Monthly Archives: June 2010

Report alleging corporate complicity in Sudan oil abuses hits home in Sweden

by Rhodri C. Williams

A recent report by the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) has generated considerable debate in Europe, including Sweden, where reports on a local oil company’s possible complicity in atrocities has become an issue in upcoming elections and provided a slightly grim counterpoint to the glitz of the recent royal wedding.  The report is entitled “Unpaid Debt: The Legacy of Lundin, Petronas and OMV in Sudan, 1997-2003” and can be accessed here.

As I’ve been meaning to bring in some local stories and have established contact with a number of interesting humanitarian and human rights actors in my adopted home, I thought I would let one of the involved parties – Åsa Henriksson of the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation – tell the story:

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Marcus Cox letter from Kyrgyzstan – Why the referendum should go forward

by Marcus Cox

I’m just back from Kyrgyzstan, where I just happened to be when the country went south (spent an interesting evening watching the opening of the World Cup in a pub with the door barricaded and a riot outside.)

The question of whether to proceed with the referendum is actually a rather tricky one.  The previous Kyrgyz government, which was about as venal as they come, was toppled unexpectedly in April in a popular/Moscow-backed uprising.  The current interim government is in limbo, unable to receive the emergency budget support from the World Bank and other donors that it desperately needs due to its unclear legitimacy.  The draft constitution up for approval in the referendum is, by the standards of the region, remarkably democratic and progressive.  I don’t think it’s passage will in any way disenfranchise the Uzbeks.  It will provide the interim government with constitutional status, pending elections in October.

Against that background, there is clear evidence that the violence in Osh was instigated by the previous regime (now in exile in Belarus) to prevent the referendum going ahead, plunge the country into instability and either engineer a return to power or protect their many dubious economic interests.  The previous president and his family had stolen US$300 million from the country’s Development Fund, which you buys you a lot of trouble in Kyrgyzstan.  In the early days of the conflict, there were reports of unmarked vehicles driving into Uzbek neighbourhoods and shooting people at random, and then going into Kyrgyz neighbourhoods and telling people to flee before the Uzbeks retaliated.  Alas, despite some encouraging stories of Kyrgyz sheltering Uzbek neighbours, the provocation has proved all too successful, as the region’s many criminal elements, plus the mass of impoverished and undereducated young Kyrgyz men, have taken advantage of the ensuing chaos.

Against that background, cancelling the referendum would hand victory to those most responsible for this crisis, and in all likelihood cause the collapse of the current regime.  It’s hard to be sure, but my gut feeling is that this is the scenario most likely to lead to an escalation of conflict across the entire country.

I don’t believe the interim government has an anti-Uzbek agenda at all, but it has almost no capacity to intervene to stop the violence.  The army is small, under-equipped, unprofessional and poorly motivated.  The police were totally discredited in last April’s rebellion, when they failed to intervene in any useful way.  I don’t know whether elements of the army have been involved in violence in Osh – the consensus in international circles in Bishkek was that they have not, but nobody really knows – or if they are, whether they have been paid off by the previous regime or gone into business in their own right.  They are certainly not following orders from Bishkek.  But of course, it is characteristic of weak states that have lost the monopoly on force that, when they do intervene, they do so very badly.

The priorities now are to restore law and order in Osh and Jalabad, clear the way for humanitarian assistance and hope that, when the Uzbeks return home, the traditions of good neighbourliness among ordinary people have not been totally destroyed.  This calls for international support to the interim government to survive and regain control of the situation.  But special envoys and humanitarian supplies are not going to achieve this, and short of Russian military intervention, I don’t think anything else is on offer.

Update on Kyrgyzstan

by Rhodri C. Williams

Following up on yesterday’s post on displacement of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, the news coming in today has been pretty grim. On one hand, the dime appears to have dropped, with prominent EU foreign ministers expressing serious concerns. The Local reports this morning that Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, urged international intervention yesterday in recognition of the situation’s potential to bog down into an ethnic stalemate:

“The situation is alarming,” Bildt said at a joint press conference with Westerwelle in Stockholm on Monday.

Bildt emphasised the need for rapid action “in order to contribute to the confidence that is a necessity for people to start returning home.”

“If you don’t get people to start moving home fairly rapidly, you easily create a situation that sort of breeds resentment for years to come, and then there could be a very volatile and explosive situation,” he cautioned.

However, new NYT reports from Kyrgyzstan and refugee camps in Uzbekistan do not give rise to a great deal of optimism. In Kyrgyzstan, the interim authorities appear bent on proceeding with a referendum this Sunday on a new constitution virtually as if the clashes had not taken place. How internally displaced Uzbek citizens are expected to vote and whether the 70-100,000 that fled to Uzbekistan will be disenfranchised does not appear to be a priority issue.

