The month of this Land Times/أحوال الأرض issue 23 is full with commemorations and processes that make us reflect on one of the greatest problems on our conflicted and climatically changing planet. The forced displacement of inhabitants, including entire human settlements, is as much a legacy of human activity as global warming itself.
Starting from the recent heat domes and unprecedented floods afflicting the Northern Hemisphere, we are freshly reminded of the havoc we have wrought on our only habitat, the Earth. Across that latitude also, the story of colonialism, with its accompanying displacements and genocides, has emerged once again with the unearthing of mass graves of Canada’s indigenous children, about which the First Nations tried for more than a century to tell the wider world.
The continuity of the practice of ethnic cleansing and population transfer in the Middle World of North Africa and Western Asia—whether carried out by Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, ISIS, the Syrian government forces, Israel or the Afghan Taliban—in the present day remind us of the continuity of that tragic history and the silencing of their victims. Meanwhile, concurrent commemorations make us pause to take account of those displacements.
Two of these speak of both the continuity of displacement and its present relevance: One is this year’s launch of the UN’s Fourth Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, which resolution came on the 60th anniversary of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (A/RES/1514 XV). Meanwhile, this year also marks the 45th anniversary of the two Human Rights Covenants (ICESCR and ICCPR), which also enshrine the obligation of states to uphold the self-determination of peoples and “for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources” (common Article 1.2).
Another is this month’s 70th year since adoption of the Refugee Convention. This Land Times/أحوال الأرضreview of that milestone raises questions about the treaty’s status in the world. Most significantly, in addition to HIC-HLRN’s 2020 World Habitat Day report, the article Refugee Convention @ 70 notes the increase of three million refugees and displaced persons just in the past pandemic year, reaching a record total of 80 million affected persons across the globe.
On this 35th year of the Declaration on the Right to Development, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development enters its fifth year, with the High-level Political Forum receiving 42 states’ Voluntary National Reviews on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, fully one-third of the way into the 2030 Agenda. The message this year is, the pandemic notwithstanding, the world is falling far short of the promised Goals.
Moreover, messages from HIC in 2019 and 2020 have warned that, despite lofty promises methodically to align global policy commitments with human rights obligations, that effort has not lived up to expectations. With a view to COVID-19 pandemic recovery, this year’s Habitat Voices set out a n alternate vision and another call for pursuit of a Human Rights Habitat.
Meanwhile, the SDG Targets and Indicators turn a blind eye to human rights criteria relevant to Goal 11, especially alternatives to impoverishing forced eviction. However, diligent efforts within the Human Rights System such as the Special Rapporteur’s ongoing study on discrimination and spatial segregation in housing reported here seek to shed light on the gaps and need for more fundamental changes in state behavior.
Numerous observers have express that the roll-out of the UN Secretariat’s Food Systems Summit scheduled for September 2021 epitomizes those broken promises of human rights and development policy coherence, as explained in this issue’s article “W(h)ither the UN Food Systems Summit.” Related to the process of setting norms and standards is the effort of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that, despite good intentions, risks to send us several steps backward. The Committee’s long-awaited draft General Comment on land and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is disappointing in its structure and content. However, as consultations continue and inputs are encouraged until 27 July 2021, HIC-HLRN maintains that adherence to the Covenant and relevant science calls for recognition of a human right to land.
Civil society efforts reported in this Land Times/أحوال الأرضcontinue to correct the course of global and local policy and human rights related to habitat. In particular, HIC Members are contributing to much-needed land reform in Angola and quantifying impacts on women dispossessed of land and home in Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as seeking accountability for violations of housing and land rights of the indigenous Palestinian people under an enduring apartheid and population-transfer regime, amid assaults on food sovereignty, not least in blockaded and embattled Gaza Strip. These efforts continue to hold a candle against the darkness and uphold the vision of a human rights habitat without displacement.