|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing
Proposals for addressing the urgent needs of those living in vulnerable housing settlements and who lacked the “means to go green” must be taken more seriously in global climate discussions, the top United Nations rights expert on adequate housing said today at a Headquarters press conference.
Raquel Rolink, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, said that unfortunately, there was no evidence of such a focus in any of the draft outcome documents being circulated ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in December in Copenhagen, where world leaders were expected to conclude a new framework that would enter into force after the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
Ms. Rolink was in New York to present her report -- on the impacts of climate change on the right to housing -- to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), and as part of her first official mission to the United States, where she would also visit Washington D.C., Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and the Pine Ridge Reservation, in South Dakota.
Discussing her report, she said there was a “perverse” coincidence in that irregular, vulnerable settlements were being built in areas that were most exposed to natural disasters, whose frequency, in turn, was aggravated by climate change. Such poor planning was the result of unregulated market activity that had left poor people defenceless against flooding and landslides, and without insurance to move to safer areas.
While the least developed countries and small island developing States were particularly vulnerable, she stressed that poor people living in developing and middle-income countries were also at high risk and had to be better protected from climate-related disasters in a manner that preserved their livelihoods and social networks.
At the same time, she cautioned against using climate change and the insecurity of poor areas as an excuse to promote community re-location, notably when urbanization of poor areas was not possible. In making such decisions, States had to observe human-rights norms on eviction, treat people with dignity and safeguard due process in ensuring safe-housing alternatives.
“This is very important,” Ms. Rolink said, citing examples -– in post‑tsunami reconstruction efforts -- of entire villages that had been relocated without the possibility of return to land that was ultimately redeveloped into tourist resorts.
Asked about funds to be used for climate change adaptation, Ms. Rolink said she supported the plea by the least developed countries for more cooperation. However, the amount of funding was just the start of the conversation -- not the end. She wanted to know what would be done with the funds. If adaptation funds were to be used only for the benefit of a few, “It’s better not to have the money.” Rather, she urged examining the content of adaptation and mitigation strategies and replacing, for example, various fuels and energy sources with those that emitted fewer greenhouse gases.
In making mitigation and adaptation decisions, she continued, it was important to take human rights into account. The same was true for resettlement ‑-often people were relocated 20, 30 even 40 kilometres away from their original habitat, where there were no jobs or economic opportunities. “We’re talking about severe human rights violations when we do that.”
Asked about any follow-up she had done on forced mass evictions in Cambodia, Nigeria and Angola, she said unfortunately, she did not have good news. She had not seen any stop to those activities. Her Office had sent out press releases and raised public awareness but the ultimate decisions were made by the Governments involved. She feared that those situations could be replicated anywhere under the pretext of creating strategies to adapt to climate change.
Taking a query on whether she worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), she said that in her year of experience as the Special Rapporteur, she had noticed a difference between Government departments that dealt separately with development and human rights. “They don’t talk to each other”, she said, which was why clear guidelines were needed on how housing policies should respect human rights. In a few weeks, she would publish development-based eviction guidelines for engineers, architects and planners to better understand the field of adequate housing.
Answering a question about the Brazilian-ethanol industry, she said critics of Brazilian ethanol had argued that ethanol producers often provoked forest devastation and invaded indigenous land. However, agribusinesses -- not ethanol producers –- were perpetuating such practices. Food production was destroying forests and displacing communities –- not fuel. The world’s cattle were fed by Brazilian soybeans. One recent achievement, however, was the demarcation of indigenous land after many years of litigation.
Asked about her mission in the United States, she said she was very happy to have been invited to the United States. Last March, she presented a report to the Human Rights Council on the financial crisis and right to adequate housing which argued that part of the financial crisis had occurred due to a failure in housing policies. There had been a shift in recent decades from understanding housing as a social issue, to understanding it as a commodity, or financial asset, left completely to the whim of unregulated markets.
She said there was an important debate going on in the United States and her mission would focus on the impacts of the financial crisis on housing -– including public housing, homelessness and foreclosures. Her visit would be an opportunity to open a conversation with Government officials and civil society about housing as a human right. She also planned to host a press conference on Sunday, 8 November, at a homeless centre in Washington D.C.
To a query about her relationship with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), she said she had been a consultant on various projects and worked closely with its advisory group on forced evictions.
Responding to a question on social housing, she said many countries -- and sectors within countries –- had not yet mainstreamed social and cultural rights into their policies. The definition of adequate housing went beyond merely having four walls and a roof. It took account of communities that were involved in a range of economic, cultural and social opportunities. Also, home ownership was not the only way to have security of tenure -– rent control and tenant protections could afford those benefits and provide alternate solutions.
* *** *For information media • not an official record