OHCHR on urban development and human rights in cities

By on 04/29/2015

Uchenna Emelonye29 April 2015, Nairobi. Following the Governing Council side-event on Human Rights, Uchenna Emelonye, a panellist at the event and the Senior Human Rights Advisor for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nairboi, is interviewed to share OHCHR’s expertise on human rights and urban development.

What do you think about the relationship between development and human rights?
That’s an interesting question. We need to move ahead with a New Urban Agenda that puts the city dwellers and the communities and their human rights at the centre. Putting human rights as one the principles of urbanization will be a crucial shift. Without it, the process of urbanization will not play the positive role it can but further create more slums, put more people living in inadequate housing and living conditions, homelessness, insecure tenure, and increase disparities, inequalities and discrimination.

Sustainable urbanization is certainly a hot topic at the moment. What do you think should be the main focuses of sustainable urbanization?
I think that there are four key points here. Sustainable urbanization must ensure the free, active and meaningful participation of the beneficiaries of development, and in particular of the most marginalized. Secondly, it must follow a rights-based model that ensures the accountability of duty-bearers and the entitlements of rights-holders. Thirdly, it must address the root causes that violate the principles of non-discrimination and equality and prioritize the need of the most marginalized. And finally, sustainable urbanization must incorporate strategies for the political and economic empowerment of people.

What does the ‘Right to Adequate Housing’ actually entail? Is it different from shelter?
When we are talking about housing, we are not just talking about four walls and a roof. The right to adequate housing is about security of tenure, affordability, access to services and cultural adequacy. It is about protection from forced eviction and displacement, fighting homelessness, poverty and exclusion. It is a right for all regardless of social status and origin or the type of housing and land tenure and ownership. To promote the right to adequate housing and other human rights, urbanization processes and policies cannot be solely based on economic and financial data that disregard the human reality behind those numbers.

Final question, there has been a number of references to the ‘Right to the City’ recently. What does this mean?
OHCHR is cognizant of the concept of the “Right to the City”. We do not, however, promote or affiliate ourselves with the concept for several reasons. Firstly, the concept of “Right to the City” connotes a certain possible status in international human rights law which it has not attained. Secondly, the right to the city is an academic concept that has been taken on by a variety of civil society organizations to different and sometimes contradicting ends. While some cities have adopted or are in support of the concept, many remain sceptical of the legislative implications at city and national level. That is why UN-Habitat works through mainstreaming human rights in cities for all, focusing on urbanization as the process and the city as the outcome of this process, where the human rights-based approach methodology ensures that no one is left behind.


Find out more on UN-Habitat and Human Rights here

Find out more on the Governing Council side-event on Human Rights here

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