Tag Archives: land disputes

Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Peace Deal for Mindanao and its lessons for practitioners of environmental peacebuilding

by Paula Defensor Knack

Paula Defensor Knack is a is a former assistant secretary for Lands and Legislative Affairs at the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources. She wrote on “ Legal Frameworks and Land Issues in Muslim Mindanao” in Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and provides an update in this guest posting. NB: This material may not be published, broadcasted, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without due reference to the author.

This blog provides a guide to peace-builders in analyzing developments in the Mindanao peace process that occurred since the publication of my chapter on “Legal Frameworks and Land Issues in Muslim Mindanao” (available here in pdf) in Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. The recent signing of the Bangsamoro peace deal for Mindanao or the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) has received both praise and criticism. It is a work in progress as the CAB has been submitted to Congress for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.  This posting, therefore, represents a guide to peace-builders in understanding the implications of these latest developments .

This blog post is part of a continuing analysis, shared with the 700 or so members of the Environmental Peacebuilding group and policymakers, regarding each phase of this protracted conflict and its series of failed peace agreements. The analysis raises questions relevant to conflict studies, negotiation, mediation, law, political science, natural resources and environmental management, governance and peacebuilding, which may serve as guidance to both students and practitioners. A full-blown academic  analysis of this latest peace deal is to follow, but readers are also encouraged to familiarise themselves with the volumes in the Environmental Peacekeeping series related to land, natural resources and governance for case-studies providing lessons on effective post-conflict governance.

The Demands on a Peacebuilder

The work of peacebuilder can be complex, demanding and even life-threatening. Continue reading

Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: A new global standard for land administration

by Douglas Batson

Douglas Batson joined the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) as a political geographer in 2004. He previously worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Justice, and is now retired from the U.S. Army Reserve. Batson wrote on “Snow Leopards and Cadastres: Rare Sightings in Post-conflict Afghanistan” in Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, and provides an update in this guest-posting.

My chapter in Part 3 of Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding begins with an overview of the challenges faced by U.S. and coalition forces in rebuilding Afghanistan during the 2000s, and specifically the need for a cadastral system that records the array of relationships between people and land. It also discusses the problems of refugee resettlement in the context of the post-war population explosion and the environmental destruction from decades of conflict. The discussion of secure tenure to land describes local initiatives including dispute resolution and management of land resources. It concludes by underscoring the potential of the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) to record heretofore undocumentable, orally defined forms of customary land tenure.

Shortly after the completion of my chapter, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) took up the LADM as a draft standard. I had the opportunity to advocate full adoption of the LADM as an ISO standard to the U.S. Federal Geographic Data Committee. This effort included addressing concerns about the cost of conforming 3,100 disparate U.S. county-level Land Administration Systems (LAS) to a new global standard. The LADM’s value, I argued, lies less in its utility for the U.S. homeland, than in its relevance for U.S. security, diplomacy, and development goals, in a context in which 75% of the world’s people-to-land relationships, or 4.5 billion cases worldwide, are not documented. This situation clearly invites land disputes, land grabbing, and violent conflict.

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Politics as land disputes by other means? Kenya braces itself for elections (updated)

by Rhodri C. Williams

Kenyans go to the polls next Monday in the culmination of an entire political season spent building institutional guarantees against a repeat of the appalling ethnic violence and mass-displacement that followed the country’s last elections in 2007. Prevention measures ranging from a new 2010 Constitution to a 2012 law criminalizing internal displacement have been earnestly discussed and adopted in the intervening years.

However, the breathtaking fact remains that some of the leading candidates in the current election may be responsible for the violence of the last round – and that their eventual election may be used as a pretext to effectively shield them from accountability for these crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The resulting ‘bizarre’ nature of the first debate between Kenya’s presidential candidates was captured by Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict, who also reflected recently on the underlying question the ICC-Kenya brouhaha raises – namely whether transformative political change has supplanted individual criminal responsibility as at least the implicit primary aim of international justice.

There is certainly a case for such an approach, which arguably only transposes the consequences of the individual criminal behaviour of political leaders into the novel but expanding terrain of the state responsibility to protect (see Mark Kersten again, here). If the results of an individual leader’s acts are now recognized as giving rise to a threat to international peace and security, in other words, why should the rest of the international community sit around and twiddle its thumbs?

