General Assembly Plenary
Twenty-fifth Special Session
6th Meeting (PM) and
Round-up of Session
GENERAL ASSEMBLY RENEWS COMMITMENT TO PRINCIPLES OF HABITAT AGENDA,
PLEDGES ACCELERATED DRIVE TO ENSURE FULL IMPLEMENTATION
Following All-Night Drafting Exercise,
Special Session Achieves Consensus on Final Declaration
At a time when half of the world’s 6 billion people are living in cities and the world is facing unprecedented growth of urban population, mainly in the developing world, the Member States of the United Nations early this morning renewed their commitment to the principles of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development.
The governments made that commitment after working through the night to conclude the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly for an Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul in 1996, by adopting, without a vote, a resolution containing a Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium.
While welcoming progress made in implementing the outcome of Habitat II -– “the Habitat Agenda” -- the governments recognized the gaps and obstacles in the way of developing human settlements and took note with great concern of the current conditions of human settlements worldwide. In the face of those and other challenges, they pledged to accelerate their efforts to ensure the Agenda’s full and effective implementation.
They also resolved to encourage social and economic policies designed to meet the housing needs of families and their individual members, with particular attention to the needs of children; and to promote changes in attitudes, structures, policies and other practices relating to gender in order to eliminate all obstacles to human dignity and equality in family and society.
The Declaration urged the strengthening of international assistance to developing countries in their efforts to alleviate poverty, including by creating an enabling environment to facilitate the integration of the developing countries into the world economy, improving their market access, facilitating the flow of financial resources and implementing all initiatives regarding debt relief.
The governments resolved to take further effective measures to remove obstacles to the realization of the rights of peoples living under colonial rule
and foreign occupation, which are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and must be combated and eliminated. They also resolved to expand and strengthen the protection of civilians in conformity with international humanitarian law.
The document also addressed, among many other issues, the provision of shelter and other basic services for post-conflict and post-disaster countries; proactive planning of land supply to promote the efficient functioning of land markets; the need to eradicate legal and social barriers to the equitable access to land; actions to address the impact of HIV/AIDS in human settlements; the issues of urban crime and violence; and the need to take concerted action against international terrorism, which caused serious obstacles to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
The representatives of Israel, United States, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia spoke following the Declaration’s adoption, as did the Observer for Palestine.
Harri Holkeri (Finland), General Assembly President, made a concluding statement.
Alireza Esamaeilzadeh (Iran), Rapporteur of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, introduced the report containing the Declaration.
Yesterday afternoon, before the meeting was suspended for further consultation on the Declaration, the Assembly was informed that Vanuatu and Haiti had made arrangements to bring their arrears under the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter. [Article 19 states that a Member whose arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years shall have no vote in the Assembly.]
Statements in yesterday afternoon’s general debate were made by: the Minister of Lands, Housing, Physical Planning and Surveys of Malawi; the Minister of Town Planning and Habitat of Guinea; the Secretary of State of Town Planning and Housing in Charge of Land, Registration and Surveys of Cameroon; the Chairman of the Board and Director General of the Environmental Public Authority of Kuwait; and the Commissioner for Human Rights, Poverty Reduction and Social Integration of Mauritania.
The representatives of Rwanda, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Niger also spoke, as did the observer for the Holy See.
Statements were also made on behalf of: the Council of Europe; the Commonwealth Secretariat; the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Puerto Rico; the United States Virgin Islands; United Nations Volunteers; the African Centre for Empowerment, Gender and Advocacy; the Habitat International Coalition; the International Federation of Free Trade Unions; the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres; the Women and Shelter Network; and Youth for Habitat.
The representatives of Azerbaijan and Armenia exercised their right of reply.
(page 1b follows)
Highlights of Session
During the three-day special session, delegations outlined the steps their countries had taken to implement the twin goals of Habitat II, namely, adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development. National innovations and initiatives had centred on the creation of new housing units and the elaboration of city development schemes to respond to the rapid pace of urbanization, particularly in the developing world. Decentralization emerged as a major strategy, as national governments increasingly recognized the value of enhancing the capacities of local authorities, in partnership with civil society and the private sector, to meet the needs of their cities. Other strategies included social and legislative reform of property rights, home ownership and security of tenure. Preservation of natural resources and the environment had been integrated into many human settlement policies.
Some nations boasted improved living conditions, through water purification systems, better waste and sewage management, and the electrification of outlying areas. Despite certain gains, however, worldwide attention was once again drawn to the persistent and debilitating problems associated with poverty, disease and poor funding, which had delayed or blocked progress towards fulfilling the goal of decent shelter for all. Countries emerging from conflicts and civil wars struggled to rebuild lands and infrastructures and cope with the new homeless: refugees and displaced people. Fledgling democratic nations with economies in transition sought to convert government-owned housing and utilities to private ownership. Other countries were devastated by natural disasters that turned houses to rubble and security to unease.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Harri Holkeri (Finland) addressed the session, along with several United Nations representatives, including the Executive Director of Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka, and the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer. The session was also addressed by representatives of 144 countries, including senior level governmental officials and numerous national housing and town planning ministers. Several Habitat partners, civil society leaders and non-governmental organizations spoke as well.
A major innovation in the history of the General Assembly was the establishment of a Thematic Committee, which served as a forum for an exchange of experiences since Habitat II. Reporting on the Committee’s activities, its Chairman, Slaheddine Belaid (Tunisia), said the Committee had, in four meetings, fully achieved its objectives, and had shown how the Habitat Agenda had been implemented in 16 countries. Participants had once again demonstrated that the United Nations was the best forum for exchange of experiences and best practices.
