Monthly Archives: October 2010

Week in links – Week 43/2010

A short but interesting list this week:

IDMC reminds us that its been a year since the groundbreaking Kampala Convention was passed, committing African Member states to address internal displacement. However, only two member-states have ratified to date, leaving thirteen to go until entry into force.

– IRIN published a short article on the prevalence of land-grabbing after natural disasters and new efforts to secure land tenure.

– NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice published a report on the global land rush and human rights based on three negative case-studies (Tanzania, Sudan and Pakistan) and one more hopeful one (Mali).

– IRIN also reports on the connection between land and water scarcity and conflict in Yemen, a fundamental issue that appears to have been overlooked in the rush for political solutions:

“Social violence is the greatest threat to Yemen over the long term,” said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst. “Political violence and violence by the state against the population can be reversed relatively easily; there could be a new political settlement. But diminishing resources is an intractable problem that cannot be solved by political consensus. It will require much more work.”

– OpenDemocracy ran a long and thoughtful piece on the forthcoming Sudan referendum. In addition to pointing out the various tensions that risk returning the region to all out warfare, this comment also provides some useful background on the recent history of referendums in Africa and notes the potential of African and regional institutions to contain the potential for fiasco.

– David Cronin posts in OpenDemocracy on corporate capture of trade agreement negotiations and some of the more unpleasant social and environmental consequences.

UN Secretary General urged to address Cambodia evictions

by Rhodri C. Williams

In a press release today, COHRE appealed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to use his current trip to Cambodia to seek an improvement in respect for housing rights. The PR focused in particular on the ongoing evictions from the Boeung Kak district of the capital Phnom Penh, which has been the subject of previous TN postings by both myself and Natalie Bugalski.

Sadly, it is a bit hard to picture the Secretary General spontaneously acceding to COHRE’s suggestion that he

meet with representatives of the Boeung Kak community during his visit to Cambodia this week, to “demonstrate the commitment of the UN to its core founding purpose of ‘promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms’ for all people everywhere.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see if the SG will be so indelicate as to mention any of the rather alarming lurches Cambodia has made away from the extensive human rights obligations it undertook as part of the early 1990s peace process.

For some insights, I turned to Turtle Bay, where I was most immediately struck by China’s recent diplomatic successes in the UN, both in terms of obscuring the fact that its own weapons industry appears to be doing a roaring business in Sudan despite the embargo, and in the narrower area of defending states in its near abroad – in this case Burma – from human rights and war crimes scrutiny.

As I’ve noted in the past, Burma and Cambodia have a few things in common, ranging from their increasingly close economic and diplomatic ties with China to their poor human rights records. Although there has been a longstanding tendency on the part of development actors in Cambodia to dither a bit on human rights issues like forced evictions, one can’t help but wonder whether China’s recent bouts of vigorous UN diplomacy might not have a further chilling effect on what is already a fairly cooled down topic.

Note on ECtHR Decision in Demopoulos v. Turkey

by Rhodri C. Williams

Along similar lines to my earlier piece on the UNRoD, I recently wrote an introductory note for the publication in International Legal Materials of a key decision on property rights in Cyprus by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Demopoulos decision is interesting from a number of perspectives, but not least for the new approach it brings to the issue of what standards should guide the question of when compensation can be provided in lieu of restitution (an issue I’ve opined on a number of times in the past, including here with regard to the IASC framework on durable solutions for IDPs).

The proper name of the final version of this article is “Introductory Note to the European Court of Human Rights: Demopoulos v. Turkey” and it was published in its final version in the Volume 49 No. 3 issue of International Legal Materials. The version reproduced below is an edited draft.


INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE European Court of Human Rights: Demopoulos v. Turkey


I.            Introduction

On March 1, 2010, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided to reject the applications of seventeen Cypriot citizens against Turkey as inadmissible.[i] The applicants had alleged various violations of the European Convention of Human Rights, but the Court’s decision in Demopoulos turned on examination of their claims related to the right of property under Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the right to the home under Article 8 of the Convention.

All of the applicants in Demopoulos are Greek Cypriots who were displaced by the 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of north Cyprus, and subsequently denied the use of their properties and access to homes they left behind. Essentially, this ruling is the latest in a fourteen-year line of decisions against Turkey related to the unresolved conflict in Cyprus. However, this ruling also breaks with its antecedents. First, it finds that the property claims process set up in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus may constitute an effective domestic remedy; and, secondly, it requires Greek Cypriot applicants to demonstrate that they have exhausted this remedy before their applications to the Court will be found admissible.

