6 June 2001


Press Briefing


As 1.2 billion people were without adequate shelter, the objective of the Habitat Agenda remained elusive, Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing today.

Ms. Tibaijuka was joined by Ambassador German Garcia Duran (Colombia), Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the 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) (Istanbul, 1996) and Chairman of the session's Committee of the Whole. 

Sue Markham, Spokesperson for General Assembly President Harri Holkeri, introduced the participants.

Ms. Tibaijuka said that the Secretary-General, in his address to the session this morning, had raised the crucial issue of bringing shelter back into the United Nations strategy for fighting poverty.  While progress had been made, much remained to be done.  The delivery of shelter would not come about by decree alone, but would require investment at different levels. 

Several delegations, she said, had called for the honouring of past commitments regarding international development assistance, which would be one of the important sources of funding to break the vicious cycle in which the developing countries found themselves. 

Negotiations, said Ambassador Garcia, were ongoing with regard to the draft declaration on cities and other human settlements in the new millennium, the main outcome document to be adopted at the end of the session.  The declaration would give political strength to the process of implementing the Habitat Agenda, which had not been adequate so far.

As some sensitive issues could not be completed during the negotiations in the Preparatory Committee, informal consultations were continuing during the session itself, he said.  Understanding had been reached yesterday on the inclusion of the phrase "good governance", which some delegations felt implied that their particular form of governance was not good.  Regarding official development assistance, agreement was reached on the inclusion of a text on the use of 0.7 per cent of the gross national product of developed countries for assistance to developing countries. 

However, he continued, some differences remained with regard to durable solutions to the external debt of all developing countries and the use of certain expressions and phrases.  Negotiations were also ongoing on the full and equal access of women to economic resources, including their right to inheritance and land ownership and the right to enter into contractual agreements.  There were also difficulties concerning the creation of a world solidarity fund for poverty eradication.  However, he was confident that understanding would prevail and that delegations would be moved to compromise and reach consensus around the few outstanding issues.

Asked to respond to comments by the United States on housing not being a human right, and that Habitat had an agenda that went above and beyond its given mandate, Ms. Tibaijuka said that different governments took different views.  The United States was taking the session seriously, considering that its Secretary for Housing would be addressing the session tomorrow. 

Mr. Garcia added that the Habitat Agenda had recognized the right to housing as a human right and that had not changed.  "If some delegations that had agreed to that in Istanbul did not agree with that now, that is their problem."

On concern by some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that they had been left out of the review process, Ms. Tibaijuka said that the Assembly had passed a resolution last December to accommodate Habitat partners in the special session.  She was not aware of NGOs being excluded, especially since the Assembly had this morning authorized an unprecedented number of them to speak at the session. 

Ms. Markham added that even the Assembly President had noted that the structure of the special session allowed for greater participation by representatives of local authorities and civil society.

Asked whether the draft declaration had been watered down, Ambassador Garcia said that the declaration was meant to build on the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda.  The elements included in the text were those deemed important to give an impetus to the process of implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

There had been some additional proposed language to the text, he continued.  One was a proposal by him to have a chapeau, in order to give the declaration an opening paragraph rather than entering directly into technical matters.  He had also submitted a proposal on the strengthening of both the Commission on Human Settlements as well as the Centre in Nairobi, which was necessary for the Centre to contribute to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. 

In addition, there were two proposals submitted by the "Group of 77" developing countries and China regarding occupied territories and refugees, he said.  Those would be discussed only after discussions on the rest of the text had been concluded.

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For information media. Not an official record.