The General Assembly meets this afternoon to conclude its twenty-fifth special session for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). [For background information on the session, see Press Release HAB/172, of 4 June.]
The General Assembly was informed that Vanuatu and Haiti had made the necessary payments to reduce their arrears below the level specified in Article 19 of the Charter.
TONY KANDIERO (Malawi): For Malawi, this session is an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other countries and to take stock of our own achievements and failures. Since Istanbul, Malawi has undertaken many initiatives to improve human settlements, such as the formulation of a National Housing Policy, which has benefited immensely from the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Agenda; of a National Land Policy; and of a National Environment Policy. The elaboration of a decentralization policy and a new local government act devolves wide-ranging powers to elected local assemblies.
The revision of inheritance laws protects widows from relatives of deceased husbands bent on seizing property. The launching of an enterprise-development and employment-creation programme ensures that very insecure poor, especially women in rural and urban areas, are identified and assisted. The launching of its poverty-alleviation programme is the linchpin of Malawi’s development policy.
Despite those achievements, Malawi faces major challenges. Sixty per cent of our population live below the poverty line, a situation compounded by unfavourable economic conditions and lack of capacity in human, technical and financial resources, as well as a lack of international support. Until international declarations translate into actual international assistance, most of our plans will remain dreams. However, Malawi’s commitment to the Habitat Agenda and its implementation is total and unwavering.
BLAISE OUO FOROMO, Minister for Town Planning and Habitat of Guinea: This meeting is an opportunity to expand the progress and correct the mistakes made in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. We are concerned about the serious deterioration in quality of life due to the adverse effects of Africa’s critical economic situation. The population explosion, increased urbanization and the effects of conflict are also of great concern to Africans.
In a testimony to our commitment to the Habitat Agenda, Guinean authorities have done everything possible to ensure that representatives of our country were present during the preparatory meetings for the current session. One of the national initiatives we have taken is the establishment of a land code, which has led to the implementation of major development projects and access to essential services. We have also promoted social integration and decentralization.
Our efforts are directed towards actions favouring the implementation of the Habitat Agenda with the assistance of the international community. We propose to make our initiatives even more dynamic in the coming years to deal with increasing urban problems and the impact of the aggression along our border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. The people of non-industrialized countries continue to slide into poverty, and this session should take that into account in its deliberations.
TSALA MESSI ANDRE, Secretary of State of Town Planning and Housing in charge of Land, Registration and Surveys of Cameroon: We have dedicated ourselves to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda through a set of programmes carried out under our policy of social reform and our establishment of an urban, environmental and managerial strategy. We have undertaken programmes concerning the following areas: poverty; urban strategy; management and protection of the environment; governance; and health, fertility and nutrition.
The declaration on cities and human settlements to be adopted at this special session will send a strong signal to governments, prompting them to implement the Habitat Agenda at the local, national, regional and international levels. We hope that the spirit of Istanbul will win the day in consideration of the draft. It should refer to the effective contribution by developed countries of 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) for development assistance, as well as the support of the international community in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS.
The outcome document should call for the creation of an intergovernmental forum to discuss guidelines for enacting the decentralization process, and harness international solidarity on the issues. In order to achieve the objectives of the Habitat Agenda, it would be highly desirable to integrate -- into an international initiative to combat poverty -- the manufacture of housing units, the restoration of unplanned units, and the provision of social services. Concrete measures for overcoming the obstacles encountered since Istanbul should also be highlighted.
LAURENT NKUSI, Minister for Lands, Human Resettlement and Environmental Protection of Rwanda: The Istanbul Conference took place when our country was emerging from genocide, which not only saw 1 million Rwandan people killed, but also resulted in the total destruction of our socio-economic infrastructure. The tragedy seriously disrupted the whole shelter and human settlements sector. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the international community for its continuing support to my Government in the rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.
Our country has made some progress in implementing the Habitat goals. The Government’s central focus in this regard is shelter, social development and eradication of poverty, environmental management, governance and international cooperation. In Rwanda, there are still about 2 million people living in makeshift structures such as plastic sheeting. This is the part of Rwandan population that was not supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). My Government reiterates that it was premature for the UNHCR to phase out its operations while there are people still living in such a difficult situation. More returnees are still coming from neighbouring countries. If this problem is not adequately addressed, it may turn into another humanitarian crisis.
Since 1994, my Government has faced the challenge of returning and resettling over 3 million nationals. The task ahead is to ensure their sustainable socio-economic reintegration. Our country is in the process of reviewing its land policy and law to ensure equitable land ownership and management. In the areas of social development and eradication of poverty, major developments include cross-subsidization of social services and enacting laws that are tailored towards assisting the poorest. Environmental degradation has been severely exacerbated by genocide. The Government has undertaken reforestation programmes, protection of national parks, soil conservation, and waste and water management.
MOHAMMAD AL-SARAWI, Chairman of the Board and Director-General of the Environment Public Authority of Kuwait: Our Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to housing, health care and education. Since independence, Kuwait has provided housing and adequate living condition to its citizens. The State has provided nearly 62,000 housing units, and further projects are being undertaken.
Among Kuwait’s initiatives is the social security system, which allows citizens to have a dignified retirement. We attach particular importance to environmental issues and have elaborated a national committee to deal with such problems. The relevant agency has also been entrusted with dealing with the serious environmental problems caused by the Iraqi invasion, including clouds of smoke and lakes of oil. We hope that Kuwaiti demands for compensation will be accepted so that those problems can be dealt with.
Meeting the goals of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) requires significant effort, given the current international context. Israel is violating United Nations resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention by creating new settlements, as well as by demolishing the houses of Palestinians and confiscating their lands. We ask the international community to exert pressure to force Israel to abide by relevant international law. We hope that the world community and international financial institutions will be able to complete their efforts to implement the Habitat Agenda.
