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close this bookHabitat Debate - Vol. 5 - No. 3 - 1999 - Security of Tenure (HABITAT, 1999, 63 p.)
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Revised European Social Charter Protects Housing Rights

The Revised European Social Charter - protecting social and economic rights - entered into force on 1 July 1999. The European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) is now able to make official complaints against governments who fail to respect the right to housing. But only 5 out of 41 European countries are ready to take full advantage of this new framework.

The Charter is the most comprehensive international treaty which exists in order to protect a wide range of fundamental social and economic rights - including the right to housing. FEANTSA insists that official recognition of the right to housing - both at the national level and at the regional level - is an essential condition for the development of effective policies to tackle homelessness. At the level of the United Nations, housing is included in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 25.1), and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11.1).

Since 1950, human rights have been protected by the legal instruments of the Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, which now has 41 member states. The European Convention on Human Rights (1950) deals with civic and political rights, while the European Social Charter (1961) deals with economic and social rights. The 1961 Charter has been signed and ratified by each of the 15 Member States of the European Union (and 7 other countries), and is mentioned in the introduction to the Social Chapter of the Amsterdam Treaty (Article 136). It protects the right to social and medical assistance (Article 13), but does not include the right to housing.

In order to make sure that governments respect the rights contained in the Charter, the Council of Europe has put in place a system of supervision based on national reports. This system was made stronger last year, with the introduction of a procedure for collective complaints. This means that FEANTSA will be able to make official complaints against governments who fail to respect the right to housing. Any collective complaints will be examined by a Committee of Independent Experts.

Unfortunately most people in Europe will not benefit from the entry into force of the Charter. This is because the series of 31 basic rights - including the right to housing - only has legal status in the countries which have ratified the Charter. Three years after the Charter was opened for signature, only 5 out of 41 countries have completed the ratification process: France, Italy, Sweden, Romania and Slovenia.

Most of the EU countries have signed but not yet ratified the Charter: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and the United Kingdom. But 4 Member States have so far failed to sign the 1996 charter: Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain. Also, 5 countries preparing for EU membership have not yet signed: Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia.

The Revised European Social Charter (1996)

Article 31 - The right to housing

With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to housing, the Parties undertake to take measures designed:

1. to promote access to housing of an adequate standard;
2. to prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination;

3. to make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources.

For further information on the European Social Charter, please contact: Brigitte Napiwocka
Directorate of Human Rights
Council of Europe, F-67075 STRASBOURG
Tel: +33 3 88 41 22 57
Fax: +33 3 88 41 37 00

Source: Homeless in Europe (The newsletter of FEANTSA) Issue 6, Summer 1999.

Smart Library on Urban Poverty Research

State-of-the-art knowledge based on decades of academic research on the causes and consequences of urban poverty is now at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection. In an easily accessible and understandable format, the Smart Library on Urban Poverty Research brings information on urban community, urban poverty and the family, urban poverty and the economy, and work and welfare into homes, schools and offices around the world.

Smart Library on Urban Poverty Research - made available today on the Internet at - was developed by Professor William Julius Wilson from Harvard’s Kennedy School in cooperation with the National Institute for Social Science Information (NISSI), a leader in the area of innovative electronic information management.

“With the push to provide Internet access to all, irrespective of race, gender, income level, political orientation or religious affiliation, it is critical that information be made accessible to a wider audience in a manner that is useful and readily interpretable,” said Wilson. “Smart Library is a compilation of important research findings covering an array of general interest topics.”

Currently, Smart Library has information on the following topics:

· Urban Community - looking at the trends in urban poverty, the effects of poverty on communities and the policies and programmes for helping poor urban communities;

· Urban Poverty and the Family - providing information on national and ethnic trends in family structure, an explanation of family breakdown and the effects of poverty on families;

· Urban Poverty and the Economy - focusing on socio-economic trends among groups, theories of urban economy, the effect of economic forces on the inner city, and economic policies; and

· Work and Welfare - for information on the trends in work and welfare, explanations for welfare use, the effects of employment on welfare use, and welfare and work policies.

Smart Library uses state-of-the-art technology from QuestWare (that links user question to expert information in an interactive environment modeled on conversation. This technology allows users with a way to navigate from text to text by asking questions and looking for answers - users are no longer limited to the single perspective of one piece of research since questions raised by one piece of research are answered by other pieces of research.

Funding for the development of Smart Library was made available by the Ford Foundation.

For more information on the Smart Library on Urban Poverty Research, please contact:

J. Scott Parrott, Ph.D.
Acting President
National Institute for Social Science Information
PO Box 11203
Chicago, IL 60611-0203
Voice: 312/988-6589
Fax: 312/988-6579

Global Cities 21

Global Cities 21, ICLEI World Congress of Local Governments, which will be held from 28 June to 2 July 2000 in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, will examine the tools and methods being employed by local governments in their worldwide movement toward sustainability. More than 500 representatives of cities, towns, counties and their associations from around the globe will gather to examine priority local environmental issues and establish objectives for the future. International organizations, national governments, NGOs and businesses are also expected to attend.

Hosted by the Land Sachsen-Anhalt, the congress is being organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives with the support of the Land and Expo 2000 Sachsen-Anhalt.

Climate protection, water management, environmental management, industrial land revitalization, Local Agenda 21 processes and sustainable development planning are among the topics to be discussed. Results of the Cities 21 urban indicators pilot project will be presented and will provide a basis for discussing the methods by which local governments can establish targets and monitor progress for the future.

