At this Special Session of the General Assembly to review the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, it is appropriate to recall the important commitments made five years ago in Istanbul by the international community. These commitments were the outcome of lengthy deliberations on the part of all member States and they reflected the aspirations of the world's people to live in a safe and secure environment.
The Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda are strong human rights documents in which Governments unequivocally recognized and committed themselves to ensuring the right to adequate housing. At Istanbul, Governments further reaffirmed that all human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social - are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.
It is the broad-encompassing perspective of human rights that I wish to emphasise in my message to this Special Session. More and more people are realising that human rights provide a normative framework for sustainable economic and social development. Human rights bring empowerment and opportunities to the poor and the vulnerable. Human rights provide guiding principles for national actions and international cooperation. We must build on the commitments to human rights made five years ago at Istanbul, by pursuing forward-looking strategies to give everyone opportunities for decent life; by assuring the realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and by ensuring equality of opportunity for development.
The human rights programme of the United Nations has long recognised the central importance of housing and human settlements. Since the recognition of the right to adequate housing as a distinct human right, the treaty bodies which monitor implementation of the conventions and treaties have been engaged in extensive normative work aimed at clarifying the rights related to housing and developing guidelines for implementation of these rights.
The gap between the recognition of these rights and their operationalization remains large, however. Homelessness, lack of adequate shelter and forced evictions are persistent features of our modern world. That was an underlying factor in the decision last year by the Commission on Human Rights to appoint Mr. Miloon Kothari as Special Rapporteur with a mandate focusing on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination as reflected in relevant international human rights instruments. Mr. Kothari, who presented his first report to the Commission this year, is participating actively in this Special Session.
The Commission on Human Rights has also adopted by consensus two important resolutions related to the right to housing. One, on adequate housing, directed the Special Rapporteur to give particular emphasis to practical solutions and to cooperate with UN treaty bodies and other mechanisms as well as with UN agencies, Governments and the civil society. The other resolution called for equal ownership of, access to and control over land by women and the equal right to own property and to enjoy adequate housing.
For this Special Session, two of the treaty bodies, namely, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing issued statements - to which I fully subscribe - reaffirming the importance of the right to adequate housing. They both expressed concern at a lack of recognition for human rights in the present draft of the Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium, to be adopted at this Special Session. It would be disappointing if human rights were not to receive the attention they deserve in the Declaration, especially at a time when a broad international consensus is emerging around these issues.
Development agencies are increasingly adopting a rights-based approach to development, grounded in the two international covenants and the four main human rights conventions. UNICEF policies and UNDP's Human Development Report 2000 "Human Rights and Human Development" are just two examples. Recent thinking on poverty eradication by the financial institutions, notably the World Bank in its World Development Report 2000/2001 on "Attacking Poverty", is also of interest.
In this context, I warmly welcome The Global Report on Human Settlements 2001 which was prepared by UNCHS and submitted to this Special Session, and which puts particular focus on poverty and human rights. The Report argues that human settlements can provide an important link between economic globalization and human development, if they are accompanied by appropriate governance and planning mechanisms that place people at the centre of development. The Report also highlights the vital contribution that people living in poverty can make towards this goal: people living in poverty represent unrealized human capital potential and the eradication of poverty will bring benefits to the whole of society.
Sustainable human settlement, whether in urban or rural areas, must be such as will allow individuals to enjoy the full range of their human rights, personal freedoms, opportunities and choices. This in turn requires a supportive national environment based on the rule of law and good governance, as well as the laws, policies, institutions, infrastructure and services to support the full integration of vulnerable groups in the development processes. A human rights approach to development can serve as the foundation on which the empowerment of individuals to achieve their full potential can be realized.
This five-year review of the Habitat Agenda provides an opportune occasion for all partners to renew and enhance the commitments made in Istanbul. The real challenge - as with all such conference conclusions - is to actually deliver on these commitments. The success or failure, in meeting this challenge, will depend largely on the effective integration of the principles, norms and instruments of human rights into the human settlement agenda.
Mainstreaming human rights and adopting rights-based approaches in two important global campaigns launched by Habitat - one on secure tenure and another on urban governance - would be an important vehicle towards achieving this goal. Another course in which both my Office and UNCHS have been engaged is development of a joint housing rights programme as requested by the Commission on Human Settlements in 1997 and again reaffirmed by the Commission on Human Rights this year.
Furthermore, there is a need to establish closer linkages between the UN treaty body mechanism established to analyze, implement and monitor the right to adequate housing, and the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and new initiatives emanating from this Special Session. In this context, it is pertinent to note that the human settlement is a cross-cutting issue that not only affects the right to adequate housing but also other civil, cultural, economic, and political rights such as the rights of the child, the right to health, education, food, drinking water and sanitation.
In Istanbul, the international community took a step forward in reaffirming the right to adequate housing and the undeniable place of human rights in human settlement. I urge everyone to take a step forward by embracing a rights-based approach and recommitting ourselves to making the goal of sustainable human settlement and human dignity a reality for all.
I wish you success in your deliberations.