ABDESSALAM OULD MOHAMED SALEH, Commissioner for Human Rights, Poverty Reduction and Social Integration of Mauritania: Mastery of urban development, access to housing, in particular for the poorest, have been major problems of developing countries. These traditional challenges have been compounded by the challenge of globalization and the need to create cities that advance the national economy and attract foreign investment.
Hopefully, this special session will serve as a starting point for a balanced urban development that takes into account the urgent need to combat poverty. Mauritania has experienced a devastating drought, which has strained the infrastructure and the environment and created significant pockets of marginalization. Thus, we are implementing programmes aimed at improving the basic infrastructure and ensuring that the poor benefit from social services. This policy has succeeded in curbing poverty, which, according to the goals set out in a new national strategy, should be eliminated by 2015.
A 10-year programme for urban development has also been evolved. It is based on restructuring the urban balance; eliminating marginalized housing; integrating poor neighbourhoods; establishing urban plans that include the creation of sanitary conditions; and involving all citizens in decision-making. These aims will be supported by a programme of professional training that focuses on women and on young, unemployed individuals. It is an innovative policy whose promising results should make it possible to eliminate marginalized housing areas throughout the country.
PEDRO PADILLA TONOS (Dominican Republic): To place housing on the development agenda is a great challenge for my country, because of the impact it has on the quality of life. Latin America and the Caribbean is the most highly urbanized region in the developing world. The exercise of democracy and good governance is made more difficult by lack of housing, basic services and security. Those shortages become tragic in cases of natural disasters or external events, such as external debt, the increase of oil prices and the migration of thousands of dispossessed.
My country has not been spared. A large population is concentrated in poverty belts around cities. Poverty has very deep roots. Hundreds of thousands not only in rural areas and among indigenous people are very poor. Poverty is also emerging in the main cities, where there is a lack of food, education, housing, health, basic services and security. Children have no schools to go to and no books or meals. Women are left by the wayside. This illustrates the gap between words and reality in this age of globalization.
Paying this social debt should be the first objective of any government. That is the way my Government sees it. It is, therefore, involved in a programme to combat poverty with emphasis on housing construction for low-income families. To attain our objectives, national efforts are not enough. International cooperation is required. It is urgent to evaluate the measures adopted at
Habitat II and to implement additional steps.
DON MACKAY (New Zealand): The core Habitat principles of sustainable development, good urban governance and adequate shelter for all currently underpin New Zealand government policy. New Zealanders are, for the most part, well housed. We are a nation of homeowners -– over 70 per cent of all our permanent dwellings were owner-occupied in 1996. Problems of inadequate or overcrowded housing are infrequent and difficult to measure.
While 85 per cent of the population live in urban areas and towns, we are heavily dependent on our rural economy for our ongoing prosperity. Given this complex and co-dependent relationship, the Government is particularly concerned to preserve and enrich the linkages between our urban and rural settlements.
The Habitat Agenda is also of relevance to our wider region. Already, many of our development partners are beginning to experience problems associated with rapid urbanization, including growing pollution and income inequality, as well as increasing problems with access to adequate sanitation and clean water. Issues related to use and ownership of land also continue to pose challenges. We hope that Habitat will continue to consider the unique human settlements development challenges faced by many Pacific island countries. To be a truly effective and credible advocate, Habitat must focus on core areas of expertise, and coordinate with other agencies to ensure that human settlements issues are mainstreamed into others’ activities. The recent establishment of the Habitat Task Management System is a valuable step in this regard.
HUSEIN ZIVALJ (Bosnia and Herzegovina): We have had to deal with a large number of human settlements issues. Namely, during the 1992-1995 war, more than 2 million people were forced out of their homes, and very often entire towns and villages were forcibly emptied of their inhabitants. Many of the housing units were burned or otherwise completely destroyed. A number of cities, including the capital, were under siege for more than three years.
When the war ended in November 1995, our country was faced with a disastrous human settlements situation. In addition, some 3 million mines still pose a very serious threat, especially to children. With the help of the international community, about 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons have returned to their pre-war homes. Regrettably, more than 1 million such persons have not been able to enjoy their right to return. Apart from security concerns, the lack of housing units, destroyed infrastructure, lack of job opportunities due to destruction of industrial facilities, and the absence of schools and universities all represent obstacles to return.
Despite the challenges facing us, we offer our unreserved commitment and readiness to take our full share of responsibility in cooperating and working together with the international community towards our common goal –- restoration of the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious character of human settlements that once adorned Bosnia and Herzegovina.
OUSMANE MOUTARI (Niger): Among the most significant measures undertaken by the Niger with respect to implementation of the Habitat Agenda was adoption in 1998 of the National Habitat Policy, following an intensive process that involved both the public and private sectors. It is built on the following six strategic pillars: general provisions; legislative and regulatory measures; institutional measures; habitat financing; operational measures; and technology.
Towards these goals, a national housing plan has been evolved which provides for the development of 20,000 homes in the nation’s communes. Several regulations and laws have also been adopted, institutional measures to restructure financial institutions are being formulated, and a habitat bank has been founded. Implementation of strategies for financing, operational measures and technology remains unfulfilled. The question of financing is of utmost concern for us, given our severe housing needs and correlating weak responses. It requires special attention by the international community.
We may not have slums, but we have unplanned settlements, which include shantytowns, and the problem of financing for operations remains unresolved. Our goal with respect to rural settlements is to equip our villages with 1,000 health centres, 1,000 wells, and 100 dams per year to enable them to improve the living conditions and increase production. On the global level, the debt burden should be cancelled and resources should be redirected to implementation of the Habitat Agenda. At the same time, Habitat should receive the necessary resources.
