8 June 2001


Press Briefing


The General Assembly’s special session had stimulated a successful international dialogue on how to further implement the Habitat Agenda adopted five years ago in Istanbul, Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.

Ms. Tibaijuka was joined at the press conference by German Garcia Duran (Colombia), Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the special session and Chairman of the session's Committee of the Whole.  Sue Markham, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President, Harry Holkeri (Finland), introduced the participants.

Ms. Tibaijuka said the Habitat Agenda -- adopted at the 1996 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements –- was a diverse one, dealing with the living environment.  Thus, it went beyond just housing and shelter.  The dialogue at the session, for example, had started with a meeting of mayors –- the people who actually managed settlements.  They had come to the United Nations and given their own advice on how progress could be made. 

There had also been an innovative Thematic Committee, meeting concurrently, which enhanced the international dialogue, she continued.  In that forum, issues such as governance, the environment, urban economies and slum upgrading had been discussed at length.  The purpose was to share experiences, because there was no single model for promoting the Habitat Agenda.

Ms. Tibaijuka went on to say that the problems of settlements were common to both rich and poor countries alike.  A city like New York had its fair share of problems, whether one was talking about traffic jams, environmental pollution, inadequate shelter or homelessness.  "So that is why we promote best practices”, she said.  “How are New York, Brasilia or Tokyo doing it?  How does London solve its problems?  How are cities like Nairobi or Lagos in the developing countries grappling with their problems?"  Common ground existed and the proof was in the 120 national reports.

That, continued Ms. Tibaijuka, demonstrated a willingness to share experiences.  Most of those reports were modest.  There was no country saying "we have no problems".  While many were recording the successes and gains, they were also acknowledging the challenges that remained.  The spirit had been one of, "how do we solve the problems together"?

Turning to the work of her own agency, she said its job was not one of building, but one of coordinating and monitoring.  Thus, two reports had been presented to the United Nations.  The first was a global one on human settlements, which was analytic.  The second was a “State of the World's Cities” report, a status document, which was the first of its kind and would be issued every two years to brief the international community.

Mr. Duran, addressing correspondents about the declaration, or outcome document of the special session, said considerable progress had been made.  Only one paragraph of the original declaration remained in brackets, which was the paragraph on local self-government.  The differences, however, were very minor,

and he believed that by later this afternoon the problem would be solved.  The declaration prepared by the Preparatory Committee for the special session was now more than 99 per cent adopted.

Mr. Duran said there were new elements, however, that had been proposed by the Chair.  One was on the strengthening of the Commission for Human Settlements, which was responsible for the political direction of Habitat and was the governing body.  The other proposal was for the strengthening of the Habitat Centre, which was the institution that executed policies agreed upon by the Commission.  There was no doubt that both needed strengthening.  That was why he had come up with the two proposals.  They were being debated right now and a contact group had been created. 

Mr. Duran said he had been informed just before coming to the briefing that there had been agreement on the final text for the two proposals, but there had not been enough time for him to see those texts.  At informal consultations this afternoon, he would propose that two new elements be adopted.  Since there had been agreement by all interested delegations participating in the contact group, he was sure the proposal would be endorsed at the informal consultations, and by the Committee of the Whole and the plenary.

Mr. Duran said another new element aimed to give the declaration a political framework and more force since, as it stood now, it looked like a technical document.  It had been proposed that a preamble be added to the draft.  That was being debated right now and positions were divided.  He hoped, nevertheless, that the proposal for the inclusion of a preamble would be adopted, because the text did not now look like an instrument to be adopted by heads of State and government and ministers.

Mr. Duran added that two other elements had been presented by the “Group of 77” developing countries since Monday.  One was a proposal on human settlements in territories under foreign occupation and also a paragraph on refugees.  Those issues were being debated extensively, and while no agreement had been reached, there was progress.  There was a positive attitude, and delegations, which had strongly opposed the proposals, were finding ways to address it.  Those proposals could find their way into the declaration "if we keep to agreed language".  He hoped that in the course of this afternoon those two problems would also be solved.

A correspondent wanted to know if there had any attempt to re-insert the language about the assertion of "a right to adequate shelter for all" that the United States had supposedly knocked out earlier.  Mr. Duran said that never happened and he believed the reference to the "right to adequate shelter" was somewhere in the declaration.  That "right", however, was in the Habitat Agenda and in the Istanbul Declaration.  The spirit of the Habitat Agenda on that "right" would be preserved.  There were no alterations and the Agenda was not being changed.  "What we are doing in this meeting is looking for ways to implement that agenda and by extension the right to adequate shelter", he said.

A correspondent then asked whether there was anything in the declaration that specifically reaffirmed the "right to adequate shelter".  Mr. Duran said he would have to look at the document.  The negotiations on the declaration were finished in February when the last Preparatory Committee met.  He said he had only focused on the elements that still required negotiation, which did not include the issue on the "right to adequate shelter".  He had therefore not looked at the elements that were adopted months ago. 

Mr. Duran apologized for not being able to furnish correspondents with the information they wanted, but assured them that nothing in the Habitat Agenda or the Istanbul Declaration was being changed.  "Our declaration at this session is to help in the implementation of the Agenda and not to change anything", he reiterated.

Ms. Markham drew attention to paragraph 9 of the declaration, which she said might answer their questions.

Noting that the special session would end today, a correspondent asked Mr. Duran for his personal view on what the future would hold.  The Chairman said he was very optimistic.  He believed the declaration would facilitate implementation of the Habitat Agenda throughout the world.

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For information media. Not an official record.