On the other hand, principled arguments against such an expansive view of the aims of international justice include the risk of politicization of the ICC through selective support of regime change by gatekeeper institutions such as the UN Security Council. However, beyond this concern about the tail wagging the dog, Kenya may now have usefully exposed a major practical limitation on politically transformative international justice. For example, in an otherwise highly cogent piece on the upcoming elections in Kenya on OpenDemocracy, Clare Castillejo argues for what some may view as closing the barn doors after the horses have bolted:

So what can the international community do in these final days before the polls? Firstly it must send strong signals that politicians who incite violence will face international sanctions such as asset freezing, travel bans and – where possible – prosecution. Kenya’s international partners (particularly the US, UK and the EU) and its East African Community neighbours must be prepared to speak out forcefully at the first signs of electoral fraud or organised political violence.

Got that? Politicians now hoping to elude international accountability for past electoral violence by running for elected office are to be prevented from resorting to further violence by threatening them with accountability for such acts. Is that entirely convincing? I do not mean to be facetious, and I am very concerned for Kenya, but is doubling down on a concept of accountability that has proven elusive in practice likely to be effective as a means of protection? Perhaps it will, if applied as part of a unified campaign of international condemnation. But if it does not, the result may further undermine the effectiveness of accountability as a check on such crimes.

Humanitarians are also talking prevention, but in a slightly more nuanced (some might say ambiguous) way. Continue reading

Waking from a dream in Bolivia: The TIPNIS victory that never was

by Nicholas A. Fromherz

Caption: Highlands indigenous leaders prepare for a hunger strike in Cochabamba, showing their support for the lowland tribes fighting against the road through TIPNIS. Photo credit: Nicholas A. Fromherz

On October 24, 2011, Bolivians breathed a collective sigh of relief.  After a two-month struggle, culminating in massive protests in front of the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Evo Morales signed a bill declaring the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure (TIPNIS) “untouchable.”

The controversial road connecting Villa Tunari with San Ignacio de Moxos would not pass through the national park and protected indigenous territory.  The peoples’ cry to defend TIPNIS had been heard; “Evo Pueblo” had lived up to his moniker, even if only under extreme pressure, and had listened to his constituents.  He even said so himself:  “The TIPNIS issue is resolved,” he declared. “This is governing by obeying the people.”

Or so we thought.  Though many were probably skeptical from the start, many others—myself included—thought the case was closed.  The government would still likely construct a road between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos, but the new law dictated that it would skirt the park.  That, not prohibition of a road altogether, had always been the goal.

As the last few weeks have shown, however, the victory dance was premature.  On February 10, 2012, President Morales signed a new law bringing back from the dead the possibility a road through TIPNIS.  Three-and-a-half months after declaring the park “untouchable,” Morales signed a law calling for a “prior consultation” to determine whether the road should go forward as originally planned. How did this happen, and how can we make sense of it?

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Someday, none of this will be yours: the predatory state eyes ‘public’ land

by Rhodri C. Williams

In trying to keep track of even a fraction of the local and regional flare-ups over land rights these days, I keep thinking back to times when I was working in Bosnia and a  particularly infected property dispute would come up in the course of the restitution process. My colleague Charles P (one of the unsung geniuses behind the famous ‘PLIP‘) would shake his head wearily and mutter the climactic phrases of a classic quote from Gone with the Wind:

Why, land is the only thing in the world worth working for. Worth fighting for, worth dying for. Because it’s the only thing that lasts.

It has long been understood that land is fundamental to the material needs and identity of just about anyone not yet caught up in the great wave of urbanization that characterizes our time (as well as many of those who have). The Endorois decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also represents the latest in a long line of affirmations that recognition of the rights of those with longstanding claims to land through use and attribution is a precondition for them to participate in the life of the state on equitable terms.

It has also long been axiomatic that states retain the final word on land use, and that even where formal nationalization never took place, post-colonial states often inherited – and maintained – laws that held all land not formally owned in a state of inchoate expropriation. Shaun Williams writes on the ongoing challenges presented by ‘state land’ administration in post-colonial urban settings in a recent TN guest-posting, while Liz Alden Wily describes the rural consequences of the ‘public land’ problem in a pithy contribution to ODI’s 2009 research on land and conflict issues.

