- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

NEW YORK — The United States is facing new criticism at the United Nations from officials who accuse the Bush administration of undermining an effort to define housing as a "human right."
Miloon Kothari, the U.N. rapporteur on housing issues, fired the opening salvo at the beginning of a three-day housing conference this week, accusing the United States of watering down a draft declaration that initially defined housing as a legal entitlement.
"Through negotiation, it was taken out," Mr. Kothari said. "It is not an innocent omission.
"The United States in particular has been opposed to any mention to the right to adequate housing."
Michael Southwick, a State Department human rights official, yesterday dismissed the criticism as "sloganeering."
"We dont like the sloganeering aspect of this rights debate, which everyone knows is very big in the U.N. system right now," said Mr. Southwick.
"Theres the right to housing, the right to food, theres a right to everything, sometimes, that you can think of," he said. "It tends to become an entitlement and a legally enforceable kind of thing."
Instead, Mr. Southwick said, "an economy, good government, the rule of law, democracy — those are the kinds of things that create housing."
The Bush administration prefers the language that is now part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls housing "a component to an adequate standard of living."
The dispute within the housing conference reflects a pervasive anger at the United States that has marked the first four months of the Bush administration.
Many, if not most, members of the world body are upset over the United States unpaid U.N. dues, its rejection of a treaty on global warming, and President Bushs effort to develop a missile-defense system.
The United Nations recently voted to kick the United States off the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission, where it was a frequent defender of Israel and critic of China.
It also ousted the United States from the International Narcotics Control Board.
In Washington, many members of Congress are equally angry at the United Nations, which is widely viewed by conservatives as a forum to bash the United States.
Congress recently voted not to pay some dues to the United Nations next year unless the United States gets back its seat on the Human Rights Commission.
The housing conference, which ends today is a follow-up to an international conference in Istanbul five years ago that attempted to improve access to adequate shelter for the worlds poorest urban dwellers.
Seventy percent of the worlds governments recognize housing as a right, or entitlement, according to U.N. Habitat, the Kenya-based agency that is coordinating the conference.
Several U.N. declarations also mention a "right" to housing.
At one point, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, yesterday appeared to diverge from the U.S. position when he told the U.N. General Assembly that in America, "there is a fundamental right to own property, including a home."
When pressed by reporters at a subsequent news conference, Mr. Martinez declined to comment and directed reporters to Mr. Southwick.
Nearly half the worlds population lives in urban areas, with more than 1.2 billion of those city-dwellers living in inadequate shelter.
Slums of squatters sprawl throughout cities in the Third World, with houses typically consisting of a single room created from scraps of wood and metal, without running water or electricity. Meals are cooked on open fires and people relieve themselves on the ground outside.
In Africa, fewer than one-third of houses are connected to potable water sources.
In Asia and the Pacific, just 38 percent of urban households are connected to a sewerage system.
Government officials and housing-advocacy groups from around the world attended this weeks conference.
Many came to explain successful experiments in providing affordable housing. Others came to demand assistance from the industrial world.
Mr. Kothari was appointed to his three-year term by the U.N. Human Rights Commission the body from which the United States was recently expelled.
His position has broad support within the world body. For example, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights urged governments attending this weeks conference to "reaffirm explicitly that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right."

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