Meanwhile at the local level, Kyrgyz authorities seem to be getting it entirely wrong, asserting their power in ways calculated solely to demonstrate that they are in charge and driving beleaguered Uzbek citizens further into a corner. The more the authorities insist on asserting power without acknowledging the wrongs done to innocent Uzbek civilians, the more acute the entirely predictable security dilemma that results.

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Risk of another post-Soviet frozen conflict in Kyrgyzstan

by Rhodri C. Williams

The mayhem in southern Kyrgyzstan over the last week has been viewed primarily from a humanitarian perspective to date, with the main media focus on the rapidly escalating death toll, as well as the condition of some 300,000 Uzbek minority citizens displaced within Kyrgyzstan and a further 75,000 who found refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan. However, the New York Times recently picked up on the longer-term risk that the withdrawal of ethnic Uzbeks into heavily defended enclaves could portend the beginning of yet another frozen conflict at the crumbling edges of the former Soviet Empire:

While it is still early, the tensions here could lead to the kind of ethnic standoff that has repeatedly arisen across the former Soviet Union. These clashes — in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and elsewhere — are often referred to as frozen conflicts because they have not been resolved over many years. They entangle the major powers, as in the case of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia over the renegade enclave of South Ossetia, which soured relations between Russia and the West, particularly the United States.

The government had been hoping to solidify its standing by holding a referendum on a new constitution on June 27, but the ethnic violence has thrown those plans into doubt. Ethnic Uzbeks, who make up about 15 percent of the population, will not take part in the voting unless international peacekeepers arrive in Kyrgyzstan, an unlikely prospect.

If the referendum is canceled, then the government may be further adrift.

Although the Kyrgyz provisional government has acknowledged that the death toll may be much higher than reported, it has been slow in responding to the humanitarian needs of victims, defensive about reports that Army units were involved in attacks on Uzbek civilians, and reluctant to explicitly acknowledge the inter-ethnic element of the attacks. Unsurprisingly, some Uzbeks have responded by circling their wagons and demanding ethnic separation and autonomy within the country.

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Post-conflict occupation of public property – an important issue raised at USIP’s INPRoL forum

by Rhodri C. Williams

I wanted to inform readers of both an interesting rule of law discussion forum – the US Institute of Peace’s International Network to Promote the Rule of Law (INPRoL) – and an interesting discussion that has emerged there based on the following inquiry:

Iraq Health Aid Organization is working with the Iraq Ministry of Displacement and Migration to support internally displaced peoples (IDPs). One issue that has arisen relates to displaced people who have been living in public properties and are now facing eviction or the threat of eviction from government officials. Are there any international norms or standards that should control the eviction of people from public property, particularly IDPs who have no other place to go?

Many of you out there are likely to have some very interesting insights on this discussion – based on experiences in Iraq and many other settings – and I wanted to preface this post by inviting you to join it. Literally. INPRoL is a membership-based resource, but becoming a member is relatively easy. If you would like to be a part of the above discussion or are interested in other issues INPRoL addresses, TN readers are invited to go to the membership application page and sign up, naming me as a nominating member. Once you are in, you can look for “Discussion Forums” in the left-hand menu, click on “General Rule of Law” and look for the discussion on “IDPs and property issues”.

As a preview, I have posted my own response to the Iraq inquiry:

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Land issues and natural disasters: introducing a new guidance for practitioners

by Esteban Leon

Much has been written and discussed in recent years about land issues by persons both expert and not so expert (and I include myself in the last group). However, in spite of the new literature, on-going debates, and variety of recommendations on issues such as land use and planning, land access, land administration and security of tenure, land remains one of the most controversial and challenging components of sustainable recovery from disasters.

In recent years, the humanitarian community has looked inward, learning from their past experiences providing emergency responses for the ever-increasing number of populations suffering from crises worldwide.  The humanitarian reform process has helped broaden the community of practitioners, reinforced global and country-based coordination systems, and initiated new and better means of ensuring integrated and robust humanitarian programming among concerned agencies.

“Natural disasters” are the consequence of natural hazards impacting human vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities are ‘built’ by many different factors, and exacerbated by the lack of applied disaster risk reduction programming. Good land use planning and regulation could have minimized the effects of many of the disasters the world has suffered in the last decades. Good land use planning and regulation would have also facilitated the recovery of affected communities from disasters. Nowhere has this been more evident that in the devastating disaster Haiti recently suffered and the world has witnessed.

