27 December 2017

Africa: Homelessness to Digital IDs - Five Property Rights Hotspots in 2018

Mumbai — The global fight over land and resources is getting increasingly bloody and the race for control of valuable assets is expanding from forests and indigenous territories to the seas, space and databanks.

Here are five hotspots for property rights in 2018:

1. Rising violence: From Peru to the Philippines, land rights defenders are under increasing threat of harassment and attack from governments and corporations.

At least 208 people have been killed so far this year defending their homes, lands and forests from mining, dams and agricultural projects, advocacy group Frontline Defenders says.

The tally has exceeded that of 2016, which was already the deadliest year on record, and "it is likely that we will see numbers continue to rise", a spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

2. Demand for affordable housing: Governments are under increasing pressure to recognise the right to housing, as Smart Cities projects and rapid gentrification push more people on to the streets, from Mumbai to Rio de Janeiro.

India has committed to providing Housing for All by 2022, while Canada's recognition of housing as a fundamental right could help eliminate homelessness in the country.

"We need our governments to respond to this crisis and recognise that homelessness is a matter of life and death and dignity," said Leilani Farha, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing.

3. Takeover of public lands: From the shrinking of wilderness national monuments in Utah to the felling of rainforests for palm plantations in Indonesia, public lands risk being rescinded or resized by governments in favour of business interests.

Governments are also likely to be hit by more lawsuits from indigenous communities fighting to protect their lands, as well as the environment.

4. Fight over space and sea: A race to explore and extract resources from the moon, asteroids and other celestial bodies is underway, with China, Luxembourg, the United States and others vying for materials ranging from ice to precious metals.

The latest space race targets a multi-trillion dollar industry.

Expect more debate over the 50-year-old U.N. Outer Space Treaty, which declares "the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind".

On Earth, the fight over the seas is intensifying, particularly in the Arctic. Melting ice caps have triggered a fierce contest between energy companies in the United States, Russia, Canada, and Norway over drilling rights.

5. Debate over data: As more countries move towards digital citizen IDs, there are growing concerns about privacy and safety of the data, the ethics of biometrics, and the misuse of data for profiling or increased surveillance.

Campaigners are pushing for "informational privacy" to be part of the right to privacy, and for governments to treat the right to data as an inalienable right, like the right to dignity.

- Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Katy Migiro

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