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The right to a dignified dwelling and city in Ecuador

The approval of the new Constitution in Ecuador represents a big step forward towards the accomplishment of the right to a dignified city in the region. The text, which was signed on 28 September 2008, addresses the right to a dignified dwelling and city in an innovative manner.

The right to ‘good living’ as a supreme objective of the Ecuadorian State

As of the preamble, the right to ‘good living’ – sumak kawsay in the Quechan language – appears to be the primary objective of the nation, and a fundamental condition for the coexistence of citizens in diversity and in harmony with nature. The economic, social and cultural human rights – individual and collective – that are regulated under the framework of ‘the rights to good living’ are various (Articles 12 to 34 of Chapter II), such as the right to water, to a healthy environment, to a habitat and to a dwelling, to culture and to science, etc. The right to housing places itself in a broader context of the village, the city and the environment in general – that is, in the context of a ‘secure and healthy habitat’, as guaranteed by Article 30 of the Constitution. The ‘regime of good living’ operates on the basis of a system – the national system of inclusion and social equity – which articulates and coordinates institutions, policies, norms, programs and services that assure the practice, the guarantee and the liability of the rights that are recognized in the Constitution (Art. 340). Within the frame of these guarantees the legitimacy of the constitutional rights and of all the rights that are established by the international laws on human rights (Art. 11.3) is assured, as well as the recognition for the different forms of exerting direct democracy (Art. 100), and the right to oppose any violation of the constitutional rights by the actions or the omissions of public as much as private powers (Art. 98).

The commitment to the right to a dignified city: collective construction and public policies

The right to a dignified city is recognized in Art. 31, which establishes that «people have the right to fully enjoy the city and its public spaces, according to the principle of sustainability, social justice, respect for different urban cultures, and equilibrium between urban and rural».

The right to a dignified city adds a new dimension to many of the human rights that have already been committed to by the international conventions that were ratified by Ecuador while establishing a complete fruition of the environment and of public spaces for all the inhabitants of the country. The principles of sustainability, social justice, respect for different cultures, and equilibrium between urban and rural need to serve as guidance for the implementation of the economic, social, cultural, civil, political and environmental rights in the entire territory. The new Constitution upholds that the foundations of the right to a dignified city are the principles of democratic management, of the social and environmental function of property and of the city, and of a full exercise of the rights of citizenship (Art. 31). Considering that the city is a collective construction, with multiple actors and processes, it is necessary to guarantee the direct and representative participation of all the inhabitants during the planning and the governance of cities, provinces, parishes, towns and villages – encouraging the strengthening and the autonomy of the local public administrations and of the social organizations. Art. 248 declares that «communities, communes, precincts, neighborhoods and parishes are basic units of participation in the autonomous decentralized governments and in the national system of planning».

The right to a dignified city implies the development of urban policies whose objectives are the construction of an inclusive, shared, respectable, equitable, just, peaceful, supportive and civic city. In this sense, the new Constitution of Ecuador also includes a series of obligations for the State as regards the implementation of this right for the vulnerable and marginalized groups. For example, Art. 37.7 proclaims that the State shall guarantee to elderly people «the access to a dwelling that assures a dignified life, with respect for their opinion and their consent». The text identifies the ensemble of groups that should be given priority and receive specialized attention in the public and private spheres regarding the attainment of fundamental rights: elderly people, children, adolescents, pregnant women, people with a handicap, people deprived of freedom, those who are severely ill, people in dangerous situations, the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, children that have been mistreated, the victims of natural or anthropogenic disasters and those people that live in conditions of double vulnerability (Art. 35). The same rights and duties that are enjoyed by Ecuadorians are also guaranteed to foreign residents that are settled on Ecuadorian soil.

The right to a dwelling: governmental guarantees, public policies and financing.

According to the new Constitution of Ecuador, the formulation of policies regarding housing falls under the exclusive competence of the Central State (Art. 261). All levels of government, however, are competent with regard to their implementation (Art. 375). Moreover, the State shall have to collaborate with the autonomous and decentralized governments of the rural municipalities and parishes all throughout the process of territorial planning (Art. 264.1 and Art. 267.1) The policies concerning housing and the environment shall have to occur on the basis of universality, equality, equity, progressivity, inter-culturality, solidarity, and indiscrimination, while they shall have to operate according to the principles of quality, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, responsibility and participation (Art. 340). The public bank and the popular institutions of finances that are obliged to prioritize people with scarce economical resources and female heads of households remain in charge of funding this policy (Art. 375.5).

Ecuador: a country free of evictions

One of the major innovations that was introduced with the new Constitution is the prohibition of carrying out arbitrary displacements (Art. 42), which will turn Ecuador in to a country free of evictions. The constitutional text also guarantees effective remedies in the case that a forced eviction actually occurs: «The people that have been displaced shall have the right to receive urgent humanitarian protection and assistance from the authorities, which promises them access to food, shelter, housing, as well as medical and sanitary services». Additionally, it guarantees that all displaced people and groups have the right to return to their place of origin in a voluntary, secure, and dignified manner, in complete accordance with the Principles of the United Nations on the Restitution of the Dwellings and Patrimony of Refugees and Displaced People (Pinheiro Principles).

The Constitution attributes the possession and property of communitarian lands – which are inalienable, not subject to seizure, and undividable (Art. 57.4) – to indigenous communities, peoples and nationalities, Afro-Ecuadorian people and the Montubio people, as well as the communes. It also grants them the right to use, usufruct, administer and preserve the renewable natural resources that are situated on these lands (Art. 57.6), as well as the right not to be arbitrarily displaced from their ancestral lands (Art. 57.11). Similarly to the Agreement 169 of the International Organization of Labor, the Constitution establishes the obligation of previous, free, and informative consultation – within a reasonable time-frame – concerning any plans and programs of exploration, exploitation and commercialization of non renewable resources that are found on their lands and that could environmentally or culturally affect them. Moreover, it guarantees these peoples the right to partake in the benefits that these projects produce and to receive compensation for the damages that they cause them.

The implementation of these rights will depend on the participation and mobilization of the people

The successful implementation of these guarantees and rights that are defined by the new Constitution of Ecuador depends on overcoming enormous economic, legal, and cultural obstacles that have caused the historical exclusion of millions of Ecuadorian men and women. Likewise, they will depend on active citizen participation during the conceptualization and the management of the policies and the public resources. The mobilization of the social movements for the «YES» campaign and for the approval of the new Constitution allows us to foster hope for the fact that all Ecuadorians will one day be able to dedicate themselves to exerting democracy and respecting fundamental human rights.

Leticia Marques Osorio , Legal Officer of the Center for the Right to Housing against Evictions and Member of the Advisory Group on Forced Evictions of the United Nations (UN Habitat)