Monsignor FRANCIS CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer of the Holy See: With the current meeting, we bring to a close the five-year review cycle of those United Nations conferences and summits which have had such a profound effect on our understanding of sustainable human development. To answer questions of what we have learned and what our legacy will be, we must turn to the very first principle of the Rio Conference on environment and development, which states that “human beings are at the centre of our concerns for sustainable development”.
The Holy See welcomes the adoption of the declaration on cities and other human settlements in the new millennium during this special session. This declaration will reaffirm delegates’ commitment to recognize the important role of the family as the basic unit of society, to eradicate poverty, safeguard the environment, respect human dignity and promote and protect human rights.
However, the success of this special session cannot overshadow the fact that so many people remain homeless or -- as victims of armed conflict, natural disaster or economic turmoil -- have been forced from their homes, their livelihoods and, in many cases, separated from their families. This special session must spark a renewal of the world’s commitment to a solidarity which recognizes the benefits that come from a realization of the common good and a concern for the dignity of each member of the human family.
ULRICH BOHNER, Deputy Head of the Secretariat of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, on behalf of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe: The Council of Europe’s major success in drawing up a set of common principles of local self-government all over Europe was the adoption and opening for signature of the European Charter of Local Self-government. Since 1994, local and regional authorities of Europe have been represented in the Council of Europe by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, which is the broadest forum for discussion of local and regional democracy.
In order to allow local authorities to manage “a substantial share of public affairs”, the European Charter provides for a number of principles which must be respected by member States. The Charter also defines what may be called the structural conditions of self-government: the existence of councils elected by direct suffrage, direct participation of citizens in public affairs, and the application of the principle of subsidiarity in the division of powers and responsibilities between different tiers of government. This principle enables elected bodies at local level to discharge their responsibilities in close proximity to the people they serve.
Since the fall of communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe, the Charter of Local Self-government has been the legal instrument which has inspired eastern European governments in their reform of local administration.
Over the past two years, the Congress has followed the work of Habitat relating to the preparation of a draft World Charter on Local Self-government. Unfortunately, the draft has encountered a number of difficulties. The Congress is of the view that it is important to continue to support the ongoing worldwide dialogue on the principle of subsidiarity and good governance at local level. This World Charter should be seen as an instrument designed to promote sustainable development of our municipalities and will, if adopted one day, no doubt contribute to strengthening citizens’ participation in decision-making process at the local level, to developing local economy and to improving social cohesion.
The Congress is concerned with the improvement of life in our cities, with social cohesion, with participation and community development, with good quality architecture and environment, among other things. The work on urban policies has its guiding light in the European Urban Charter.
VERONICA SUTHERLAND, Deputy Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the Commonwealth Secretariat: We reaffirm our commitment to the Habitat Agenda. To help implement the goals set out in that text, the Commonwealth governments have formed a Consultative Group on Human Settlements. The Group has, in turn, defined six major objectives, including espousing a position on corruption, removing systematic discrimination against women and promoting security of housing tenure.
We promote the sharing of ideas, experiences and lessons learned in the area of settlements and will facilitate the free exchange of ideas. South-South networking will be given prominent attention in this regard. We also support capacity-building efforts and will actively support efforts to promote good governance.
The goal of adequate shelter for all by 2015 is one of the greatest challenges facing the international community. Given the necessary determination of purpose and concerted political will, the resilience and cohesion of the Commonwealth can ensure a response to address this challenge.
DION SWINKELS, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: The outcome documents of the Istanbul Conference held the promise of real energy channelled into redressing the continuing deterioration of conditions of shelter and human settlements. We must ask ourselves now whether much has changed. For our part, at the international level, we have developed several new tools to enhance the support by Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in emergency situations. These include field assessment and coordination teams, emergency response units, and a disaster-management information system.
Work is now under way on International Disaster Response Law. The essence of the relevant study, to be completed in mid-2002, centres on the need for a clear understanding of the legal framework within which disaster assistance is provided. There must be a visible and usable framework that enables mechanisms to respond to natural and technological disasters. It must be sensitive to the needs and wishes of both the providing and the receiving States, as well as to international and community organizations. It must also respect the needs of the people whose right to dignity, and life itself, has been ruined.
The International Federation’s regional and country delegations throughout the world, in cooperation with the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, will be working actively to advocate for better responses to issues like housing and construction standards. With this in mind, we commit to continuing the work entrusted to us at Istanbul. Our mission in this respect is to mobilize the power of humanity for disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation and response at local, national and international levels.
ILEANA ECHEGOYEN, Secretary of Housing of Puerto Rico: Our traditional city centres have been losing inhabitants due to suburbanization, which has affected our natural resources because of the need to develop new infrastructure. The alliance with the private sector and local government is important in the objective of saving urban centres, which generate economic, social and cultural development. In expanding the supply of housing to include those most in need of support, my Government has established a programme that focuses on taking over common spaces and producing safe areas. The programme also provides job training so that the unemployed can contribute to the development of the community.
The Government has decided to promote the construction and/or rehabilitation of 100,000 housing units over the next few years, half of which are for the low-income group. A programme has been developed for subsidy of mortgage payments. To lower the cost of development of housing of social value, we have reduced the cost of the private sector in this area by reducing the income tax for developers and builders of such housing. Together with programmes for transportation, this will revitalize orderly growth.
Vibrant, safe and economically strong cities are the key to preserving rural areas and their agricultural lands and the environment.
