Tag Archives: return

Land reform in Colombia: One step forward, two steps back

by Nelson Camilo Sánchez and Ilan Grapel

Nelson Camilo Sánchez is a research coordinator of the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society Dejusticia and associate professor at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogota. Ilan Grapel is a recent graduate of Emory University School of Law. For the last six months, he has been working with Dejusticia, where he has been researching issues relating to transitional justice in Colombia’s peace process.

Land reform in Colombia, while politically sensitive, is necessary to stabilize the country and end a violent conflict that has plagued Colombians for more than half a century. Colombia’s internal fighting has deprived millions of their land and livelihood. Adopted in June 2011, Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law, also known as Law 1448, is an important advance in providing restitution for those displaced by the conflict.

With this law, the government officially recognized the existence of an internal armed conflict. The Victims Law demonstrates that the government hopes to provide greater rights to the victims of the conflict. However, this legislation needs to overcome many obstacles; foremost among them, the Victims Law needs to find a way to provide reprieve to the large number of victims who may be entitled to compensation under the law.

To date, the government has made progress in realizing restitution claims. However, the law alone cannot cure Colombia of inequality within its population. As the government struggles to return impoverished victims to their lands, the moneyed classes continues to aggregate land and resources that allow them to maintain a lifestyle vastly different from the average Colombian, let alone the landless farmers. This inequality creates a tension that prolongs the hostilities and continues the displacement in the region.

For Colombia to transition into a successful and stable country, the government needs both to improve the Victims Law and address other land distribution problems.

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Svaka čast Croatia

by Rhodri C. Williams

And let me say how honored I am that you chose my birthday for accession to the EU! I’ve had a pretty complicated relationship with you in the past, I have to admit. On the positive side, I used to flee to you when the narrow valleys of Bosnia got me feeling fenced in and I needed to pop over that last rise after the Metkovic border crossing and let that view – the burnished expanse of the Adriatic – seep physically into me. We also used to pile out to the north, going hell for leather from Slavonski Brod along the ex-Highway of Brotherhood and Unity, anything just to hit Zagreb before the only Mexican restaurant in the West Balkans announced last call.

Beyond my personal enjoyment of your charms, I was also impressed in a grim way by your ability to stick it out as a small country in a historically tough neighborhood. The sort of existential problems you faced in the 1990s were unlikely anything I could imagine, having grown up in the protected suburban vastnesses of the 1970s US midwest. The problem, in my mind, was not (only) that you didn’t have clean hands (nobody did). The problem was that you couldn’t come clean about it. Of course, nobody else could either, but you, unlike the others, just galumphed right over your historical indiscretions like so many speed bumps on the boulevard to European integration.

So what is my beef? Well, I worked on property restitution in Bosnia. So I watched as the ‘international community’ in Sarajevo turned the screws on the Bosnians until they extended restitution to cover not only all private houses but also all socially owned apartments (with a few fateful exceptions of course). And I watched as the same international community in Zagreb gradually conceded points that we had gone to the wall over in Sarajevo and started to purge terminology like ‘tenancy rights’ from documents like EU accession progress reports.

I also worked on the OSCE and ICHR friend of the court briefs in the ill-fated Blecic case before the European Court of Human Rights, and assisted the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s attempt to push for uniform restitution standards in Europe. I marveled both when the ICTY condemned the uncompensated confiscation of 30,000 socially owned apartments as part of a broader plan to remove Serbs from Croatia, and when that ruling fell on a seeming technicality. And I am left to conclude that the relatively prosperous and self-confident Croatian political elite was simply not held to the same rigorous standards still being applied to their poor and less organized cousins in Bosnia.

The bottom line is that the country that declared independence in 1991 had a 12.2% Serb minority while the country that joined the EU today has a 4.4% Serb minority, and that little statistic patches over a lot of ongoing misery and unredressed violations. Now I know its still not an easy time for you what with sliding EU support and all the commentators cracking wise about how you fought your way out of one oppressive, economically troubled confederation twenty years ago only to fling yourself into another today. So I’ll say only this. It is entirely to your credit that you have entered the hallowed precincts of the EU but it is troubling that you did so with a certain number of skeletons clanking around in your luggage.

