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Rights routinely ignored in post-conflict and disaster reconstruction action – UN expert on housing

GENEVA (8 March 2011) – UN Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik warned Tuesday that human rights standards and particularly the right to adequate housing are not being translated into concrete policies in post-conflicts and post-disaster reconstruction processes.

“This has disastrous consequences, particularly for the most vulnerable,” Ms. Rolnik said in her annual report* to the Human Rights Council, “and is particularly alarming when we know that armed conflicts and natural disasters are not only a massive but a growing problem worldwide.”

In her report, Ms. Rolnik emphasizes that “the impact of conflicts and disasters should not be measured simply in terms of physical assets destroyed and people displaced but also and perhaps primarily in terms of the extent of disruption of social relationships, networks and assets.”

The Special Rapporteur drew special attention to the issue of access to land. “Because of the political economy of land and faced with the pressing need to act quickly, the actors involved in post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction processes have skirted around one of the most important issues related to reconstruction processes and the right to adequate housing, namely the human rights dimension of access to land.”

“In this context, the most vulnerable are very often displaced from the land they were living in before disasters or conflicts to open the way for real estate projects,” she noted. “No institutional or financial provision for either the acquisition of well located land for the landless or to create more secure rights for the vulnerable population in situ are usually provided.”

Ms. Rolnik called for a system of rapid assessment and analysis of pre-existing tenure and property rights in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or conflict, to guide all urgent steps taken to protect the right to adequate housing and tenure security of all, but particularly the poorer and marginalized members of society.

“Thinking in terms of human rights means primarily orienting our efforts toward the worst affected by conflicts and disasters, the most vulnerable, considering them as the holders of rights to be fulfilled and not only victims to be supported,” the Special Rapporteur underlined.

The Special Rapporteur urged all relevant actors to ensure the effective consultation and direct participation of affected communities in the design and implementation of post-conflict and post-disaster responses, particularly on matters of housing and land.

Raquel Rolnik (Brazil) was appointed as 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 by the UN Human Rights Council, in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. An architect and urban planner, Rolnik has extensive experience in the area of housing and urban policies.

(*) Check the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Beatrice Quadranti (Tel: +41 22 917 9615 / e-mail: bquadranti@ohchr.org) or write to srhousing@ohchr.org