Monthly Archives: September 2010

International standards governing evictions from public properties

Last June, I posted on an inquiry about post-conflict occupation of public property in Iraq that was doing the rounds in a rule of law discussion forum on the US Institute of Peace’s International Network to Promote the Rule of Law (INPRoL) website. Since that time, I was asked to work on a ‘consolidated response’ to the query that took into account the various comments posted in response to the original query.

The result can be accessed on the INPRoL site. Below is a copy of the abstract:

This consolidated response reviews three human rights – freedom of movement, privacy, and adequate housing, as well as development standards on evictions, all of which emphasize the need to take all feasible steps to diminish the hardship to vulnerable groups resulting from evictions. It then describes a three factor balancing test, based on the human rights principles and development standards, which Iraq can utilize to ensure its practices adhere to international law and best practices. It is hoped that the presentation of this approach will be of assistance to the Iraqi authorities in identifying the most appropriate policies for addressing the issue of occupation of public property in a manner compatible with both international law and Iraq’s social and economic realities.

It was interesting writing the response as it confirmed my impression that human rights and development standards on evictions are fairly closely conceptually related even if they differ in their details and rarely reference each other. In making my recommendations, I tried to build on what I saw as synergies and encourage governments (well, in this case the Iraqi government) to give both sets of standards the weight they deserve.

The week in links – week 38/2010

It will not have escaped discerning readers that I’ve been a little neglectful of my blogging duties over the last weeks. Sorry for that and thanks for hanging on. I thought I’d float a new format that would be a bit more manageable for times when I’m too frazzled to pontificate. So here is this week’s pick:

  1. Anybody remember the Pakistan earthquake? USAID does and its a little bittersweet and a little encouraging to skim their year 3 recovery report, brimming with build back better and participatory assessment. I wonder what the headlines will look like when we are all opening up the Pakistan flood year 3 report.
  2. While we are on the topic, here is a link to a succinct and slightly puzzling briefing note on a program to resettle IDPs whose land was lost or rendered unusable by the Pakistan quake. Slightly odd terminology (“One Window Operation is a mechanism devised to organize mutation of land and disbursement of financial assistance at one spot on the same day”) but a logical local response to what climate change sadly has in store for many more…
  3. …as in Southeast Asia, where World Vision has issued a sobering PR spelling out what the truism about the poor being least resilient to natural disasters looks like in practice. As in Pakistan, Haiti and many other settings, land remains a central issue a year after Hurricane Ketsana struck the Philippines: “…thousands of the poorest survivors are still living in tents, displaced from their former shanty homes onto patches of land where they face an uncertain future as authorities attempt to negotiate land rights that would grant them a permanent home.”
  4. EurasiaNet has an interesting piece on Azerbaijani IDPs from Nagorno-Karabakh who are resisting local integration by refusing to send their children to a new school they would share with host communities. Again land. In the words of one observer: “These are people whose mindset is fundamentally tied to the land, … and that is a factor in their tie to the school — good or bad.”
  5. The NY Times ran a sad piece on the vulnerability of indigenous groups even in countries such as Venezuela that are officially committed to protecting their rights. In this case, members of the Warao tribe have turned to scavenging in a dump in Ciudad Guayana. A community leader expresses an unfamiliar take on indigenous land rights: “We’re never going to leave this place … We’ve claimed this land and made our life in this dump, and this is where our future rests.”
  6. Meanwhile, UNHCR reports on the vulnerability of indigenous groups in countries where they find themselves in the way of conflict-facilitated natural resource stripping. The Tule people of Colombia, facing extinction in September 2010.
  7. In the category of disasters that haven’t happened, the IASC reminds that just because a hurricane hasn’t hit Haiti yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen…
  8. …and Reuters informs that the Sahel appears to have been spared the worst effects of a potentially catastrophic drought.
  9. Staying on disasters but of a political nature, we have Tihomir Loza’s TOL commentary on the logic of Bosnian political stagnation…
  10. …and Paul Krugman’s take on the Republicans’ Pledge to America.
  11. And moving to high concept, the NY Times Review of a new book on human rights that posits its roots less in the enlightenment than in decolonization and “the failure of national self-determination to guarantee human dignity”. Prolonged commentary on Opinio Juris as well.

Sebastián Albuja on the Colombia restitution bill

NB: Sebastián Albuja covers Colombia for IDMC and is currently working on a report on restitution issues there. In the meantime, he has provided a few comments on my post from yesterday, including a closer reading of the new draft restitution law which is so interesting that it deserved to be a post in its own right:

Hi Rhodri and colleagues,

I agree with you that the momentum given by the Santos administration bodes well for the adoption of a reparations program this time around. For one, the administration has a clear majority in Congress that should in principle support this Government-backed bill. However, questions remain regarding some aspects of the bill. In the meantime and while we finalize our report, here is a brief description and commentary on the proposed bill.

