QUITO, Oct 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The right to
adequate housing must be adopted formally as a human right -
internationally and at country level - as the world grapples
with the burgeoning phenomenon of urbanization, the U.N. special
rapporteur on housing said Wednesday.
Leilani Farha, a Canadian lawyer and special rapporteur for
the United Nations Human Rights Council, said the absence of the
right to housing in two sets of global development goals adopted
by U.N. member states in 2000 and 2015 sent the wrong signal.
"But that is not the only disturbing trend ... globally, the
homeless, those who live in informal settlements have this
status used against them," Farha said, speaking at a U.N.
conference to devise a 20-year plan for urban development.
"I have heard the homeless described as vermin, as
cockroaches, those living in informal settlements referred to
as illegal, as encroachers and occupiers," she said.
The inclusion of a 'right to adequate housing' clause into
the U.N.'s draft New Urban Agenda - the plan that is expected to
come out of the Quito conference - was a source of tension
between member nations during negotiations earlier this year.
Farha said it is now clearly inserted in the Agenda, but
that implementation of the goal must now be the imperative.
"The first step is that all levels of government walk away
from here and begin to think about establishing their own, local
housing strategy - not just any strategy but one based in
human rights," she said.
"It would begin with including some kind of legislation or
recognition of the right to housing and ensure that the strategy
has measurable goals, timelines and protects the most vulnerable
The United Nations says slums - which are home to more than
900 million people worldwide, or nearly one in every seven
people - are emerging spontaneously as a "dominant and distinct
type of settlement" in the 21st century.
Held every 20 years, the U.N. Habitat conference comes at a
point when for the first time in history more people are living
in cities than in rural areas.
In 2014, 54 percent of the global population lived in cities
but by 2050, this is expected to rise to 66 percent.
Farha also announced the launch of a global alliance of
public and private sector specialists as well as academics and
human rights activists to advocate for housing to be recognized
as a human right.
She said homelessness was symptomatic of the failure of
governments to effectively respond to the housing challenge.
"We want to question the notion that forced eviction is a
symptom of development and the idea that the only function of
land is that it is there for profit," she said.
"We want also to challenge the dominant understanding of who
counts and who doesn't and dominant perceptions of who cities
More than 45,000 people, including academics, planning
specialists, government officials and U.N. leaders, have
converged on the Andean city of Quito to discuss the future of
the world's cities.
A dominant refrain of the U.N. conference has been the
recognition that urban planning has failed to keep up with mass
urbanization around the world.
The New Urban Agenda, a 23-page document aims to provide a
global roadmap to steer the growth of cities, towns and informal
settlements so that they are sustainable, do not destroy the
environment and protect the rights of the vulnerable.
Around 140 countries are expected the adopt the new,
non-binding agreement on behalf of the United Nations' 193
member states on Thursday.
(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please
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