Recognizing the rights of communities affected by natural disasters (to non-discriminatory access to property, to adequate housing including security of tenure, etc), UN-HABITAT together with FAO and as part of a framework response prepared by the IASC Cluster Working Group on Early Recovery (CWGER) have produced a guidance for practitioners on “Land and Natural Disasters”.  The main objective of the Guidelines is to provide an approach for addressing land issues in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, facilitating early recovery and reconstruction of affected communities from the earliest opportunity.

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Guest-blogger Esteban Leon to introduce new land and natural disaster guidance

Apologies to my readers for a recent gap in postings! I’ve been caught up in the ongoing USIP Land and Conflict training, but have a number of interesting items in the pipeline. First up is a guest-posting by Esteban Leon of UN Habitat. Esteban is very active in current efforts by the Cluster Working Group on Early Recovery in Geneva to develop better guidance to the field on land issues in conflict and disaster settings. In his post, Esteban will be introducing a new guidance on land and natural disasters that was recently finalized and published on UN Habitat’s disaster assessment portal. The guidance provides important insights on approaching this complex issue and comes at a timely moment in light of the steady march of both spectacular and mundane disasters across this season’s headlines.

Dye mon, gen mon – Land and shelter issues remain critical in post-quake Haiti

by Rhodri C. Williams

After blogging quite a lot on Haiti up till the New York donors’ conference back in March, my attention wandered a bit to other issues and regions. However, its been impossible to avoid noticing a steady drumbeat of reports over the last weeks indicating that a number of key pillars of the shelter and durable solutions strategies endorsed in New York seem to be faltering just as the new rainy season closes in on the beleaguered country.

Rebuilding after a disaster of the magnitude of Haiti’s quake will inevitably be a fraught process, subject to setbacks and delays. Even in relatively better off and better prepared Chile, IFRC reports that shelter and health issues remain a serious concern for those affected by the February quake there. But what is painful about the current impasse in Haiti is how quickly the cautious optimism generated in the run-up to the donor conference seems to be bogging down in a slurry of indecisiveness. Reading about it, I keep recalling a rather sad little Haitian proverb a colleague kept quoting in my grad school days of yore – back in the 90s when pre-quake Haiti was already seen as a basket case. “Dye mon, gen mon” went the title of her thesis: beyond the mountains, more mountains.

I began refocusing on Haiti after coming across an IHT editorial in mid-May that noted that the 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the quake remain, by and large, displaced. According to the editorial, only 7,500 people had been moved out of dangerous and overcrowded tent cities in the capital to planned transitional shelter areas due to the failure of the government to acquire appropriate sites, as well as the destruction of property records and growing neighborhood resistance to letting indigent newcomers put down roots. Meanwhile, the failure of humanitarian agencies to shift their operations beyond the capital was undermining the great decentralization plan, as urban IDPs began trickling back from the rural areas where they had found shelter in order to access aid.

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Half full or half empty? Reflections on restitution and return in Bosnia by a returned expat

by Massimo Moratti

The implementation of ‘Annex VII’ is again hitting the headlines in Bosnia as the Parliament discusses a national strategy for return and restitution. One of the most contentious issues, if not the stumbling block of the whole process, is the issue of compensation for those who don’t want to return to their previous homes.

The conflict in Bosnia was waged between the three predominant ethnic groups of the country (Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks), each of them represented by one main ethnic political party. It lasted from 1992 to 1995, killing between 100,000 and 200,000 people and causing the displacement of half of the population. It ended only with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which foresaw the continued existence of the state of Bosnia in the form of two largely autonomous entities with a weak central government.

One of the key provisions of the peace agreement was Annex VII, which granted to all IDPs and refugees the right to return home or be compensated for the properties they lost. However the positions of the three warring parties was not symmetrical vis-à-vis Annex VII. Bosniaks, being the relative majority were strongly in favor of return and adamant in asserting the “svaki na svoje” principle, e.g. that everybody should go back to his home, in a unconcealed attempt to blur the dividing line between the two entities. Meanwhile, the Croats and Serbs favored local integration and thus compensation of lost property for IDPs.

For many who worked on return in Bosnia immediately after the end of conflict, reading about the current debate over this contentious issue will have a rejuvenating effect. It will make them feel as if time didn’t pass since the end of the conflict, as the topics remain largely the same as during the initial phases of the return process. For those few who have been following this issue since its early phases, the debate is also incredibly frustrating. For the majority of expats working in today’s Bosnia, however, it will sound like just another dispute between the eternally litigious Bosnian politicians, who can’t agree on anything. Continue reading