Contracting Human Rights
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Contracting Human Rights

Crisis, Accountability, and Opportunity

Edited by Alison Brysk and Michael Stohl

By chronicling the continuing contest over the reach, range, and regime of rights, Contracting Human Rights analyzes the way forward in an era of many challenges. This multidisciplinary book contributes to building understanding of the maturation of human rights, from a dissident doctrine to a dynamic parameter of global governance and civil society. Through an examination of both global and local challenges to human rights, including loopholes, backlash, accountability, and new opportunities to move forward, this book analyzes trends across multiple-issue areas.
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Chapter 5: The bottom two billion: the global expansion of urban slums and second-class citizenship

Crisis, Accountability, and Opportunity

Natasha Bennett


In 2007 Paul Collier wrote of a “bottom billion” people caught in state-centric poverty traps. According to the U.N. Population Fund, by 2030, there will be two billion people caught in localized, individual poverty traps created by the political and socio-economic conditions in urban slums. This global expansion of urban slums presents a critical challenge for the future of the human rights project. This chapter argues that the global expansion of slums exacerbates two mutually reinforcing problems in the provision of human rights: fulfillment and accountability. State-centric mechanisms for human rights fulfillment often do not deliver at subnational levels of governance, particularly in modernizing economies and financially weaker states. Additionally, urban slum dwellers often lack the ability to hold the state accountable, because they have limited resources for mobilization, or lack access to formal claims-making mechanisms, such as the courts. Without a solution to the problems of fulfillment and accountability, the world faces a future in which two or three billion urban poor find themselves locked out of the human rights regime designed to protect the world’s vulnerable populations. This chapter discusses the extent of global slum formation, the nature of the relationship between human rights fulfillment and accountability, and then how this framework applies to one example: the human right to housing in India and Brazil.

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