national reports presented to the Special Session, Member States concluded negotiations on the main official outcome document of Istanbul+5, the Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium. The text stresses that “the decisions we will make now will have far-reaching consequences. We note with great concern that one out of four of the world’s urban population is living below the poverty line. In many cities, confronted with rapid growth, environmental problems and slow pace of economic development, it has not been possible to meet the challenges of generating sufficient employment, providing adequate housing and meeting the basic needs of citizens.” Given that half the world’s inhabitants still live in rural settlements, the text also recognizes that “while addressing urban poverty, it is also essential to eradicate rural poverty and to improve the living conditions, as well as to create employment and educational opportunities in rural settlements and small and medium-sized cities and towns in rural areas.”
The Declaration identifies widespread poverty as remaining “the core obstacle” and notes “with concern that one of the basic obstacles to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda is the discrepancy between commitments made in Istanbul and the political will to fulfill them.” It notes that “the majority of people living in poverty still lack legal security of tenure for their dwellings, while others lack even basic shelter.” It further acknowledges that “the gaps in shelter and urban policies that have limited the opportunities for participation and partnership and have made it difficult to convert best practices into good policies.” In particular, it says “We are...deeply concerned that many women still do not participate fully on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, while at the same time suffering to a greater extent the effects of poverty.”
In relation to resource mobilization, while the text recognizes that “Governments have the primary responsibility for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, international support is likewise essential.” In this regard, the text says: “We regret that international cooperation in shelter and human settlements development has not been enhanced significantly since 1996, which is a growing cause of concern.”
The text goes on to argue that “the consequences of these gaps and obstacles are serious: for the the first time in human history a majority of the world’s 6 billion people will live in cities. Many people have experienced a deterioration, not an improvement, in their living environment. The gaps and obstacles encountered in the past five years have slowed down global progress towards sustainable human settlements development. It is essential that actions are taken to ensure that the Habitat Agenda is now translated into policy and into practice in every country.”
In the section on “Undertaking further actions” Member States pledge to accelerate their efforts to ensure full and effective implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Determined to give “new momentum” to their efforts to improve human settlements conditions, Member States agreed to a range of further initiatives for achieving those ends. These include, among others:
--promoting upgrading of slums and regularization of squatter settlements, in conjunction with the aims of the Cities without Slums initiative to make a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020;
--promoting greater security of tenure and enabling better access to information and good practices, including awareness of legal rights;
--building capacities and networks to enable all partners to play an effective role in shelter and human settlements development, including through decentralization and participatory urban management, with a pledge to strengthen the institutions and legal frameworks that assist and enable broad-based participation in decision making and implementation;
--intensifying efforts for ensuring transparent, responsible, accountable, just, effective and efficient governance of cities and other human settlements;
--facilitating access of all people, particularly the poor and vulnerable groups, to information on housing legislation, including any legal rights and to remedies where these laws are violated;
--promoting more determined action against urban crime and violence, particularly violence against women, children and the elderly;
--promoting access to safe drinking water for all and facilitating the provision of basic infrastructure and urban services;
--recognizing that those living in poverty “are in fact rich in innovative faculties” and therefore encouraging governments and national and international financial institutions to strengthen the institutional frameworks by which it would be possible to extend micro-credit to those living in poverty, particularly women, without collateral or security; and
--committing to enhanced international cooperation mechanisms to support post-conflict and post-disaster countries, with special emphasis on provision of shelter and other basic services, particularly to vulnerable groups, refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as to facilitate restoring security of tenure and property rights.
The above actions and initiatives had been adopted at the closing of PrepCom 2. During the Special Session, a number of remaining and new issues were subject to protracted intergovernmental negotiations or to controversy in the conference halls.
THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING
For many NGOs and UN officials present at the Special Session, the most significant area of contention in relation to the negotiations was the absence of reference to the right to adequate housing in the Declaration. Such a reference had been deleted from an earlier draft presented at PrepCom 2, at the insistence of the United States in particular. Despite intense lobbying efforts by NGOs and several UN bodies and officials, the right to adequate housing did not appear in the final version of the text.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, had forwarded to the Chairman of the General Assembly a letter circulated at the Special Session containing the statements of two human rights treaty monitoring bodies (the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child), and of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, appointed last year by the UN Commission on Human Rights. All three statements, as well as the one issued by Mary Robinson’s representative in New York, reminded delegates that adequate housing is a fundamental human right referred to in several international instruments and reaffirmed at Habitat II. They urged delegates to reintroduce it and build on the rights-based approach to human settlements development in the final Declaration.