The ‘motivations’ section of the bill mentions that it sets out to implement the orders given to the Government by the Constitutional Court in relation to IDPs land rights. The bill does include many guarantees for victims contained in the Colombian Constitution and international law (and included in your recommendations in the Displacement Solutions report).

Firstly, it chooses restitution as a preferential mechanism over alternative means of reparation. Secondly, it makes eligible for restitution not only those with property titles, but also people that had informal tenure over land. Thirdly, it establishes a presumption that dispossession happened in areas where generalized violence took place. These areas will be determined and delimited by the government prior to the implementation of the mechanism, and will be made priority zones for restitution.

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Restitution gets a fresh chance in Colombia

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Economist has picked up on a positive trend in Colombia, where the new administration of Juan Manuel Santos has issued draft legislation proposing special courts to address the restitution claims of over 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) driven from their land over decades of conflict.

The bill incorporates a number of administrative shortcuts in favor of victims that have been proposed by various restitution wonks, including myself in a 2006 presentation for Fundación Ideas Para la Paz and a 2008 analysis for Displacement Solutions (as well as more broadly in the discussion of ‘facilitated procedures’ in Chapter 12 of the 2008 IDP Law and Policy Manual):

On September 7th Mr Santos’s administration published a bill to create special courts to oversee land restitution. It would also reverse the burden of proof, requiring owners to show they acquired land legally and without violence or threats. The aim is to restore 2m hectares to the dispossessed over the next four years. ….

It will not be easy. Some 70% of displaced people hold no formal title, and many worked the land under unwritten sharecropping arrangements, according to Ana Maria Ibáñez, an economist at the University of the Andes in Bogotá. The bill proposes a new land registry based on testimony by the displaced and their neighbours. The broader aim is to formalise land tenure in a country where only 40% of farms have titles and only half have been valued. The registered value of Colombia’s national territory (of 114m hectares) is just $279 billion, of which property in Bogota, the capital, accounts for 40%.

Its low value encourages owners of land to leave much of it fallow or sparsely grazed by a few cows. Juan Camilo Restrepo, the agriculture minister, wants to induce more productive use of land. Almost half the 38.6m hectares devoted to ranching could be used for intensive farming, the ministry reckons. It also wants to turn some fallow or confiscated land over to landless people, as a way to reduce Colombia’s high unemployment rate. A new “peasant-farmer reserve zone” will be created near the Montes de Maria, an area where agribusinesses have been buying land from indebted small farmers at bargain prices. And once land is properly valued it could be duly taxed.

A note of caution is in order as Colombia has been a graveyard of reparations plans in the past. My own report for DS (above) begins by listing ten laws and decrees with provisions on both the narrow issue of property restitution and broader questions of victims’ reparations and land administration reform, most of which remained largely unimplemented. Indeed, the report itself was intended to facilitate a draft Victims’ Law that was launched with great optimism but quickly fell afoul of the politically polarized legislature. However, Santos’ new mandate may provide a conducive atmosphere for passage of the draft law, and if so, the early and serious attention being given to this issue bodes well for its implementation.

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The Onion on Afghanistan natural resources

After having come on fairly heavy and fatalistic in a few recent posts, I thought it might be time to reintroduce a note of levity. How better than to say it than with an Onion?

WASHINGTON—According to a new State Department report, Afghanistan’s more than $900 billion worth of untapped iron, copper, lithium, and other minerals could transform the nation from a graft-laden backwater into a modern, 21st-century hub of corruption. “Afghanistan’s crooked political system currently relies solely on the small-time bribes of opium peddlers, but these highly sought-after natural resources could usher in a bright new era of illegitimate government maneuvering,” said M. Farhan Sajadi, associate professor of Central Asian Studies at Hofstra University. “Officials will soon be able to embezzle, extort, and receive under-the-table kickbacks from major international conglomerates on a scale that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. This is a major leap forward for Afghan kleptocracy.”

Endless summer?

A quick note to the readership to say that I’m neither still on vacation nor have I sworn off blogging in a moment of reckless abandon. I am however in the throes of a very busy reentry into the consultancy rounds and expect to only get back into my normal level of activities in a week or two.

I’m also not really sure what I would have to add to the ongoing commentary on the truly staggering situation in Pakistan, where every HLP anything in an area the size of Sweden has been washed away. Lets all give what we can to our favored humanitarian actors working there and hope that whatever Sweden-sized area we happen to be located in isn’t next.