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International Developments

HIC Argues for a “Human Right to Land”

A recent development in the standard-setting process previously reported [AR] in Land Times, Housing and Land Rights Network - Habitat International Coalition has addressed the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on the Committee’s Day of Discussion on land, 14 October 2019. HIC-HLRN has argued for legal recognition of “a human right to land” in CESCR’s upcoming General Comment on land under the Covenant. The following is the text of HIC-HLRN’s oral intervention.

“The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights faces a dilemma in addressing land under its Covenant. HIC-HLRN would like to complement the other inputs to the Committee and the focus of this Discussion Day on land issues related to specific groups and contexts. In doing so, we suggest an approach at the other side of the dilemma; that is, recognizing and addressing land as a universal human right.  

As with any complex task, it is important to get our theory right. In the case of land, the theory arising from multiple disciplines enables us to resolve the Committee’s dilemma in favour of a human right to land.

In context, the human rights dimensions of land become apparent as an essential element in the realization of several codified human rights. It may even be the first element in a chain indispensable to fulfilling the human rights to housing, decent work, culture, food, health and water. And like water, also not explicitly mentioned in the Covenant, land is arguably the subject of human rights precisely because it is the subject of human need.

A Theory of Human Need provides an epistemological basis of many human rights, in particular, economic, social and cultural rights. A Theory of Justice grounds the requisites for equity and many of the process rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Combined, these theoretical bases and their corresponding Covenants affirm the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, which are so evident in the case of land.

Recognizing a “human right to land” calls for a General Comments’ interpretive authority in order for many states and other actors to understand its distinction from a mere “right to land” or “land rights,” which are instinctively construed as a form of property.

Our Covenant guarantees no “human right to property.” While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights treats property only within a narrow scope as a subject of “ownership” individually, or in association with others, Thus, this Covenant is the appropriate instrument to frame the recognition and understanding of “the human right to land,” since its silence on property enables—indeed requires—a focus rather on the symbiotic relationship between the land and its people primarily as a matter of equity, not merely as a subject of freehold—or other type of—tenure or exchange value.

The HIC-HLRN written submission identifies the opportunity, necessity, meaning, methodology and added value of a General Comment recognizing “the human right to land.” While this human right also arises directly from the Covenant human rights to adequate housing, decent work and livelihood, and culture, it bears a particularly inextricable link to the human right to health, while law’s complementary disciplines of gravitational biology, electromagnetics and physics clarify that land is a physical need for the earth-bound human species and a requisite for everyone’s survival.

What remains then is the need to clarify state obligations to ensure equity in the administration of this classical element and common good. As with the human right to water, recognizing the human right to land should be the logical outcome of this Day of Discussion, the Committee’s higher vantage point of observation, and its eventual General Comment.”

See HIC’s written submission to the CESCR Day of Discussion

For more information on the Day of Discussion, click here.

See HLRN’s longer treatment “Interpreting the Human Right to Land within ICESCR



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