For further information please contact

Global Cities 21 World Congress Secretariat at:

ICLEI’s International Training Centre
Eschholzstrasse 86
D-79 115 Freiburg, Germany
Tel: +49-761/3 68 92 20
Fax: +49-761/3 68 92 29

Roundtable on Women’s Access to Land and Tenure
by Redwood Mary

At the seventeenth session of the Commission on Human Settlements, held in Nairobi, Kenya in May 1999, a “Land Issues/Land Access” working group (hosted by Common ground-U.S.A., in partnership with The Huairou Commission) hosted a roundtable session that sought to assess the issues facing grassroots women and their communities vis is land access and tenure. (The workshop established an informal international network on Land Issues & Women as Stakeholders, co-coordinated by Marie Cerillo (USA), “Redwood Mary” (Mary Rose Kaczorowski) of the Huairou Commission and National Congress of Neighbourhood Women - Land And Environmental Issues Coordinators.)

In attendance were women from various sectors of society, representing women from both North & South, grassroots and community based organizations. The stories were enlightening and shifted back and forth between North & South points of view and experience. There were many commonalities between urban and rural experiences. It was revealed that:

· In Jamaica, the best tracts of land are now held by corporations.

· In Costa Rica, when the poor get title to rural land, they are led to believe that selling the land for money to generate a move to the city is the best choice.

· In Uganda a rural community is fighting an American company that wants to build a dam. Two hundred families would lose their land if the dam is built. Uganda also had the experience of a World Bank project that focused on upgrading a slum area. The land, construction technology and training in construction (for housing) was provided. This particular “slum upgrading” failed. Even though 99 year leases were given out, individuals moved out to sublease/or sell the land to rich people.

· In the United States, it was pointed out, individual holdings of farmland were sold to development corporations because the offers were too good to refuse. The understanding of land tenure and what it means to community cohesions was completely lacking in all these cases. The traditional Western point of view would be to quantify the market value revenues and calculate who won out rather than recognize the barriers that created practices that were neither sustainable nor equitable.

· In rural Kenya, as in many countries, cultural attitudes dictate land ownership - this means land tenure is closed to women.

· In Uganda where women have legal tenure rights, rural culture still dictates that land be passed on to male heirs.

The above examples illustrate some of the problems faced by people and communities in securing access to land and tenure. The roundtable concluded that these problems are largely due to the following:

· The changing role of the State and lack of responsibility for fair land distribution

· Corporate industrialization of land which dislocates populations or destroys a natural resource base

· Citizens lack of involvement in land use planning

· Lack of transparency between local authorities and large corporations

· No access to or lack of credit to obtain title or leases to land

· The average citizen’s lack of understanding on how to access public finance mechanisms to create or maintain basic community infrastructure (water, roads, etc.)

· Lack of gender balance in land use governance and planning.

Some Solutions Proposed

· It is not enough just to own land, there is a pressing need to educate on responsibilities and the relationship between land tenure and sustainable human settlements.

· Bottom-up initiatives are needed in all areas. Reforms are needed to facilitate access to land to apply land tax strategies that create attractive incentives for corporations to release land holdings.

· Local authorities need to create mechanisms to enable poor segments of society to access land to help upgrade their participation in a global market economy.

· Institute land speculation reforms including disincentives for slumlords.

Redwood Mary, alias Mary Rose Kaczorowski, is a member of the Huairou Commission, a multisectoral partner body comprising four international women’s networks - Groots International, HIC Women and Shelter Network, the International Council of Women and Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). She is also an advocate for the preservation of redwood forests along North America’s west coast and is Executive Committee Member of the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club, U.S.A.


The United Nations Centre f or Human Settlements (Habitat) is pleased to announce the winners of the 1999 Habitat Scroll of Honour Awards. The awards were presented to nine recipients from around the world on 4 October 1999, World Habitat Day, at a global ceremony in Dalian, People’s Republic of China. The scroll of Honour is presented annually by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) to organizations or individuals for their outstanding contributions to human settlements development. The award winners this year were:

Ms. Habiba Eid (Egypt)
for her outstanding personal commitment to the cause of sustainable human settlements development.

Mr. Bo Xilai (Mayor of Dalian, People’s Republic of China)
for his outstanding contribution to housing improvement and sustainable urban development in Dalian.

National Slum Dwellers Federation (India)
for enabling deprived communities and defending their fundamental housing rights.

Mr. Alvaro Villota Bernal (Colombia)
for securing access to housing solutions to the very poor by reshaping the Fondo Nacional de Ahorro.

President Rudolf Schuster (Slovak Republic)
for his dedication and leadership as a mayor in the improvement and restoration of the city of Kosice.

Mr. Pierre Laconte (Belgium)
for his outstanding contribution towards urban management and sustainable public transport.

Mr. Millard Fuller (USA)
for forging Habitat for Humanity International into a world-wide housing organization and providing shelter in over 60 countries.

Hon. Kwamena Ahwoi (Ghana) for his intellectual and practical contribution to the development of participating strategies for poverty eradication.

Operation Firimbi (Kenya)
for promoting secure tenure and transparent land allocation.

For further information, please contact:

Amrik Kalsi
World Habitat Day


The Partners Update column is intended for all partners who wish to share information on their activities and achievements, particularly in relation to implementation of the Habitat Agenda. If you would like to contribute to this column, please send your submissions to:

Rasna Warah, Editor
Habitat Debate
UNCHS (Habitat)
P.O. Box 30030
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: (254-2) 623988
Fax: (254-2) 624060