Norms and Data
Toward the end of a recent hybrid meeting of minds on the contemporary problems and challenges in the urban habitat sphere, the moderator posed the question: “What is missing?” That time—and typically—often what is needed in our discourse are the existing norms and data. Commemorating World Habitat Day 2023, as every year, gives us an occasion to reflect.
Most common is to forget, or otherwise omit the applicable norms that relate to the situation at hand. Language suffers from forgetting something so basic as the norms that define enjoyment of a substantive human right such as housing, land or water as a bundle of composite of simultaneous conditions that include, at a minimum, equitable and sustainable access to, use of, and control/management. That formula is found in the relevant human rights instruments, reminding us that ‘access’ is never enough. Referencing only ‘access to’ adequate housing is to omit the other requisite conditions.
Facing climate change, one of the options of last resort is, and will increasingly be displacement and resettlement. Already-existing human rights norms remind us also how that practice must meet certain conditions, if we are to avoid further violations, conflict and deepen poverty, misery and loss.
When loss and damage result, the existing UN remedy and reparations framework provides guidance, as found in this issue of Land Times/أحوال الأرض, to ensure climate justice is served. That guidance and HLRN experience at applied quantification methods are shared here in a report on a recent session with Global Land Tool Network colleagues. The purpose of these efforts is to serve the UNFCCC Loss & Damage Fund’s Transitional Committee and other decision makers and practitioners with the eligibility criteria and needed data, combined with applicable norms, for administering the entitled remedy and reparations to climate-change victims.
In the MENA region, the central and most enduring injustice remains the colonization and occupation of Palestine. In that perennial case, readers are updated on the latest trends and responses to gross violations of humanitarian, human rights and criminal law norms related to Palestinian habitat. In parallel, this issue introduces the first report dedicated to assessing habitat-related human rights under Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, invoking the same set of peremptory and treaty-based norms.
Attempts at legalization of housing and land rights violations are interrogated here. In this issue,coverage of Palestine provides an example of Israel using its legal and judicial systems to “legalize” the criminally prohibited settler colonies and outposts, includingretroactively, to legitimize the past, present and future illegal situation. As pointed out by UN Special Procedures also, the judicial acts of evicting Palestinian families and replacing them with Jewish settlers violates human rights and other international law provisions. The UN Security Council has repeatedly condemned Israel’s de-Palestinianization of occupied Jerusalem, illegally annexed by Israel in 1980, and determined any resulting changes to the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and status to be illegal, null and void.
The eviction alert and Urgent Action in Chile also involves new legislation that applies criminal penalties retroactively to persons building on unused land for needed housing. These measures of dubious legality make way for punitive measures that likely amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In the same vein of norms breached, the Turkish occupation and its affiliated militias in Syria are the focus of an article, backed by a joint appeal to UN Special Rapporteurs, exposing, once again, the long denial of some 600,000 Syrians’ and displaced others’ human right to water in al-Hasaka Province. A similar cross-border denial of water rights obtains also in neighboring Iraq, as reported in an article considering the assessments of loss and damage needed in the example of the Mesopotamian marshes.
The status of water and land is the subject of a recent FAO report with policy guidance reviewed here also. While FAO produces such instruments without civil society participation, this one, as reported previously, mixes useful data with advice that omits applicable norms. That widening gap is reflected also in the agency’s growing distance from its civil society stakeholders. A similar divergence from norms mandating UN Habitat’s self-organized stakeholder-engagement mechanism is reported from the 2nd UN-Habitat Assembly in June 2023.
Also in the UN Development System, coverage of this year’s High-level Political Forum (HLPF) reviews the Arab states’ collective inputs, as well as the country-specific Voluntary National Reviews of Bahrain, Comoros, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, from the perspective of the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGOS). Saudi Arabia showcased its Neom project at HLPF, while human rights concerns surround its implementation. The current issue also reports on this year’s plenary session of MGOS addressing the mid-point of Agenda 2030 implementation, with a comparative reflection on last year’s session.
HIC Member report on their implementation of norms, both Dibeen Association for Environmental Development (Jordan) and Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO). Dibeen is featured for its role in the Global Coalition of civil Society Organizations, Indigenous Peoples, Social Movements and Local Communities for the universal recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which recently was awarded the UN Human Rights Prize. The profile of SMACO relates to its work to remove one of the major threats to life and limb arising from the multiple violations of the Sahrawi people’s inalienable right to land and other natural resources.
HIC Members are also active in seeking a solution for the threatened mass eviction of informal communities in Chile. Readers can participate in practical solidarity with them through the current Urgent Action to stop eviction orders in San Antonio and Cartagena, Valparaíso Region, Chile.
Finally, the Land Times/أحوال الأرض gives examples of how the combination of already-available data and norms serves both preventive and remedial efforts. The positive examples comes from Jordan, where analyzing the available project and financial data on climate-change mitigation and adaptation, however difficult to compile, can fulfill the norm and human rights to information and participation, while assessing ongoing action and foreseeing future outcomes (including indebtedness and privatization trends). In the tragic case of eastern Libya’s town of Derna, we discover how already-available data should have served as a warning of what was to come, but, regrettably, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
New norms are featured in the report on the UNHA’s adoption of ten progressive resolutions for future operations, as well the authoritative interpretation of existing norms on the rights of children and the environment, with a focus on climate change,to which HIC-HLRN contributed the Maastricht Principles on the Human Rights of Future Generations. Both are important steps in providing normative content to the newly recognized human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Regarding the relevant norms and data, it is indispensable to know and apply them together, everywhere, all at once. We trust this issue of Land Times/أحوال الأرض and these reported efforts advance that practice.