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DEFINING ISSUES

RIGHT TO HOUSING: The “right to adequate housing” emerged as one of the most contentious issues at PrepCom III. The relatively quick and easy resolution of this issue, brokered by a member of the Canadian delegation, momentarily lifted spirits — and provided commentators with their much-needed focus issue for the Conference. The consensus that emerged was a compromise between those delegations that preferred to incorporate the right to housing within the broader right to an adequate standard of living and those who wanted to explicitly specify the right to housing as a distinct and independent right. While generally depicted as a compromise, the resulting agreement has been claimed as a significant victory by housing rights advocates.

The “right to adequate housing” is reaffirmed in each section of the document, but is qualified by references to the right as one element of the right to an adequate standard of living and to its “progressive realization.” Governments are not held responsible for providing housing to all citizens, as some delegations feared, but the agreement obliges them to enable people to obtain shelter and strengthens their responsibility in the shelter sector by laying out specific policies to be undertaken. What is innovative about the agreement is language affirming protection from discrimination in the housing sector, legal security of tenure and equal access to land.

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE: The issue of reproductive health care was not as easily resolved. Delegations grappled with the issue until the final hours of Habitat II. Some delegations sought to reinforce the importance of women’s access to reproductive health care services, as affirmed in Cairo and strengthened in Beijing. Those seeking to retain the reference in the Habitat Agenda claim that women’s reproductive health is inextricably linked to the health of human settlements. Other delegations, who argued that reproductive health care does not belong in a conference addressing human settlements problems, preferred language from Cairo, which has a weaker human rights framework than the language from Beijing and stipulates that implementation is to be consistent with national laws, development priorities and various religious and cultural particularities. Beijing language includes a similar stipulation regarding implementation but also states that regardless of these differences, it is the duty of States to promote all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The final version of the Habitat Agenda retains these stronger references to human rights and the duty and responsibility of States to protect them, and is viewed as a victory by reproductive health care advocates.

INSTITUTIONAL FOLLOW-UP: In discussions on the fate of the Commission on Human Settlements and UNCHS the G-77/ China sought strong reassurances that the Centre would not suffer a fate similar to UNEP, which has waned in clout and cash since Rio. Throughout the negotiations, they pointed to the Centre’s critical role in achieving Habitat II’s goals and argued for a broader mandate and more resources. Developed countries were reluctant to include any language on further commitments. They steadfastly insisted that the mandates of both the Commission and the Centre would not be altered here and peppered the text with qualified commitments. The US and the EU refused to include a reference to the Centre’s Executive Director post, noting that the Conference should not delve into such detail. Some observers attribute this position to the Centre’s past problems of unclear leadership and funding problems. Others note that the positions taken on the Centre merely reflect much larger problems over the widening rift in resources between developed and developing countries and the erosion of faith in traditional development assistance.

INNOVATIONS IN THE HABITAT AGENDA: The Habitat Agenda contains a number of policy innovations. These include references to the elimination of sexual exploitation of young women and children; gender-disaggregated data collection; lead poisoning prevention; measures to take account of the social and environmental impact of policies; a strong commitment to economic empowerment of women, including references to the right to inheritance and flexible collateral conditions for credit; and the affirmation of the right to an adequate standard of living for all people and their families. Environmentalists were pleased with the language on environmental justice and environmental health and a reaffirmation of the Beijing call for control and regulation of multinational corporations and an appeal to the private sector to invest in communities.

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