Guest blogger Barbara McCallin on land disputes in Côte d’Ivoire

I’m very happy to announce that Barbara McCallin, who monitors land, housing and property issues for the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva, will join us with a guest posting this week. Barbara will discuss the link between internal displacement and property disputes based on her and her colleagues’ research on the western forest area of Côte d’Ivoire, as documented in a November 2009 IDMC report, available in French and English here. The online summary of the report reads as follows:

Armed conflict broke out in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002, which caused the country to be divided in two: the north under the control of the Forces Nouvelles rebels and the south in the hands of the government. It also caused the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. In the west of the country, and in particular in the two regions of Moyen Cavally and Dix-Huit Montagnes, the crisis provoked a series of successive displacements involving population groups with competing claims over land.

These tensions in the west were among the consequences of a national policy on forest development, which led to significant migration flows in the two regions, particularly from the 1960s and 1970s. Ongoing land disputes in these areas have been exacerbated by the armed conflict, the resulting displacement, and now the return of internally displaced people (IDPs). While people were displaced, many of the plots they they had planted were sold or leased by others, so depriving IDPs of their principal means of subsistence on their return and fuelling inter-community tensions. It is feared that the land disputes will multiply as more IDPs return.

In addition to Barbara’s post, there have been a number of other interesting recent developments that I am planning to post on soon. Perhaps most notably, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently issued a pivotal ruling – Demopoulos v. Turkey and seven other cases – clarifying that Greek Cypriot claimants to properties located in Turkish-controlled areas in northern Cyprus were required to exhaust available remedies – in the form of local compensation mechanisms – before they could apply to the Court. Antoine Buyse at the ECHR Blog summarizes the implications of the decision in the following terms (in a post available here):

The decision is the latest in the series of cases on contested Greek-Cypriot property in the northern, Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus. In the Pilot Judgment Procedure of Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey (2005-2006) a chamber of the Court had indicated that Turkey should enact changes in the existing compensation mechanism, which it subsequently did. In the decision of last week, the Grand Chamber declared a number of applications inadmissible, indicating that the existing remedies in Northern Cyprus should first be exhausted. In this way, the Grand Chamber seemed to take a practical and pragmatic approach. It emphasized that it does not force people to use these remedies – they may also await a broader political solution. But if they do, they cannot yet apply to Strasbourg. This could be seen as a new example of renewed Strasbourgian assertiveness in the light of the large quantity of applications it still faces.

On a final, entirely non-property related point, I would like to express my relief that the health care reform bill seems to have finally gone through in the US. Not to say that a bit of healthy skepticism of big government is a bad thing, but a change that emphasizes accountability to voters (I believe that this still applies to bureaucracies) over accountability to insurance company shareholders in a matter as fundamental as health care really can’t be a bad thing. For a more pointed comment on the purely negative arguments against reform that failed to prevail, see Paul Krugman in the NY Times, here.

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