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The civil society: the UN-Habitat’s “Manifesto for Cities” does not represent our opinions and strategies

We publish the official report of the Round Table at f the World Urban Forum in Naples, which challenges the  propaganda  that claims a pretended  unanimous acceptance for  ‘Manifesto for the  Cities’, revealing, rather, an unprecedented breakaway from? the UN-Habitat’s handling of the issue that contradicts the ‘human rights’ approach which should be part of its very DNA.  This is a new challenge to defend democracy for the civil society.

Indeed, during the round table, organised by the main international networks for housing rights, civil society fiercely attacked the neoliberal policies which are at the root of the crisis and which deny human rights, as well as the UN-Habitat which backs the commodification of territories.

It is for these reasons that civil society has called on UN-Habitat to supports its proposals, and not the partnerships with the economic powers that lie at the root of speculation, evictions and land-grabbing.  One example will serve for all:  the partnership between UN-Habitat and Coca-Cola, signed at the WUF.

Speakers did not fail to point out that the ‘Manifesto for the Cities’, proposed by UN-Habitat in preparation for the summit meeting, Habitat III, in 2016, is far from being a  shared meeting point for every one, and it  did not reflect the proposals and strategies of civil society which, on the contrary, demands an approach founded on human rights,

notably the right to housing, land and city.

For civil society, local authorities and progressive governments the challenge is to build a common platform and struggle, recommending an alternative urban social pact in order to defend true democracy and common goods: the real  future for cities and territories.

This is precisely what lies at the heart of the Urban Social Forum’s commitment, as shown by the key international networks for the right to housing, together with local social organizations,  as an alternative to the trade-fair of the WUF of  UN-Habitat.


WUF 6 CSO Roundtable Report

The Right to Land and the City

Tuesday, September 4, 2012, Naples, Italy

Background:  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.

Abstract: 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.

Speakers:  Chair: Lorena Zárate, Argentina, Habitat International Coalition (HIC) President

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, Isandia Institute, Director;  Lajana Lumanti, 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).

UN Habitat officers: Miriam Yusana, Tanzania, Coordinator Partners Branch, UN-Habitat; and Lucia Kiwala, Kenya, Partners Branch, UN-Habitat.

Participants: 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.

Speakers’ report

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 Institute

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 builders.

Lajana Lumanti, Nepal, ACHR

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 Land.

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.


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