Of course, one might as easily find fault for this state of affairs in Brussels as in Zagreb. But pressuring countries that are already in to observe such niceties as the Copenhagen criteria and the rule of law is not the EU’s traditional strong suit. In any case, that is nothing that should prevent you from finding that it lies in your own best interest to engage sooner rather than later with your past. And doing so in a clear-eyed way would, at a stroke, remove many of the excuses holding back your EU-aspirant neighbors from doing the same. And maybe leave both the EU and the western Balkans in better shape as a result. So, congratulations, and good luck as part of the European project of building a future worthy of the sacrifices and suffering of the past.

The Kampala Convention on internal displacement in Africa: What does it mean for housing, land and property restitution?

by Mike Asplet and Megan Bradley

Mike Asplet is an attorney currently working with the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. Megan Bradley is a Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where she works with the Brookings-LSE Project.

The African Union’s Kampala Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa will hopefully come into force any day now. When it does, it will be the first regional treaty to comprehensively address the IDP issue, from preventing displacement to providing protection and assistance, and supporting durable solutions. The Kampala Convention represents a critical new tool for tackling some of the largest and most complex IDP situations in the world: some 10 million people are internally displaced across the continent, making up one third of the world’s IDP population.

The treaty reflects well-established normative frameworks, primarily the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which have to date provided the foundation for IDP protection and assistance efforts. However, the Kampala Convention also significantly advances the normative framework on internal displacement in several key areas. These include protection from arbitrary displacement; the responsibilities of the African Union, multinational companies and private security actors; and the right to a remedy for the wrongs associated with displacement, including the loss of housing, land and property (HLP). The question of remedies for lost HLP is particularly important, as land conflict is at the root of many internal displacement flows in Africa, and the resolution of hotly contested land claims represents a key barrier to solutions for thousands of IDPs.

On first glance, it doesn’t seem like the Kampala Convention has much to say about land issues, and in particular the restitution of displaced persons’ lost property. In light of the popularization of the (contested) UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (the so-called “Pinheiro Principles”) and trends such as the now-common practice of explicitly addressing the restoration of displaced persons’ HLP rights in peace treaties, it is striking that there is no reference to restitution in the Kampala Convention. This omission is clearly deliberate. While many provisions from the Guiding Principles have been specifically incorporated into the Kampala Convention (in some places without amendment), the documents diverge considerably in their approach to question of HLP rights, and restitution in particular.

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Beyond restitution: New book explores property rights and durable solutions for the displaced

by Anneke Smit

Anneke Smit is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor (Canada), where she teaches Property Law. She has worked on displacement and post-conflict property issues for more than a decade, including in Kosovo with OSCE and in Georgia with a grassroots human rights NGO. She is the author of The Property Rights of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: Beyond Restitution, published this year by Routledge.

Recent posts in TN by Roger Duthie and Megan Bradley as well as Rhodri Williams, highlight the importance of transitional justice in bringing displacement to an end and encouraging processes of reconciliation. Yuliya Alieva’s post on the two decades of internal displacement in Azerbaijan is a critical reminder of the intensifying need to consider the full range of durable solutions – local integration and resettlement in addition to return, in particular in protracted displacements. These discussions reinforce the importance of post-conflict housing, land and property (HLP) restitution to contribute to these processes, but they are also reminders of the limitations of the current international legal framework.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the enormous strides which have been taken in the last decades with respect to post-conflict HLP restitution. The international legal framework on HLP restitution is since 2005 dominated by the (non-binding) UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (The Pinheiro Principles). Principle 2 of the Pinheiro Principles states in part:

2.1 All refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them any housing, land and/or property of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived[.]