At a panel on the right to adequate housing organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNCHS and Global Parliamentarians on Habitat held on 6 June, the Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Virginia Dan-Dan (Philippines), stated that the omission of the right to adequate housing in the final Declaration would “seriously undermine achievements made over the last decade at the national and international level in promoting the right to adequate housing, and would constitute a step backwards from the recognition of human rights in the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements and the Habitat Agenda adopted in 1996.”
When later in the week, it became less and less likely that any government was willing to attempt reintroducing reference to the right to adequate housing in the Declaration, Habitat International Coalition (HIC) issued a statement entitled “Back to the Future” that was formally endorsed by over 30 NGOs from more than 20 countries, and supported by the wide majority of the participants attending the evening NGO strategy sessions. Among other things, the statement says:
“The relevant human rights guidance and norms that have emerged in this review period are vital to solving problems of housing and human settlements. For example, the jurisprudence of housing rights cases through the monitoring by the UN treaty bodies, as well as the findings of the other political and factual mechanisms of the UN human rights system, have clarified our understanding of housing rights issues at the global and country-specific levels. The State delegations gathered here deliberately have evaded these developments, categorically rejecting any acknowledgement of the human right to housing and other related standards that guide states in the field of human settlements....We understand that this regressive post-Istanbul trend has been championed by a very few States, including both those who are long-standing and new ratifying parties to the relevant human rights covenants, as well as at least one State that remains outside the relevant human right treaties. In some cases, that rejection of guidelines on implementing the right to adequate housing and on forced evictions, apparently arising from impulses of State sovereignty, has come from States that have incorporated these norms into their own domestic laws. Unfortunately, contrary to the spirit of international cooperation toward the progressive realization of rights...the rest of the States have joined the lowest common denominator of States and drafted a new, inferior standard.”
ISSUES NEGOTIATED IN THE DRAFTING COMMITTEE
The following are some of the issues that were negotiated in the Drafting Committee.
In a paragraph that referred to women’s equal access to economic resources, Norway proposed to use the phrase “eradicate social and legal barriers” to women’s equal access, based on paragraph 78 of the Habitat Agenda. The reference to the word “eradicate” was strongly resisted by the Group of 77 developing countries, chaired by Iran, on grounds that such formulation suggests next to nothing has been done in this regard since Habitat II. However, Uganda and South Africa openly disagreed with this view. The Ugandan delegate, in explaining why his delegation supported the Norwegian proposal, said, “at Istanbul, we made national commitments to eradicate such social and legal barriers to women, which are a major issue on our continent. We cannot go back on this.” In the end, in paragraph 44 of the final text Member States agreed to “resolve to continue to undertake legislative and administrative reforms to give women full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and the ownership of land and other property, credit, natural resources and appropriate technologies, as well as ensuring their right to security of tenure and to enter into contractual agreements.”
It is worth noting that paragraph 48, which had already been adopted at PrepCom 2 (and was therefore in principle not open for renegotiation) states: “We resolve to undertake legislative and administrative reforms needed to...eradicate legal and social barriers to the equal and equitable access to land and to ensure that the equal rights of women and men to land and property are protected under the law.”
Gender-related issues had also led to intense negotiations at PrepCom 2 in connection to proposals to introduce family-related policies in the text, but which many delegations and women’s groups feared would, intentionally or not, risk reinforcing gender inequalities within the family, or discriminate against female-headed households. Those in favour of such provisions, including the Holy See, Iran and the United States, argued that the breakdown of the family was a major cause of important issues discussed at the Special Session, such as the increasing number of street children and the feminization of poverty. The “compromise package” was the introduction of already agreed family-related paragraphs from the Habitat Agenda (see NGLS Roundup 72).