After the Cold War, the notion that individual and community rights to land might come to be seen as on a par with the state claims to eminent domain were buoyed on the rising tides of human rights and human security. Even if few dared to go as far as to posit a general right to land, there was a sense that policy was pointing in a protective direction. The rise of the post-conflict restitution discourse as symbolized by the Pinheiro Principles has been one example. Another has been the tendency for development standards and instruments to give property rights greater prominence. For instance, The Atlantic recently inferred a paradigm shift in international views on property rights from the post-Cold War proliferation of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) incorporating protections of private property rights:

While the specifics often differ, many BIT provisions protecting foreign investments have become near universal. Both the Turkey-Turkmenistan and U.S.-El Salvador agreements protect foreign investments from direct or indirect expropriation, nationalization, or similar measures “except for a public purpose, in a non-discriminatory manner, upon payment of prompt, adequate and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law.” Some countries’ more recent BITs also contain provisions designed to protect environment, labor, public health, and other public policy concerns in addition to the property rights of foreign investors.

However, the Atlantic’s declaration of a post-Cold War “worldwide revolution in how we think about international law and private property” seems premature, precisely because the line between “private” and “public” property remains so heavily contested. Meanwhile, a host of new factors have pushed many states from simply maintaining the status quo (e.g. allowing their populations to continue using ‘state land’ largely unmolested but without the prospect of genuine tenure security) to active predation. The combination of a general economic downturn, rising food and commodity prices, and new forms of state-backed investment have led many states to put their hand in the cookie jar, allocating nationalized and public land to domestic and international investors at a handsome (and typically highly untransparent) profit.

However, the basic dependence and attachment of families and communities to land they consider their own remains, leading to what must be an unprecedented proliferation of sharp and often violent confrontations between states (particularly less representative ones where governments may stand for ethnic or economic elites) and their own citizens over territory. The problem is not limited to states that have nationalized their land or ‘inherited’ public land from prior colonial regimes. However, it seems particularly acute in such settings precisely because the ordinary devices for protecting property from state intrusion assume the prior grant or recognition of rights in such property. Where such rights were ostensibly extinguished by nationalizations or colonial declarations of public land, legality is shifted to the side of the state and communities with every possible equitable right to their land are implausibly – but legally – reframed as squatters.

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Understanding the outcomes of customary justice: implications for land practitioners

by Erica Harper

The international community has traditionally concentrated its legal development activities on the reform of formal justice sector institutions: the courts, legislature, police and correctional services. As it has become clear that these approaches have been relatively unsuccessful in improving access to justice for poor and disadvantaged populations, attention has shifted to the role that customary justice systems might play in the programming of governments, international organizations and NGOs operating in development, post-conflict or post-disaster contexts. A strong argument can be put forward that, in most developing countries, the state cannot provide justice services to its entire population and it might not be the most cost-effective provider of these services. Moreover, part of the reason that customary systems exist is due to shortcomings in formal justice systems.

Sometimes these shortcomings are connected to issues of physical access or dysfunctions such as discrimination or corruption; they can also be because state justice fails to respond to the needs and social imperatives of disputants in the way that the customary system does. Such arguments have influenced the rule of law programming strategies of many organizations. A review of the current policy and programmatic landscape reveals a growing consensus that, despite some obvious challenges, excluding customary justice systems from reform strategies may not be the best approach for enhancing access to justice and protecting the rights of vulnerable groups. There is a growing appeal for strategies that aim to improve the quality of outcomes resolved at the community level by building on the positive aspects of customary systems, particularly their reach and popularity, and attempting to reform negative practices.

But while there is now greater consensus around the issue of engaging with the customary sector, programmatic guidance on how this should occur remains scant. Moreover, partnering with customary justice systems raises new and important concerns. Principally, how can customary systems be supported while at the same time ensuring that this does not equate with a recognition or formalization of rights-abrogating practices? Such concerns have arguably led to technocratic ‘fix it’ programming, such as reforming customary laws to strengthen procedural or substantive protections, or modifying the state-customary interface with a view to regulating or harmonizing the two frameworks. This is problematic because where customary norms do not align with international human rights standards, there are often complex rationales in play, touching upon issues such as culture, socio-economic factors and security. Approaches that concentrate on bringing customary systems into alignment with international norms can thus be, at best ineffective and at worst harmful.