As such, the Principles prioritize restitution “in kind” (or in rem) as the preferred remedy to conflict-related HLP rights deprivations. Other remedies, including but not limited to compensation, are possible but these are clearly subordinated to return of the actual property. Since their inception, the Pinheiro Principles have been discussed and publicized widely. At first, it seemed taboo to criticize the Pinheiro Principles, given the substantial and hard-won contribution they made to a critical area of post-conflict justice and solutions to displacement. Recently, however, it seems the floodgates of criticism have opened.

Rhodri’s recent blog post on the UN high level rule of law meeting alluded to the place of HLP restitution within the framework of rights-based humanitarianism; in what I find a particularly compelling warning about that movement, Hugo Slim wrote a few years ago in a paper for ODI that “as a debate essentially concerned with a political, moral and legal framework, rights-based humanitarianism may never leave the paper and seminar rooms where it is debated and find the means to have a practical effect.” This is, of course, the crux of the problem with the Pinheiro Principles – they are a lovely piece of work on paper but one which in many cases has had trouble achieving a significant practical outcome. Much of the criticism seems to point to this question: are refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) actually better off for the existence of the Pinheiro Principles?

I am a pragmatist at heart, but one who does not believe we should throw the human rights baby out with the bathwater. In Beyond Restitution my critique is two-fold. First, I argue, through a discussion that includes consideration of the development of the rights to HLP restitution and return, analysis of a dozen post-conflict case studies, and consideration of the meaning of “home” in the context of forced displacement, that the desired results of return and reintegration could not have been expected to flow directly from Pinheiro-style restitution. Second, I take this analysis as a springboard to address how the post-conflict HLP framework might continue to develop in a way which more effectively contributes to durable solutions, without losing a necessary link to transitional justice and reconciliation. I outline two of my primary arguments here; the book of course treats them in more detail:

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Can you be internally displaced for twenty years? Housing issues and protracted displacement in Azerbaijan

by Yuliya Aliyeva

Yuliya Aliyeva is a Senior Program Manager at the Caucasus Research Resource Center, Azerbaijan. This blog post is based in part on the publication she co-authored last year for the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, “‘Can you be an IDP for Twenty Years?’ A Comparative Field Study on the Protection Needs and Attitudes towards Displacement among IDPs and Host Communities in Azerbaijan”.  The report co-author, Tabib Huseynov, is the Caucasus Program Manager for Saferworld.

The ongoing conflict with neighbouring Armenia over Azerbaijan’s predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh produced one of the largest flows of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) seen during the deterioration process of the former Soviet Union. Today, some 595,000 people—or seven percent of the total population—remain internally displaced in Azerbaijan.[1] While the two states continue their posturing about the future of Nagorno-Karabakh, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens await durable solutions to their displacement and continue to face major housing and property concerns in particular.

The conflict started in 1988 as Armenians demanded incorporation of Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia. As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, leaving a huge power vacuum behind, inter-communal clashes escalated into a full-scale undeclared war between newly independent Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a result of the fighting, which left some 25,000-30,000 people dead on both sides, Armenian forces gained control over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that together make up 13.6 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. A cease-fire was signed in 1994, which has largely held until today, although the parties have been unable to resolve the political dispute regarding the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

As IDPs fled the conflict areas, they were temporarily settled throughout Azerbaijan. Some of them settled in administrative buildings, schools, unfinished buildings, dormitories and sanatoriums. Others were placed in IDP camps, railway cars, dugout shelters and other sub-standard emergency shelters in rural areas. The housing conditions for some IDPs have improved over time and are now similar to those enjoyed by the general Azerbaijani population. However, for the majority of IDPs, proper housing is still only a dream.

Today, according to official statistics, 86 percent of IDPs in Azerbaijan live in urban areas (mainly in Baku and Sumgait).[2] According to a recent World Bank study, 42.5 percent of IDPs live in one-room accommodations, compared to only 9.1 percent of non-IDPs.[3] As a result, IDP families have an average of 36 square meters of living space compared to 74 square meters for non-IDP families.[4] That being said, there is some diversity among IDP populations and their housing situations. Overall, the IDPs can be divided into four categories based on housing conditions.

