The Habitat International Coalition’s Housing and Land Rights Network organized its 4th Land Forum for the Middle East/North Africa, in Tunis, 26–28 March 2013, under the title: “From Broken Promises to People’s Solutions.”

This Land Forum convened experts and social movement activists to share their timely struggles over land and natural resources in Ahwaz, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Western Sahara, as well as the land struggles of the Amazigh, Kurdish and Nubian peoples, addressing:

  • Constitutional reform and transitional justice
  • Gender dimensions of land
  • Conflict, occupation and war
  • Environment and water
  • Indigenous peoples across MENA
  • Struggles in agriculture and food sovereignty
  • Urban land and the right to housing.
  • Lessons from international social movements
  • Civic participation in global policy making

The Land Forum also brought together participants from among HIC Member organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, North America and Latin America, as well as fellow networks, such as La Via Campesina. In a final session, the MENA participants confirmed the conviction of previous Land Forums: that civil society across the region faces a great challenge to articulate alternatives to current concepts of the state, state land and citizenship. The Land Forum’s strategy of knowledge creation and fundamental policy reform remains rooted in the body of established human rights norms. However, this approach also must correct the assumptions of colonial laws and policies, including the Ottoman legacy, which continue to dispossess the land and other natural resources of communities and peoples. Land Forum participants committed to put these principles into operation in pursuit of change inspired by the Arab Spring.

Needed alternatives include a fundamental transformation of the state to respect, protect and fulfill the indivisible bundle of human rights to ensure the self-determination of all peoples and nondiscrimination institutionalized through equal citizenship, gender equality and diversity. This vision applies the state’s obligation to ensure the human right to adequate housing, including equitable access to land, water and other productive resources. Civil oversight of the state must ensure that it uphold these rights through the effective rule of law, progressive realization of rights, dedicating the maximum of available resources and international cooperation, including the states’ extraterritorial obligations to uphold human rights that relate to land and natural resources vis-à-vis all external actors.

The Land Forum participants resolved to form a Social Land Watch through HLRN to channel current and future civil efforts in the region, develop and apply research methods, and operationalize concepts of the state’s duty to uphold the social function of property, social production of habitat and the “right to the city.” Through Social Land Watch activities, the region’s civil society will pursue civic capacity building and accelerate knowledge creation though research, exchanges of experience and expertise with counterparts and social movements in other regions, civic education and development of appropriate programs and strategies, policy analysis and alternative planning. Future knowledge-creation efforts by the region’s civil society will seek to develop and apply needed methodologies and indicators to convey the urgent human need for fundamental reforms in land-use and general development policies in our countries in transition.