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Report UN Human Settlements Programme (HABITAT)

Represented by Semjon Rens and André Richter

Since 2007, for the first time in history of mankind, the majority of people live in cities. The UN Human Settlements Programme (HABITAT) has been established not only to describe this development and to provide knowledge of future trends, but to take concrete actions. Since 2001, it is a full-worth committee of the United Nations passing resolutions through the Economic and Social Council and consists of 58 Member States. Its seat in Nairobi indicates the close connection to the Developing Countries. Dealing with an estimated one billion slum dwellers worldwide, HABITAT is a main force to turn the Millennium Development Goals into reality: “Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.” (Target 11).

Representing Japan always means to be well-prepared and highly focused on both a consensus and a concrete outcome. For decades, Japan belongs to the main contributors of this program. Furthermore, Japan is proud to host the Asian regional office of HABITAT in Fukuoka. All things considered, the two of us representing Japan turned this pride into motivation to act as “Japanese” as possible.

Confronted with the first task, the setting of the agenda, we were ready to defend our proposed agenda:

1. The Provision of Housing for Displaced Persons;
2. Reversing the “Urban Penalty:” Empowering Vulnerable Urban Populations;
3. Promoting Public Safety in Urban Areas.

Being well-prepared we could have just relaxed and presented our original speech and arguments. But we listened attentively to every speaking delegation and got hold of their positions. In order to reach a consensus and get everyone on board, we adjusted the speech, knowing that it would serve as a basis for the following negotiations and also be deemed as our first appearance on the stage. It is important for Japan to deal with “the provision of housing for displaced persons” in order to avoid conflicts between states. But after an unexpected diplomatic move of the African Union, “slum upgrading” was chosen to be the first topic on the agenda. Still, Japan fully welcomed this approach to deal with vulnerable urban populations, taking into account that the “Human Security” concept”, a basic pillar of the Japanese foreign policy, might be the right instrument to treat this topic.

Having concluded the setting of the agenda, HABITAT immediately jumped into work and opened up a new speakers’ list. Bearing in mind the will to act due to our responsibility, we managed to be in the first half of it, what can be seen as an advantage. But it took just three speakers to interrupt the official debate and to move into informal caucusing. We were always open to new ideas and worked closely together with the G 8 states. It was mainly the United States who was interested in our ideas, and we decided to meet each other the next day even before conference would start. The Asian group was also a reliable partner, whose first negotiation with us laid the foundation for our close cooperation.

Being confronted with such continuous tasks, we never let go our topic for the whole week. Speeches had to be arranged; there was a lot of preparation to be done. We got up earlier to meet other delegations and were often in the last group to leave the room in order to work on a common resolution. We never quit or hid from a discussion, even if the positions of the different groups were hardening. We always tried to convince others by arguments instead of the political strength Japan possesses, appreciating each single country and their policy. E.g., there was Iran, fully integrated into the Asian Group and making really good proposals. There were also countries like Indonesia, defending our position against attacks by India due to a misunderstanding. Due to our activities in nearly all of the groups, almost everyone came in contact with the Human Security concept. However, not foreshadowing the consequences of this topic, a big controversy aroused. Some countries felt that their national sovereignty was affected, and others just did not understand the concept. We went through a hard time until finally, one of our speeches helped explaining our policy. Finding not absolute but wide acceptance for our proposals, we turned back to work. As a major sponsor of a resolution dealing with the financing of projects, we participated in the continuous process to improve the resolution, so as to win new partners and signatories. Knowing that China would be a crucial partner, we offered our connections - the official ones and the human factor. Also, charm is a way of diplomacy!

Our proposals were simple, but nevertheless hard to accomplish. We called for more efforts to fight corruption, better sanitation systems and a consideration of long-term effects: Economic help, educational projects, perspectives and the guaranteeing of each and every single one his human rights. To put it in a nutshell, we asked for sustainable urbanization under the guise of human security. In general, everyone agreed. But it took hours and hours of informal debate to achieve a unified position whether the institution, in order to control the fight against corruption, should be able to enter a country without permission. Finally, due to our compromise, the inspectors of the institution have to ask for access to a country.

After one hard week, six draft resolutions entered into voting procedure. Japan could have lived with any outcome strengthening individuals, but since voting procedure is also policy and diplomacy, we had to abstain twice due to our credibility. We were contented that all six resolutions, all with high level, were passed, seeing all the hard work has paid off. Each resolution covers a specified topic, and Japan’s position is represented in each one of them. With pleasure, we could let go the exertion after the approximated one and a half hour of voting procedure, knowing we did our best to represent a very admirable country: Japan.