CARLYLE CORBIN, Minister of State for External Affairs of the United States Virgin Islands: The convening of this special session coincides with the beginning of the hurricane season in our region. This has become increasingly significant to the sustainability of the human settlements in small island countries. The Habitat Agenda has called for the development of norms and building standards based on hazard and vulnerability assessments, as well as the development of disaster-resistant construction methods. In 2000, my Government successfully completed a series of hazard-mitigation flood control projects, as well as major road reconstruction, and has commenced construction of a new waste water treatment plant.
My Government supports the draft declaration that will emerge from this special session, and also endorses the Santiago Declaration adopted last October, with specific emphasis on the provision that “international cooperation agencies should consider increasing their contributions to activities in the field of human settlements”. The same provision states that the United Nations and other international bodies should coordinate technical assistance initiatives at the regional and subregional levels. We would urge that the associate member governments of the regional commissions be made eligible for such assistance.
Amid our substantial efforts at post-disaster recovery, my Government has always been clear that the welfare of our people is paramount, and adequate supply of housing is of the utmost importance. We have embarked on a five-year community development programme to meet the medium- and long-term housing needs of our people, with the revitalization of existing housing stock and the construction of new single-family units -– all consistent with prevailing hurricane-resistant standards.
All those efforts at the national level could be effectively neutralized due to the increasing vulnerability of our islands to natural disasters, in particular hurricanes, which have become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change precipitated by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. We, therefore, call on the international community, in the words of the Millennium Declaration, “to adopt in all our environmental actions a new ethic of conservation and stewardship”, and to make every effort to embark on the required reduction in greenhouse emissions as we approach the tenth anniversary of the Earth Summit.
SHARON CAPELING-ALAKIJA, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers: As the volunteer arm of the United Nations system, we have embraced the urban challenge. Shortly after Habitat II, we launched our Strategy 2000, which identified urban development as one of three priority areas. We have worked to implement the Habitat Agenda by mobilizing United Nations volunteers, as well as by promoting and supporting different types of volunteerism in developing countries.
Making cities work for people has, in recent years, become an even more critical part of our mission. Many volunteers are hard at work in cities and towns, especially in inner cities and shantytowns. In Bulgaria, Guatemala and Nepal, among other places, volunteers with urban planning and architectural expertise have dedicated themselves to revitalizing parts of old cities by restoring buildings, streets and parks.
All of us concerned about conditions in today’s increasingly cramped urban areas would be well advised to pause and recognize volunteering for what it is: the “v” in development. I would like to invite you to pick up a copy of a brand new publication that the United Nations Volunteers is releasing at this special session, appropriately titled “Caring Cities”. In it, you will see a wide range of examples of what individual volunteers can accomplish and what we have achieved to improve the conditions in cities since Habitat II.
LITHU MUSYIMI-OGANA, Regional Director, African Centre for Empowerment, Gender and Advocacy: With 100 million people in the world living with no shelter at all, nearly 70 million children living in the streets, and many millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, we still have a long way to go. Five years into the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, however, we are better positioned to map out ways of accelerating its implementation.
A renewed commitment is required to confront the new challenges of increasing poverty, HIV/AIDS pandemic, debt burden, globalization and poor rural infrastructure. Further, existing and new manmade disasters continue to make the goal of attaining adequate shelter elusive. This has serious negative effects on women and children. Our organization has been in the forefront of advocating gender parity in decision-making structures. The Centre has also been involved in monitoring the implementation of various United Nations agreements.
Accelerated implementation of the Habitat Agenda can occur through the formulation of a new national policy or review, accompanied by a comprehensive national action plan. Participation of civil society and communities in a gender-balanced manner is also important, we well as the upgrading or creation of a focal point. Gender mainstreaming that is geared towards reducing gender disparities in existing structures, and specific budgetary allocations for the implementation of priority issues, are also essential.
ANNA FALU, Vice-President of Habitat International Coalition: Habitat I in 1976 set the theme of housing and cities for the world. Istanbul, 20 years after Vancouver, was a time to share experiences. It should be noted that at Istanbul the non-governmental organizations, the social groupings, local governments and labour unions enjoyed, through our struggles, a recognition which today is challenged. Today, we find ourselves with a major setback because of weakening of the language in the final document. Excluding the voice of organized civil society and local governments sets a dangerous precedent. We are the builders of cities. It is difficult to endorse this meeting.
We are facing a world where globalization, privatization of services, withdrawal by the State from its responsibilities more and more affect the critical condition of the poorest, in a scenario dominated by the market. This reflects the cynicism of certain governments which, in their constitutions, endorse human rights. They discuss things such as the right to housing, secure tenure, the right to inheritance and property. Those rights affect especially the women of the world.
We are facing critical situations. There are 1.6 billion people living in precarious housing, 70 per cent of whom are women. Millions of people live in the street. There are also forced evictions throughout the world. Such actions are violations of human rights. Scores live in occupied territories or are displaced because of conflict. Simple land speculations also involve situations of human suffering, in particular, affecting women and children.
There is an urgent need for funds for housing, on an equal footing with health. Transparent subsidy policies are needed. A substantive part of the resources from developed countries should be provided for that end. We are determined to participate actively in the process. We will not have true governance without recognizing the role of local governments. We must leave rhetoric behind and start working together for a sustained future. We need to give fresh significance to the meaning of “solidarity of the international community”.
ANDREW KAILEMBO, Secretary General of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU): We have, for many years, contributed to the formulation and implementation of policies to improve human settlements in the context of sustainable development worldwide. To a large extent, the aspirations of the Istanbul Declaration have not been fulfilled, as a result of lack of determined measures. Even the commitments of Habitat I to treat shelter and services as priority issues have received little attention, and the social sector is still considered a peripheral welfare activity. In this context, governments have actually reduced public expenditure.
