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Statements Special Procedures
29 June 2016
Geneva, 29 June 2016
As independent human rights experts1 appointed by the Human Rights Council, we call for a New Urban Agenda that embraces the transformative potential of human rights as a necessary framework for inclusive, vibrant and sustainable cities. At a time of unprecedented migration and urbanization, human rights are increasingly under threat and their protection is a central challenge of our time.
As the negotiations on the revised zero draft move forward in New York, this week (27 June-1 July) we appeal to Member States to ensure that human rights are placed at the centre of the agenda. This means including firm commitments to the realization of human rights in cities, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It will require the full participation of civil society and marginalized groups, including women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities, the establishment of transparent mechanisms for monitoring, as well as the assurance of ensuring access to justice for all human rights.
No other Habitat Conference has grappled with a majority of the world’s population living in urban centres. The New Urban Agenda is an exceptional opportunity to ensure that human rights engage effectively with contemporary challenges, bringing back the notion that cities are made by and for all its inhabitants to live, work and prosper. It is imperative that the New Urban Agenda prioritize the needs and the human rights of millions of urban dwellers, many of whom are minorities, or who are homeless, living in extreme poverty, and who experience forced and violent evictions and displacement, limited physical environments, lack of access to food, drinking water, sanitation, health services, land or adequate housing and rely on precarious, underpaid work.
Too many cities are in crisis. Reciting vague commitments to human rights sporadically is not enough. The new urban agenda must institutionalize and concretize human rights commitments to make all levels of government and other actors truly accountable. It must create mechanisms through which all decisions are required to be consistent with human rights and all urban dwellers are recognized as equal in dignity and rights.
The revised zero draft has evolved in its references to human rights; we appreciate the efforts so far made. It expresses a vision of “cities and human settlements that are inclusive and free from all forms of discrimination and violence, where all inhabitants, whether permanent or transitional, enjoy equal rights and opportunities.” It takes note of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights treaties. The revised draft also makes explicit references to the crucial role of local and subnational governments in urban life. We welcome references to several population groups that are marginalized and in the most vulnerable situations, notably persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees, internally displaced persons, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, women, and people who are homeless.
However, in our view, economic development and growth should not be affirmed as an overriding goal in the New Urban Agenda without considering its effect on the people living in poverty, or those who are excluded and marginalized, and in some countries, indigenous peoples who have been evicted from their traditional lands which became urbanized. While it may be true that cities have become “the engines of economic growth” as the zero draft affirms, it is increasingly clear from what we have seen in our visits and work around the world that current models of economic growth – which have been divorced from human rights – have resulted in gross inequalities, social exclusion and violence.
A realistic, credible vision of inclusive and sustainable cities cannot affirm the importance of productivity without demanding a new approach to economic policymaking based on the realization of human rights and more equitable distribution of resources in cities, including land and access to public space. Affirming the importance of affordability and non-discriminatory access to housing and essential services remains hollow if the financial forces that profit from the commodification of housing, land and property, public space and basic services, are free from robust and effective human rights monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
The human rights responsibilities of local and subnational governments cannot be fulfilled if developers, contractors, and investment funds continue to use housing and land as investment for personal gain without regard to the human rights consequences of their actions, and if multilateral banks and financial institutions continue to fund urban projects and infrastructure developments that lead to forced evictions, displacement, ghettoization and further exclusion.
The paradigm shift that would place human rights at the centre of the New Urban Agenda and provide a framework for its realization would include the following elements currently absent in the Revised Zero Draft:
1. 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; Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; and the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 31/9, 26/20, 26/3, 22/9, 25/16, 24/6, 24/9, 23/8, 26/19, 25/5, 24/20 and 24/18 respectively.