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Protection in the past tense: New book on displacement and transitional justice explores the role of restitution

by Rhodri C. Williams

This summer, the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) published a new edited volume on Transitional Justice and Displacement (click here for the free PDF version) together with the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. The book was based on an initial round of research papers and has been accompanied by a much shorter policy brief. All of these resources have been prominently featured on dedicated pages at both the ICTJ website and at Brookings. The volume forms part of a broader series on Advancing Transitional Justice and was edited by Roger Duthie, a senior associate at the ICTJ and a patient and thoughtful collaborator – qualities I appreciated greatly in drafting the third chapter of the book on housing, land and property (HLP) restitution.

The book’s authors chart the relationship between humanitarian responses to displacement and the traditional components of transitional justice (prosecution, truth-telling, institutional reform and reparations) along with more recently articulated concerns such as gender justice. The broader issue of reparations for displacement was ably addressed by Peter van der Auweraert, head of the IOM’s land and reparations program and past TN guest-blogger. In one sense, my chapter on HLP restitution was much narrower than Peter’s. After all, HLP violations are only one of the many types of injuries typically suffered in the course of displacement, and restitution is only one of the forms of redress that can be applied. At the same time, what I enjoyed most about writing the chapter was the opportunity it gave me to think at the broadest possible level about how the fundamental goals and methods of humanitarian action comport with those of transitional justice and even development assistance.

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Mainstreaming IDP principles in capacity building efforts: A chance missed in Kosovo

by Milica Matijevic and Massimo Moratti

Although more than a decade has passed since the end of hostilities in Kosovo, the process of post-conflict property restitution is far from complete. Apart from the cases still awaiting adjudication before the Kosovo Property Agency (KPA), the mass claims mechanism dedicated to post-conflict property repossession, the local judiciary also deals with a significant number of conflict-related property claims that fall outside of the mandate of the KPA. These cases concern issues crucial to durable solutions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kosovo, such as illegal occupation of property, forged contracts of sale, exchanges under duress, and illegal demolition of property.

The project “Further support to IDPS and Refugees in Serbia” has recently published a report on the difficulties faced by IDPs in accessing the court system in Kosovo and how a number of bureaucratic requirements, apparently of a merely technical nature, in reality have a significant impact on access to justice for IDPs, potentially violating their right to fair trial. The report argues that for these cases to be effectively resolved, the justice system needs to take into account the fact of displacement and the difficult position of IDPs.

According to international fair trial standards, access to justice should be granted for everybody, regardless of one person’s status. In the context of Kosovo this would mean that the local laws and institutions should enable effective access to courts, not only for the resident population but also for those who were displaced as a consequence of conflict (who are nevertheless considered as habitual residents of Kosovo). This obligation becomes even more compelling when IDPs are predominated by the largest single ethnic minority group, as it is the case in Kosovo.

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From shelter to housing: New NRC report on tenure security and displacement

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) just released a substantial study I wrote for them on the right to security of tenure and how it relates to interim shelter needs and long-term durable solutions for both refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is a long read, but I would recommend it to those interested in these topics as my most comprehensive attempt to date to articulate the legal and policy dynamics of this important emerging area of humanitarian practice.

The background analysis in the study picks up on themes I developed earlier with regard to Liberia (also for the NRC), as well as Serbia (for the Brookings Institution) and Iraq (for the US Institute of Peace). These include the need for humanitarian actors to continue their engagement with both human rights and development discourses related to access to housing and security of tenure. The nexus with human rights emerges clearly from the moment of displacement, given the increasing trend (as reflected in the Sphere Standards) toward aligning humanitarian shelter provision with the human right to adequate housing. In accordance with commonly accepted understandings of this right, this means that even transitional shelter should meet basic standards of adequacy and be provided in a manner that ensures an appropriate level of tenure security to its occupants.