Effective implementation of the decisions of Habitat II is the key to change, yet during the past five years, many more people have become homeless as a result of civil wars, droughts, famines and unsustainable development strategies adopted by many governments in the name of poverty- and unemployment-reduction. Meanwhile, the world’s population is urbanizing much faster than it is growing, owing largely to shrinking economic opportunities and the lack of amenities in rural areas. Rising urbanization leads to further exploitation of unorganized labour, including child labour, and the waste of natural resources.
The construction industry has an enormous potential to stimulate economic growth and employment, but it requires a proper infrastructure for the protection of workers’ rights. Governments should set up an urban poverty-eradication fund to deal with growing urbanization, unemployment and homelessness, particularly among young workers. Carefully targeted public and private investment in infrastructure, including housing and land development, can provide low-cost quality housing. The international trade union community hopes that a commitment to human rights will include the right to human security, which implies the rights to work, food and nutrition, education, health and shelter for all.
SHEELA PATEL, President of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres/Asia Women and Shelter Network: Cities already house many of the world’s poor and this number will increase dramatically in the next few decades. Evidence from around the world suggests that most cities are unable to grapple with increased numbers of their citizens who are housed in slums and shantytowns. Yet, these problems cannot be wished away.
Rather than waiting for governments to do something about the poor, the communities of the poor in these countries have gotten together and formed national federations. They have also begun to save money, collect information about themselves and create solutions to their problems. We urge our governments to explore new and innovative ways to develop partnerships with communities and to explore the rich resources that lie in integrated and well-knit communities.
The poor in cities need access to secure housing and basic infrastructure as they struggle for survival, and national governments need to assist cities to develop laws and regulations to do that. Habitat is a people’s agenda. Can governments and those committed to assisting in development support communities achieve solutions that work for the poor?
LARA BIANCO, Vice-President, Women and Shelter Network, Latin American and Caribbean Region: Women do not simply want to survive. For every man whose life is spent in poverty, there are five women in the same condition. It is estimated that women hold only 1 per cent of the world’s property. We are excluded from congresses, central and local government. At the same time, we are affected by conflicts throughout our lives, and we look after other family members, including the victims of war. Only 14 per cent of ministerial positions worldwide are held by women. Meanwhile, we represent 70 per cent of the world’s displaced population.
Women want boys and girls to enjoy the rights called for in the Habitat Agenda. We want security over land and housing and property, and we want to be involved in decision-making at all levels, as well as the right to live without violence. Governments should be aware of the setbacks we face, as well as the fact that the principles affirmed at Habitat II have not been implemented.
We dream of sustainable and equitable cities, whose houses offer true possibilities for a high-quality life, certain that we could not be evicted by conflict, the government, or husband. We search for cities where we have the right to walk freely and express our opinions, where we can work on an equal footing with men. We want to know that, in our absence, our boys and girls will be properly cared for. We want to live to old age -- in part, thanks to funds diverted from military expenditures to health and housing.
TASEMIH UYAR, Vice-President of the Youth for Habitat International Network: Living in mostly urban areas, youth and children constitute one of the largest groups adversely affected by unsustainable urban development patterns. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that youth, with their energy, creativity, idealism and passion, have the potential to help overcome the problems we face today and tomorrow.
Youth participation in decision-making processes has not been effective enough. We call on all governments and other partners to intensify efforts to enhance the role of youth in decision-making processes. Through the establishment and support of youth councils or parliaments, cooperation between youth, civil society organizations and governments at all levels should be further developed.
We are deeply concerned that the declaration on cities and other human settlements does not refer in a substantial way to concepts of sustainability and intergenerational justice. It fails to acknowledge the rights and interests of today’s youth and future generations. We call upon governments to fulfil their commitment to the youth-related articles of the Habitat Agenda.
Rights of Reply
YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), exercising his right of reply in connection with the statement of the representative of Armenia at the close of yesterday’s meeting, thanked the representative for highlighting the conflict around Nagorno- Karabakh and the huge amount of destruction in that territory of his country. It was not the result of a natural disaster but of military invasion of the sovereign Azerbaijan State. He endorsed the Armenian representative’s words that the international community was well aware of who was the real aggressor.
The matter had been addressed by several Security Council resolutions (822 (1993), 853 (1993), 874 (1993) and 884 (1993)) that unequivocally reconfirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of his country and demanded the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of occupying forces. It went without saying that the Habitat Agenda would be unattainable without having peace restored in every region of the world. Azerbaijan stood for just and lasting peace in the region, but not by neglecting its highest national interests. Therefore, the truth should not be ignored.
Having occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian force expanded military operations and occupied seven major administrative districts. Thus, 20 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan was still under occupation. Everything had been destroyed in that territory: 30,000 Azerbaijani citizens perished, more than 200,000 were wounded. Thousands were captured. About 1 million citizens have lost their land, and have lived in tents for nine years.
ASHOT KOCHAZIAN (Armenia), also speaking in right of reply, said that as had been stated on several occasions by high-ranking officials of his country, Armenia supported resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, with the participation of all interested parties. He said the United Nations resolution referred to had not mentioned Armenia. He regretted that the Azerbaijani delegation had once again demonstrated a lack of political will, reinforcing distrust and animosity towards Armenia and callously misinterpreting its role and responsibility in the final solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh situation. Falsification of facts had become quite usual in Azerbaijan’s presentations.
He said that as a consequence of an ongoing blockade by Azerbaijan, his compatriots had left more than 92,000 houses and flats, as well as their savings, in Azerbaijan and had not been compensated. For its part, Armenia had allocated some $110 million in compensation for the Azerbaijanis who had left Armenia. He then noted a government initiative to care for those affected by the inter-ethnic conflict of 1988-1992 and on post-conflict rehabilitation of territories bordering Armenia.