For representatives of local authorities in particular, the final language on effective decentralization was a serious disappointment. The starting point at PrepCom 1 was local authorities’ and many delegations’ aspirations that the Istanbul+5 process would discuss a draft World Charter of Local Self-Government. Such an instrument, they said, would help address widespread problems such as the fact that decentralization of responsibilities to local authorities has all too often been carried out without concomitant decentralization of resources and capacity. At PrepCom 2, further discussion on the World Charter was blocked by a number of States, particularly those with federal structures which they said did not allow constitutionally central governments to make commitments on issues that remained the prerogative of provincial state authorities. In response, the European Union had proposed text, to be further discussed at the Special Session, on the establishment of “an intergovernmental forum to deliberate on guiding principles of local self-government with a view to reaching a consensus on an enabling international framework that would guide national legislative reforms leading to effective decentralization policies.”
At the Special Session, this formulation was opposed by many delegations, including the Group of 77 developing countries (G-77) and China. After several days of negotiation, Member States agreed “to intensify our dialogue, where possible, including, inter alia, through the Commission on Human Settlements on all issues related to effective decentralization and strengthening of local authorities, in support of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, in conformity with the legal framework and policies of each country.”
Protection of Refugees and of Civilians under Foreign Occupation
On the final day of the Special Session, delegates began negotiations on two paragraphs presented by the G-77 on foreign occupation, illegal settlements and refugees. Israel said it would refuse to participate in the negotiations of these paragraphs. The United States said it objected to the paragraphs because they were new and would destroy the balance of the Declaration. The representative of the G-77 noted that similar language already appeared in the Millennium Declaration adopted by heads of State during the 2000 Millennium Assembly and that it was consistent with international humanitarian law.
Informal consultations began late that Friday afternoon, continuing until 4:40 am on Saturday when the session reconvened. The Chair of the Drafting Committee noted that consultations had continued throughout the night, between representatives of Israel, the United States and Iran, on behalf of the G-77. The session finally accepted a paragraph stating that Member States will “resolve to take further effective measures to remove...obstacles to the realization of the rights of peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation, that are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and must be combatted and eliminated.” A related paragraph refers to expanding and strengthening the protection of civilians in conformity with international humanitarian law, in particular the 1948 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. This is followed by a commitment to strengthening international cooperation “to help all refugees and displaced persons to return voluntarily to their homes, in safety and dignity, and to be smoothly reintegrated in their societies.”
The above paragraphs were accepted on the basis of a “package deal” whereby a new paragraph was added, stating that Member States will “resolve to take concerted action against international terrorism, which causes serious obstacles to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.”
Some government representatives deplored that yet another UN meeting on a thematic matter had become what they called unnecessarily politicized. However, some NGOs, particularly from the Middle East region, argued that recognition of the special circumstances and needs of refugees, internally displaced and occupied populations was a truly positive note in the Declaration.
On Friday morning, delegates also began discussions on a proposed text presented by the Chair of the Drafting Committee on strengthening the mandate and the status of the UN Commission on Human Settlements (CHS) and further strengthening the role and function of the UNCHS-Habitat secretariat. The secretariat explained to delegates that the low status of the CHS and UNCHS-Habitat within the UN system is impeding their work. The United States objected to the introduction of “new concepts” in the Declaration, while the European Union supported by Norway said the review should be conducted by the CHS and channeled through the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to the General Assembly. India pointed out that General Assembly Resolution 51/177 already emphasized that the General Assembly and ECOSOC should review and strengthen the CHS. After considerable discussions, including expressed concerns about possible financial implications, the final adopted text invites the Secretary-General to report to the 56th session of the General Assembly on options for reviewing and strengthening the mandate and status of the CHS and the status, role and function of UNCHS-Habitat.
A number of NGOs had lobbied in favour of strengthening UNCHS-Habitat which they see as currently not having the resources and capacities needed to adequately support implementation of the Habitat Agenda. This includes investing sufficient time and resources in building meaningful partnerships, a role the Centre was mandated to pursue at Habitat II. Although final decisions on this question have been forwarded to the 56th General Assembly session, the mention of the word “strengthening” of the UN Centre, which was absent from the earlier draft Declaration, was seen by NGOs and UN officials as a step in the right direction.
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This edition of NGLS Roundup was prepared by the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS). The NGLS Roundup is produced for NGOs and others interested in the institutions, policies and activities of the UN system and is not an official record.