A further concern is the gap between the proliferation of customary justice programs and the evidence and knowledge base on which such programming is grafted. There have been few comprehensive or empirically driven efforts that reflect on or evaluate the impact of past programming efforts. Nor has there been sufficient critical analysis of the objectives of customary justice programming: is the aim to support or supplement state courts, to act as a venue for a decentralization of state legal services, or to form part of a broader spectrum approach to accessing justice? One result is that development practitioners have tended to re-apply programs designed for use at the state level rather than craft activities specifically for use in customary contexts, and replicate activities perceived to have been effective elsewhere without a proper understanding of what conditions facilitated such results.

These questions promted the International Development Law Organization to conduct research into the impact of customary law programming in developing countries. This research culminated in two volumes: “Customary Justice: From Program Design to Impact Evaluation” and an edited volume: “Working with Customary Justice Systems: Post-Conflict and Fragile States”. Continue reading

Bolivia road protests continue

by Rhodri C. Williams

Following up on my earlier post on indigenous peoples’ protests against a road project in Bolivia, it seems there have been further developments. In brief, the minister responsible for the violent removal of the protesters has now resigned and the march to La Paz has resumed. The fate of Bolivia’s Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (‘Tipnis’ in Spanish) continues to hang in the balance.

In addition to providing updated coverage of the issue, the BBC has also recently provided a useful analysis of why President Morales, himself both indigenous and an advocate of the rights of indigenous peoples, would persist in backing the proposed road (“Bolivia Amazon protesters resume Tipnis road march”, 01 October 2011). The analysis merits quoting at length: Continue reading

Avoiding conflict through early and effective management of land disputes

by John W. Bruce

The last decade or so has seen growing recognition of the major role played by competition for land in generating conflict. However, the often extremely complex and embedded nature of such conflicts—and associated political sensitivities—is such that both international and national actors have in many cases shied away from fully engaging with them. In other cases, forms of intervention have not always sufficiently taken into consideration their major—and potentially recurring—causes. The challenge is to better understand the role played by land, combined with related factors, in the generation of conflict—both in terms of the conditions that create a vulnerability to conflicts and events that tend to trigger violent conflict—as a basis for preventing or de-escalating violence.

I had worked on land issues from a development standpoint in Mozambique, Sudan and Cambodia, but a 2009 study in Rwanda for the Overseas Development Institute and follow-up work with UN-Habitat made me aware that the humanitarian community working in peacebuilding contexts had developed new ways of looking at land conflict and useful short-term approaches for addressing it. The land tenure in development community had little knowledge of these and often saw land policy and administration exclusively through an economic development lens. At the same time, those in the humanitarian community working with post-conflict land issues lacked familiarity with the role of land tenure in development processes and sometimes did not appreciate what was needed to lay the basis for sustainable, sound land governance.  These bodies of understanding and differing perspectives about land issues had not been integrated-an integration that is essential to the development of effective strategies for prevention and mitigation of land-related conflict.

With these challenges in mind I agreed to work with the Initiative on Quiet Diplomacy (IQd) to develop a handbook on Land and Conflict Prevention The handbook is one of a series providing third party actors with practical guidance in addressing issues that are frequently the sources of tension before violent conflict (re)erupts. IQd’s approach to me coincided with a train of thought that began when I worked with UN-Habitat on post-conflict land issues. I was struck by the fact that the valuable thinking that had been going on in the post-conflict context needed to be walked back through time, as it were, into the pre-conflict period, asking “What do we know about land and conflict that can be mobilized for prevention?” The result is a blend of ideas and practical guidance for preventing land-based conflict drawn from both the post-conflict and developmental contexts.

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The ‘grin nervously’ school of large-scale land dispute management

by Rhodri C. Williams

The BBC is doing a nice job following two unrelated land disputes on opposite sides of the Pacific that are raising related discomforts for the governments that wish fervently they would go away.

In the eastern hemisphere we have China, where the government has now promised to investigate the sale of farmland to factory owners in Lufeng City (Guangdong Province), which sparked several days of ‘sometimes violent’ protests. It is not a big secret that one of the biggest current sources of political grievance in China is the ability of local authorities to capture nearly the entire value ‘created’ by turning peri-urban farmland to industrial or residential use. However, the resulting protests usually tend to take the form of something short of what could be termed ‘riots‘. In this case anger over the loss of ‘ancestral farmland’ appears to have boiled over into something more ominous:

Several hundred people were reported to have attacked a police station and government buildings, and to have used earth-movers to smash down a wall around the seized land.

