What the UNDP can do about ‘re-thinking property’ and the land question in the South

The following is excerpted from the keynote talk by Ramaswamy Sudarshan (UNDP.org) at the “RE-THINKING PROPERTY: pathway to a Well-Being Society” conference in Bangkok, in August 2011.

Ramaswamy Sudarshan, Policy Advisor- UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre:

“There are a wide range of roles the UNDP can and does already play concerning land and land rights. In proposing policy, it will be important to consider all of these current roles, and also potential roles that it could come to play. Among other roles, UNDP could be seen to have eight key functions in the land question.

These are:

* As a User of land for development projects;
* As a Mediator, Convenor and Facilitator in land disputes and land controversies;
* As a Custodian, Champion or Manager of consultation processes designed to resolved outstanding land disputes or land claims;
* As a Catalyst of new ideas on how to most appropriately address land rights issues at the local and national levels;
* As an Active Participant in land-based development projects;
* As a Provider of strategic direction and technical expertise;
* As an Upholder of internationally recognised human rights standards and instruments; and
* As an Interpreter of the nature and quality of development as this relates to land.

As an issue, land rights spans a great expanse of concerns ranging from inequality, to conflict, to resource provision, to agriculture, to housing and tenure security and to a range of additional themes. While it may not be possible at this stage for UNDP to address each of these components in a structural or programmatic way, it is possible to identify several key policy components which could guide current and future activities of the UNDP on the land rights question.

It is proposed that the following could comprise UNDP activities on land rights:

* Land is a Human Rights Issue: The full realization of human rights is enhanced when land policies and laws recognize that that land is a human rights issue.

* Land Rights are Vital for Economic and Sustainable Human Development: Respecting and protecting land rights in an equitable and effective manner is vital for economic and sustainable human development. Land rights are of direct relevance to both urban and rural areas. People without access to land, without protection against forced eviction from land, or without residential stability free from discrimination or exploitation, are not able to contribute fully to national goals for sustainable human development.

* Access to Land Must be Based on Equality and Non-discrimination: All persons should have equitable access to land, and Governments should take measures to facilitate such access. Land rights are relevant to all tenure groups including owners, tenants, informal occupiers and customary dwellers.

* Security of Tenure: All persons should have an enforceable and recognised right to security of tenure. People-friendly and appropriate forms of land registration and tenure rights should be developed.

*Protection from Eviction and Displacement: All persons should be protected against arbitrary eviction and displacement. Land rights can assist in providing such protection.

* Access to Land for All Requires Re-Invigorated Land Reform Measures: Measures should be taken by Governments, UN agencies and others to increase access to land and towards improving the supply of land for housing the poor by the formal and informal sector.

* Improving Housing and Living Conditions – Housing Rights for All: Housing and land rights are inextricably linked. Improving housing conditions can be facilitated by a series of land measures such as identifying land for housing, legitimizing informal settlements and State financing the development of land for the poor.

* Helping Vulnerable Groups to Secure Land Rights – Focus on Indigenous Peoples, Roma, Nomads, People with HIV/AIDS and Women: Certain social and other groups have special land rights and face particular difficulties accessing land and secure land rights. Measures focusing on the special land obstacles facing each group should be explored and implemented.

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