The right to adequate housing –- which was set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- was firmly supported by his Government. He strongly recommend that the representatives of Azerbaijan concentrate more on the agenda of this very important session and make their positive contribution to its work.
Mr. ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that the Armenian delegation had attempted to mislead the Assembly. One example was a document he had before him: Security Council resolution 822 (1993), which expressed serious concern at the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here was a pure example of the naming of Armenia as part of the conflict. The same formulation was used in General Assembly resolution 49-13 (1994).
Statement by Chairman of Thematic Committee
The Chairman of the Thematic Committee, SLAHEDDINE BELAID (Tunisia), said the Committee was a major innovation in the history of the Assembly. It had done its work perfectly and had fully achieved the goal of relating the history of human settlements and the implementation of the Habitat Agenda since Istanbul. Representations had showed how the Agenda had been implemented in a specific way in 16 countries.
During the first session, on housing and basic services, housing strategies in countries that included South Africa, Egypt, Colombia, Senegal and India had been examined. The role of community and private sector participation had been highlighted. It had been evident that the primary objective of the Habitat Agenda, housing for all, was something more than a slogan. The objective was being carried out in many countries.
In the second session, the Committee heard from cities from different parts of the world, such as Dar-es-Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania, Stockholm in Sweden, and Tsjeng-Du in China, among others.
The third session had been dedicated to urban governance. It was clear that countries from South and North are looking for ways to improve the governance of their municipalities, and that important lessons could be learned from each other's experiences. It was also clear that commitments made in Istanbul had not remained a dead letter.
The last session highlighted a multi-sectoral theme: eradication of poverty. Cases derived from three different continents had highlighted the importance of financial incentives and the partnership between government and community organizations on finance, among other things.
He could not give a full account of the range and quality of the debate. Participants had demonstrated that the United Nations was the best forum for exchange of experiences and best practices.
The Assembly’s President, HARRI HOLKERI (Finland), then suspended the meeting.
Resumption of Session
When the special session resumed, the Assembly turned to the report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the twenty-fifth SPECIAL SESSION, contained in documents A/S-25/AC.l/L.1 and Addenda 1 to 5 as well as document A/S-25/AC.1/L.2.
The Rapporteur of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, ALIREZA ESAMAEILZADEH (Iran), introducing the report, said the Committee had been responsible for elaborating a final document and had devoted three meetings and a number of informal meetings to that end. He added oral revisions to the documents before the Assembly.
Action on Draft Declaration
The Assembly adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution containing the Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium, contained in document A/S-25/AC.1/L.2. The draft resolution was recommended by the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole for adoption by the special session.
Explanation of Vote after Vote
AARON JACOB (Israel) said it was in the sprit of cooperation and goodwill and its commitment to the special session’s success that Israel had joined the consensus. He welcomed the inclusion of a paragraph regarding international terrorism. As proved a week ago, in Tel Aviv, terrorism in populated areas, and anywhere in the world, was an issue of international concern. The international community should take concerted action against the heinous crime. He entered his reservations on 53 bis, ter and quart of the Declaration.
MICHAEL SOUTHWICK (United States) said he was pleased to have joined consensus on the Declaration. He had worked hard to help achieve it, because he believed that the mission of Habitat was very important. While he was pleased with the substantive outcome of the Conference document, including the reference to terrorism, he very much regretted that, once again, a United Nations conference on an important matter had been politicized, thereby robbing the session of its focus and consuming an enormous amount of time.
He said that, hopefully, in the future, participants could find a better way to do business. He thanked the General Assembly President for his steadfast, imaginative and dedicated efforts to achieve consensus. Let no one doubt that the success of the session was due to his efforts.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said he wished to express his delegation’s appreciation to the President in connection with the adoption of the Declaration. He also extended his appreciation to the Chairman of the Preparatory Committee. He was pleased to see that the Assembly had succeeded in dealing with the issues at hand and that it had been achieved by consensus. In that connection, he stressed the need to thank the “Group of 77” developing countries and China for their constant efforts.
IHAB GAMALEIDIN (Egypt) said that Egypt’s reservation regarding the paragraph on various forms of family made in the Istanbul Declaration were still valid.
MEHDI MIRAFZAL (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries, thanked the Assembly’s President for bringing the meeting to a successful conclusion. He also thanked the members of the Bureau and the Bureau of the Committee of the Whole.
ABDULAZIZ AL-BADI (Saudi Arabia) congratulated everyone for having concluded the special session. He reiterated reservations expressed at the Istanbul Conference, reserving his position on the items which contradicted the precepts of Islam and the laws in effect in Saudi Arabia.
General Assembly President HARRI HOLKERI reiterated his sincere thanks for the hard work that had been done in the five-year review of the Habitat Agenda. He was particularly delighted with the constructive and cooperative spirit that had prevailed throughout the session and the very difficult negotiations of the Declaration document. He thanked the able Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, as well as the Bureaus of the Committee of the Whole and the Thematic Committee. That was a difficult task, but it was done well. At this late hour, he would refrain from longer speeches. He wished everyone a nice weekend.
Upon conclusion of the session, he invited representatives to observe a minute of silence.
Summary of Declaration
Renewing the commitments made at the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), the representatives of governments reconfirmed the goals and principles of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world, as set in the Habitat Agenda adopted at that forum.
Welcoming the progress in implementing the outcome of Habitat II, the participants of the special session recognized the gaps and obstacles in the way of developing human settlements, taking note with great concern of the current conditions of human settlements worldwide. Although governments and their Habitat Agenda partners have continued efforts to fulfil their commitments, widespread poverty remains the core obstacle and environmental conditions need significant improvement in many countries. Critically, the majority of people living in poverty still lack legal security of tenure for their dwellings, while others lack basic shelter. Thus, serious impediments to sustainable human settlements development still persist.