Although the situation was reported as calm over the weekend, locals interviewed expressed continued anger.

Meanwhile, in the western hemisphere, Evo Morales’ pro-indigenous government in Bolivia is being rocked by indigenous protesters. Just over a month ago, protests began in the capital, La Paz, over an announcement that a road was about to be built directly through the  Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park. Despite government protestations that the road (which is heavily backed by Brazil and would connect its territory with Pacific ports) would promote regional development, local Amazonian Indians began a one month protest march to La Paz. Locals not only expressed anger that they had not been consulted over the road, but also concerns that it would destroy both the human and natural ecology of the area:

Environmental groups and indigenous activists say the road will open the region up to illegal logging, as well as settlement by farmers from the highlands who grow coca leaf – the raw material for illegal cocaine.

With the deployment of police at Yucumo, halfway along the route to La Paz, the march turned to a confrontation earlier this month. Events have moved rapidly since, with the protesters initially breaking the blockade by using the Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca (who had come to negotiate with them) as  sort of perambulatory ‘human shield’. As of yesterday, the police had been ordered to disperse the protesters and force them onto buses home, sparking the resignation of Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon.

Where the Chinese government bought time by promising an investigation, Mr. Morales “offered to put the issue to a regional referendum” on Sunday. In both cases, and in different ways, the role of democracy is of some interest. In China, where democracy is absent, an investigation remains the only credible means of delivering some meaningful form of accountability (other than further mob self-help). However, in Bolivia, the situation is the opposite.

The rationale for recognizing the territories of indigenous peoples is typically the need to protect them – as minorities – from the effects of democratic decision-making processes they can never win. This is what makes both the failure to consult with the affected communities in advance and the proposal for a referendum now more than dubious. Even at the regional level, a majority can surely be found that would prefer commerce with Brazil to the less tangible benefits of living next to some of the world’s last functioning indigenous societies. At the national level, support for the road may be even stronger. Mr. Morales may be indigenous, but he is also an elected politician.

Week in links – Week 37/2011: Palestinian statehood and other matters

With Mahmoud Abbas’ (by all accounts rather persuasive) affirmation today that Palestine would seek full membership in the UN, the stage is set for a showdown in the most dramatic and controversial attempt to exercise the right to self-determination in some time. This development has been bemoaned by a ‘pro-Palestinian anti-statehood’ school of thought perhaps best expressed in a recent legal opinion by Oxford professor Guy Goodwin-Gill. The New York Times editorial page and other observers have also raised concerns that a vote for statehood will also derail the possibility of negotiations entirely, delaying yet further a sustainable end to the conflict. And as noted by Robert M. Danin at Foreign Affairs, the decision to seek de jure status may also lead to the abandonment of a project of de facto state building that appeared to be working:

By focusing on state-building, the PA had improved living conditions and strengthened security for Palestinians. All along, one of its aims was to create a peaceful and conducive environment for negotiations, rendering Israel’s occupation unnecessary and ultimately unjustifiable. And indeed, slowly and without fanfare, Israelis have taken steps to lift the burden of the occupation on Palestinians, opening the West Bank a little more to the movement of people and goods and allowing Palestinian security forces to expand their control over larger parts of the West Bank. The under-the-radar approach made such tangible improvements possible.

In fact, the Israeli response has been to warn of the ‘harsh and grave consequences’ of UN recognition of Palestine, fuelling speculation that this could lead to outright annexation of parts of the West Bank. And lest anyone forget the complications involved in the territorial question, David Makovsky has provided a fascinating graphic of the current proposals as an Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Meantime, perhaps the parties to the Middle East conflict may be inspired by Belgium, which has finally resolved a deadlock focused on three contested municipalities near Brussels and may get a government 15 months after elections.

In less uplifting news, the ramifications of the oil pipeline fire in a Nairobi slum that killed scores of residents continue to unfold, with competent officials passing blame back and forth. To make a long story short, it reads like the fact section in the Öneryildiz case before the European Court of Human Rights several years back, in which Turkey was held responsible for violations of the right to life and property for having failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the foreseeable explosion of a garbage dump located near a slum. Perhaps some jurisprudence for the fledgling African Court of Human and People’s Rights to consider.

Finally, the New York Times provides some timely political analysis of the land struggle currently shaking the Bajo Aguán valley in northern Honduras.