Daily Archives: May 23, 2010

The Terezin Declaration and new guidelines on inter-generational restitution

by Rhodri C. Williams

A short note to announce an interesting development related to Holocaust restitution. Although the opening of archives and the softening of unenlightened political positions after the Cold War contributed to a surge in efforts to provide reparations to Holocaust survivors, former forced laborers and other victims of the Nazis, these have tended to comprise cash compensation, symbolic acts such as apologies and various forms of rehabilitation. Actual restitution of confiscated real estate has lagged behind, dogged by the usual problems facing inter-generational restitution (loss of witnesses and documentation, competing claims from bona fide subsequent purchasers, etc.) along with grim particularity that so many of the beneficiaries were murdered along with all potential heirs.

However, a little known achievement of the rather stormy Czech EU presidency last year was the convening of a ‘Holocaust Era Assets Conference‘ in Prague in order to “support Holocaust remembrance and education in national, as well as international, frameworks and to fight against all forms of intolerance and hatred.” While the work of the conference focused on a variety of topics from restoring looted art works to education and research, one of the goals set for the participants related more directly to lost property: Continue reading

The Commercial ‘Land Rush’ – human rights-based versus corporate social responsibility models

by Chris Huggins

Over the past few years, investors from high- and medium-income countries, including state agencies, have started to lease large areas of land in lower-income countries for commercial agricultural production. The pattern is likely to continue due to increasing demand for food in emerging super-economies such as India and China, rising oil prices and scarcity of water and land.

Both the numbers of land deals and the size of landholdings being leased or purchased have significantly increased over the past five years. According to the World Bank, the rights to some 50 million hectares in Africa alone have either been acquired since 2006 or are under negotiation, while NGOs like GRAIN estimate that a far greater area is affected. Countries selling or leasing farmland to investors are primarily low-income countries in Africa, and to a lesser extent Asia and Latin America. In Africa, countries selling or leasing very large areas of land include Sudan, Mozambique, Mali, and Ethiopia, and many other countries have seen smaller deals. The Agricultural Investment Agency in Ethiopia is reportedly considering offering foreign firms three million hectares of land over the next two years.

Principle investors include governments and firms from Bahrain, China, Egypt, India, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. Investors are motivated by both profit margins and domestic concerns over food security. The global agriculture sector is faring well despite the ongoing financial crisis, as demand for food is less income-elastic than other commodities. This suggests that foreign direct investment for food production is likely to increase, rather than decrease, in the future. Demand for bio-fuels is also likely to contribute to this trend, as long-term projections suggest increases in the price of oil. In addition, the impending water crisis is likely to have an impact. Governments leasing agricultural land abroad also use foreign water to grow the crops, effectively importing ‘virtual water’ along with the food. Continue reading