The participants of the session also noted with concern that one of the basic obstacles to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda is the discrepancy between commitments made in Istanbul and the political will to fulfil them. Among other obstacles they recognized financial constraints; the gaps in urban policies; metropolitan concentrations that expand over several administrative units; an inadequate supply of shelter; and limited economic, technological and institutional capacities at all levels of government, particularly in the developing and the least developed countries.
In the face of these challenges, the representatives of governments affirmed their commitment to overcoming the obstacles in implementing the Habitat Agenda and pledged their efforts to accelerate their efforts to ensure its full and effective implementation. Determined to give new momentum to efforts to improve the human settlements condition, they set out further initiatives for achieving those ends and invited the international community and people from all countries and from all walks of life to join in the renewed dedication to the shared vision for a more just and equitable world.
Reaffirming that the family is the basic unit of society, the Declaration states that it is entitled to receive comprehensive protection and support. The document also recognizes that in different cultural, political and social systems, various forms of the family exist. Human settlements planning should take into account the constructive role of the family in the design, development and management of such settlements. Society should facilitate, as appropriate, all necessary conditions for its integration, reunification, preservation, improvement and protection within adequate shelter, and with access to basic services and a sustainable livelihood. The participants of the special session also resolved to encourage social and economic policies, designed to meet the housing needs of families and their individual members, with particular attention to the needs of children; and to promote changes in attitudes, structures, policies and other practices relating to gender in order to eliminate all obstacles to human dignity and equality in family and society.
The governments, the United Nations and other international organizations were invited to strengthen their support to poverty eradication and sustainable human settlements development, which, in turn, requires not only renewed political will, but also the mobilization and allocation of new and additional resources at both the national and international levels. The Declaration urged the strengthening of international assistance to developing countries in their efforts to alleviate poverty, including by creating an enabling environment to facilitate the integration of the developing countries into the world economy, improving their market access, facilitating the flow of financial resources and implementing all initiatives regarding debt relief.
Resolved to raise awareness about human settlements challenges and solutions through full and open dissemination of information, the participants also resolved to empower the poor and the vulnerable through such measures as promoting greater security of tenure and better access to information and good practices, including awareness of legal rights. They further resolved to empower local authorities, non-governmental organizations and other Habitat Agenda partners, within the legal framework and according to the conditions of each country, to play a more effective role in shelter provision and in sustainable human settlements development. That can be achieved through decentralization of responsibilities, policy-management, decision-making authority and sufficient resources, where possible including local revenue collection authority, through participation and local democracy as well as through international cooperation and partnership.
Addressing the need to ensure gender equality and promote the role of women and youth in decision-making, the Declaration encourages authorities within metropolitan areas to develop mechanisms to foster various instruments to achieve more equitable, ordered and functional cities. The participants resolved to build capacities and networks to enable all partners to play an effective role in shelter and human settlements development. The management of urbanization processes requires strong and accountable public institutions, able to provide an effective framework in which everybody has access to basic services. They also supported work of volunteers and community-based organizations.
The participants committed themselves to strengthening existing financial mechanisms and identifying and developing appropriate innovative approaches for financing shelter and human settlements development at all levels. They also resolved to increased and equal access for all people to open, efficient, effective and appropriate housing finance, to support savings mechanisms in the informal sector and to strengthen regulatory and legal frameworks at all appropriate levels. The countries' representatives also resolved to promote the upgrading of slums and regularization of squatter settlements. In the interest of affordable housing for the poor, they noted the need to promote cooperation among countries for popularizing the use of adequate low-cost and sustainable building materials and appropriate technology for the construction of low-cost houses and services within the reach of the poor.
They also resolved to take further effective measures to remove obstacles to the full implementation of the Habitat Agenda as well as obstacles to the realization of the rights of the peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation. They resolved to expand and strengthen the protection of civilians in conformity with international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in times of war, of 12 August 1949, including article 49 thereof. They further resolved to strengthen international cooperation, including the burden sharing in, and the coordination of humanitarian assistance to, countries hosting refugees and to help all refugees and displaced persons to return voluntarily to their homes.
Reiterating the need to integrate the local Agenda 21 process in the global plan of action for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, the participants also reiterated that governments, local authorities and other partners should regularly monitor and evaluate their own performances, identify and disseminate best practices and apply shelter and human settlements development indicators.
The Declaration also recognizes that those living in poverty are in fact rich in innovative faculties. Noting the importance of microcredit in eradicating poverty and suggesting following success stories of some countries in this field, the participants encourage governments to strengthen the institutional frameworks by which it would be possible to extend microcredit to those living in poverty, particularly women, without collateral or security.
The document also addresses preparedness for natural and human-made disasters; implementation of post-disaster programmes for the affected settlements; the need to undertake administrative and legislative reforms to support the people's efforts to produce affordable shelter; proactive planning of land supply to promote the efficient functioning of land markets; the need to eradicate legal and social barriers to the equitable access to land; actions to
address the impact of HIV/AIDS in human settlements; the issues of urban crime and violence; action against international terrorism; access to safe drinking water; and promotion of sustainable production and consumption patterns in human settlements.
In conclusion, it reiterates that international cooperation takes on added significance and importance in the light of increased globalization and interdependence of the world economy. It reconfirms the role of the Commission on Human Settlements and Habitat in advocating, promoting, monitoring and assessing progress made in implementing the goal of adequate shelter for all. The participants support the establishment of the Habitat Agenda Task Manager System, designed to allow better monitoring and mutual reinforcement of actions taken by international agencies in support of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. They also reaffirm their commitment to international cooperation as an essential element to implement the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda.
* *** *