“Another City is Possible”
From 17th to 20 October 2016, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will take place in Quito, Ecuador. With an International Tribunal on Evictions at a “People's Social Forum Resistance Habitat 3“ parallel to the conference, the International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI) will draw attention to processes of displacement and evictions which have been neglected in the Habitat III agenda. The IAI is a global network of grassroots associations of inhabitants and community social movements. We asked their global coordinator, Cesare Ottolini, in how far tourism also plays a role in these evictions.
TW: What are the main concerns that will be raised at the Social Forum which Habitat III will not address?
Cesare Ottolini:The Habitat conference, which is organised every 20 years, should promote policies on human settlements. We need to highlight the regression in relation to the first and second Habitat conferences (Vancouver 1976, Istanbul 1996). This time the main agenda is to prepare strategies for unlimited urban development, at the expenses of the commons, nature and human rights. They say the future of humanity is urban, cities are the engine for development and there is a need for public-private partnerships (which is not the right direction). We are talking about a UN programme here, not the World Bank!
Habitat III is proposing a “New Urban Agenda”. They may mention participation, but only accept NGOs under the neoliberal paradigm. As part of the Global Platform for the Right to the City, we have tried to highlight issues, but within Habitat there are no possibilities to interact with the decision makers. At Habitat III, the word “eviction” is a taboo. So we have organised our own space over the past few years. We will hold the “Peoples Social Forum Resistance Habitat 3” parallel to Habitat III in Quito as an independent space for civil society. It is organised by local organisations in Ecuador in cooperation with international networks. The opening will take place in Guayaquil on the coast, where serious violent evictions have happened in the past. We will then move to Quito for our main events which include debates, a tribunal on evictions, street mobilisation, and cultural events. Ours is an inhabitants’ agenda, not an urban agenda. We will propose to Habitat III to later meet in a neutral place to confront the two positions.
TW:How does the International Tribunal on Evictions support people in defending their rights?
Cesare Ottolini:The International Tribunal on Evictions is a tribunal established by civil society organisations for the World Zero Evictions Days during each month of October. It has an international steering committee composed of people from local organisations which are involved in zero evictions campaigns in different parts of the world. This year’s session will be the fifth one. In 2011 we had the first one. The last one we held was related to austerity policies in Europe. Now we also have regional sessions, for example, the International Tribunal on Evictions - East Asia.
The Tribunal in October in Quito is more general, looking at different problems in different regions. 87 cases from 29 countries were submitted. We have selected seven cases for which we will invite both witnesses and those behind the threats of evictions. The cases will be heard and recommendations will be made. Often, people cannot win a local struggle because they are divided. They find the tribunal useful as a stimulus to get together. It also a way to have the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing intervene, if necessary. Local people may use the recommendations made, and having presented their case at the tribunal may support local mobilisation.
TW: Which of the cases brought before the tribunal are related to tourism, either as a driving force behind the evictions or indirectly?
Cesare Ottolini:In Quito, we are going to hear one case from Ecuador, from the Isla de Muisne, a tourist destination south-west of Esmeraldas. After the earthquake in April 2016, the government decided to evict more than 8.000 people because of the risk of a tsunami and set up a nature park. The people, however, resist eviction and suggest alternatives, like setting up a community protected area managed collectively, where the mangrove ecosystem is restored and the area reforested with coconut and mango trees.
We will also hear the case from Jeju Island in South Korea, which is a major tourist destination. Local residents and activists resist the construction of a “Civil-Military Multifunctional Port” that is to serve the navy as well as cruise tourism, and the construction of a second airport. Jeju Island is considered a second Hawaii because of the tourism boom from China.
At the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions in July in Taipei, we heard the case of the 25 year-long struggles of the Pom Mahakan community in Bangkok, Thailand, where the area around an ancient fortress is to be “beautified”, evicting the community of 300 people. We launched a call for solidarity. There is also a threat of eviction of the Shinjuku Kasumigaoka-cho public housing complex under a stadium project for the Olympic Games 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. And we heard from the Anti-Eviction Alliance against the Taoyuan Aerotropolis mega-project in Taiwan, which does not only include airport expansion, but also entertainment and hotel facilities.
The challenge is to not only denounce these cases, but especially to implement the Tribunals’ recommendations, thanks to the solidarity at the local and global levels. This commitment, as opposed to the New Urban Agenda of Habitat III, will be part of the New Agenda of Inhabitants we are building from the People's Social Forum Resistance Habitat 3 in Quito.
International Alliance of Inhabitants www.habitants.org
People's Social Forum Resistance Habitat 3: www.habitants.org/the_urban_way/social_forum_resistance_habitat_3
International Tribunal on Evictions: www.tribunal-evictions.org
International Tribunal on Evictions - East Asia: www.habitants.org/news/inhabitants_of_asia/the_east_asia_regional_tribunal_on_evictions_highlights_the_marginalised_facts_of_evictions_in_the_habitat_iii_agenda
Appeal “Zero Evictions for Pom Mahakan!”: www.habitants.org/zero_evictions_campaign/zero_evictions_for_pom_mahakan