Meanwhile, the nexus with development standards relates to the insight that an increasing number of both refugees and IDPs find themselves in situations of protracted displacement. As a result (and as described in my earlier study on Serbia), measures to provide interim shelter solutions for displaced persons may quickly take on a de facto permanent character, and should often be planned with this eventuality in mind. This implies that pro-poor urban development standards (such as those developed by UN-HABITAT) should be applied wherever possible to allow the community-driven upgrading of IDP and refugee settlements. It also implies that development standards regarding involuntary resettlement should complement human rights standards in guaranteeing legal security of tenure for the displaced.

In the current NRC study, the case studies chosen related to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as well as IDPs in Georgia. Application of the relevant standards on tenure security is difficult in both cases, but for entirely different reasons. In the case of Lebanon, refugees do not (unlike IDPs) enjoy a right to seek local integration as a durable solution. However, the particular political sensitivities in Lebanon have led to a situation in which efforts to prevent local integration have led to restrictions in areas such as access to housing that cannot easily be reconciled with the country’s international obligations.

In the case of Georgian IDPs, there has been a determined and ambitious effort to facilitate integration in a manner that does not foreclose the eventual possibility of property restitution and return. However, significant complications have arisen in part because this program has been aligned with a broader attempt to privatize state-owned property. This has led to some some difficulties in a program to allow IDPs to buy the shelter allotted to them in buildings subject to privatization as well as questions regarding what can be done for the large proportion of IDPs still sheltered in private accommodation.

It is important to recognize the initiative of the NRC, and particularly its Information, Counseling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) program, in driving these issues forward. The ICLA program has in many respects led the way in terms of seeking effective property remedies for the displaced in the field, and have now pivoted quickly to address new concerns related to tenure security where such remedies are not forthcoming. As always, I benefited a great deal from the insights and hospitality of my NRC colleagues while preparing this report, and it is my fond hope that some of them will guest-post on TN soon with both updates on the specific case-studies covered in the report and comments about their other ongoing initiatives in the area of housing, land and property rights.

Addressing systemic obstacles to restitution in Kosovo: Legal aid as a fact finding tool

by Massimo Moratti

In post conflict settings in which internally displaced persons (IDPs) seek to regain possession of their properties, the provision of legal aid becomes an essential service for the protection of their rights in the place of origin. The importance of such services is even greater when significant barriers arise between the place of origin of the IDPs and the place where they are actually displaced. These barriers may not only consist in the physical distance between the two places, but also in the fact that the place of origin of IDPs (in this case, Kosovo), and the place of displacement of IDPs (Serbia) hold diametrically opposed views on the future of Kosovo and are evolving into two separate legal systems with little or no institutional communication. Phone lines, mail and official communication are interrupted and, pending reciprocal recognition or an overall settlement of the issue, their resumption cannot be envisaged in the immediate future.

For these reasons, the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia has partnered with the Serbian authorities to provide legal aid services to IDPs from Kosovo as well as refugees from Bosnia and Croatia through Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) funding. Continue reading

Colombia’s Victims’ Law enacted – Last stand or new beginning for programmatic property restitution?

by Rhodri C. Williams

In a signing ceremony attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ratified the Victims’ Law last Saturday, fulfilling his  unexpected and ambitious post-election pledge to enact a property restitution bill. Commentary on TN has highlighted both the unprecedented nature of this effort and the formidable obstacles it faces.

The fate of this legislation takes on additional significance against the background of current debates over the post-conflict ‘right to restitution’ proclaimed most prominently in the 2005 Pinheiro Principles. As early enthusiasm about restitution has faded, the need to respond to prevailing humanitarian trends such as urban vulnerability and protracted displacement has led to an increased emphasis on local integration as a durable solution. The extent to which programmatic restitution – and the promotion of voluntary return – remains seen as a viable complementary strategy to local integration efforts may depend on the outcome of the increasingly rare test cases, such as Colombia, that tackle this challenge head on.

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