Land amid COVID
HLRN’s Habitat Day report A Pandemic of Violations reflects some current land struggles of particular groups in the midst of COVID-19, despite eviction moratoriums and other measures to secure tenure. The current pandemic also has given rise to arguments from people’s experience with land as key to survival and, thus, a universal human need.
While monitoring and collecting violation cases as much as possible, the need and argument for recognition of a human right to land is ever in mind. This is often best expressed as a “plural” (group) right of/by peasants and indigenous people, but they are not usually making that claim in the urban context. However, some important indigenous expressions have come out for urban indigenous people’s need to return to their land during the pandemic.
The case for urban land reform and rethinking land and human rights in cities was the subject of SRAH Raquel Rolnik’s important report in 2014, which has informed current thinking around the continuum of tenure. The objective of that work was to alleviate poverty, but not necessarily focused on the link between the human right to adequate housing and a “human right to land.” However, in the COVID-19 context, it could.
A report on World Food Day (16 October) links land and food during the pandemic. HLRN monitoring notes similar cases and arguments in Beirut, for example. Amid complex and protracted crises, we see de-urbanizing (return to the land) for food security, as well as renewed urban agriculture and needed access to land for food security during the pandemic. The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights has proffered good-practice examples, whereby the provision and use of land in informal communities across Thailand has made the difference between life and certain peril during the lockdown.
In the context of protracted crises, in general, the ongoing work of the CSM in monitoring the CFS Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises has highlighted land as an indispensable need for food security of people under occupation, where their land is not only an essential need, but also a primary target of occupying powers to eliminated indigenous peoples’ organic relations to the occupied territory. That is why protection of land tenure security for people under occupation (e.g., in Kashmir, Palestine, Tibet and Western Sahara) is a prerequisite to implementing states’ human rights obligations domestically, as well as extraterritorially. This is especially true during the current pandemic, but also generally, as the violation of an entire people’s human right to land is tantamount to the denial of self-determination and a violation of peremptory norms of international law.
Indigenous peoples, slum dwellers and pandemic-affected urbanites, in general, are teaching us how vital land is and, consequently, and universal human need makes land a human right in the context of the global pandemic.