The broader significance of the Court’s decision in Demopoulos is two-fold. On the one hand, the decision represents the most emphatic expression to date of the Court’s determination to implement a new “pilot case” procedure. This procedure is meant to relieve the Court of a large backlog of cases by encouraging States Parties to the Convention to adopt systematic approaches allowing the domestic resolution of repetitive, or “clone” cases pending before the Court. On the other hand, the decision appears to represent a conscious effort by the Court – as one of many international players involved in the protracted negotiations over the Cyprus issue – to strike a practical balance between heretofore irreconcilable Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiating positions.

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The week in links – week 41/2010

This week’s food for thought:

– Continuing the nervous drumbeat on the upcoming Southern Sudan referendum, here is Open Democracy on the apparent new delay to the Abyei referendum, and a good news-then-bad news analysis by Phillipe De Pontet at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

– The International Law Observer notes that the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is now official – a recent decision by the Human Rights Council brings the number of states that have gone on the record to 178.

– Meanwhile, the FAO Right to Food people are about to release a guideline on responsible land tenure management and the right to food (it is available now in Spanish).

– Lyric Thompson reports in Open Democracy on the whiff of UN politics behind the anticlimactic tenth birthday party in the UN Security Council for Resolution 1325.

– In case anyone forgot the link between land and identity, here is a comment in the Jerusalem Post on what the construction ban and its absence is seen to signify by some in the Middle East. In the meantime, the NYT reports on the resumption of construction plans in East Jerusalem, and Open Democracy has news of a possible response, with the Arab League apparently considering whether to “appeal directly to the UN to recognise the state of Palestine.”

– From the US, Paul Krugman reports on the ongoing fallout of the mortgage crisis and the fact that it now appears that the USA, one of the world’s great proponents of rule of law and the sanctity of property, is witnessing foreclosures by banks that are unable to actually document the mortgage agreements they are enforcing.

– And in the unremarked on but terrifying land violence category, IRIN reports on inter-clan skirmishes over land in northeastern Kenya that displaced 600 families.

– Finally, the ECFR has issued a new short comment and report on the ‘spectre of a multipolar Europe with a fairly provocative set of findings:

  • The post-Cold War order is unravelling. Rather than uniting under a single system, Europe’s big powers are moving apart. Tensions between them have made security systems dysfunctional: they failed to prevent war in Kosovo and Georgia, instability in Kyrgyzstan, disruption to Europe’s gas supplies, and solve frozen conflicts.
  • The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions. Russia and Turkey may complain more, but the EU has the most to lose from the current peaceful disorder.
  • A frustrated Turkey still wants to join the EU, but it is increasingly pursuing an independent foreign policy and looking for a larger role as a regional power. In the words of foreign minister Davutoglu, Turkey is now an ‘actor not an issue’. Its accession negotiations to the EU should be speeded up, and it must also be engaged as an important regional power.
  • Russia never accepted the post-Cold War order. Moscow is now strong enough to openly challenge it, but its Westpolitik strategy also means that it is open to engagement – that is why Dmitri Medvedev suggested a new European security treaty a couple of years ago.
  • Obama’s non-appearance at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the latest sign that the US is no longer focused on Europe’s internal security. Washington has its hands full dealing with Afghanistan, Iran and China and is no longer a European power.

Second USIP ‘Land, Property and Conflict Course’ coming in December

After a well-received first run last June, the US Institute of Peace will be holding its second course on ‘Land, Property and Conflict’ from December 13-16 in Washington, D.C. As before, the facilitators will be Deborah Isser, Senior Rule of Law Advisor at USIP and Peter van der Auweraert, IOM Senior Legal Advisor and past TN guest blogger. Contributing with lectures and discussion will be myself, fellow consultant and accomplished humanitarian commentator Conor Foley, and land tenure expert extraordinaire John Bruce.

Based on feedback from last June, the course has been expanded to four days with mixed lectures, discussion and group work. If you are interested in participating, a full overview of the course and application details are available at this link:

The USIP Land, Property and Conflict Course aims to provide practitioners with analytical tools for assessing and addressing an array of complex land and property disputes, from competing ownership claims and restitution to customary land rights and illegal urban settlements.  Drawing on case studies of peace operations and peacebuilding efforts, participants explore the range of entry points (humanitarian, human rights, state-building, development etc.) and options for dispute resolution and structural reform.  The course is tailored to professionals who work on conflict management and peacebuilding, whether they come from a legal, development, military, government, NGO, international organization, private sector or academic background.

ODI releases ‘Uncharted Territory’ chapters for free download

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has just made ‘Uncharted Territory’, its ground-breaking book on land, conflict and humanitarian action available for free download at this webpage (choose the tab marked ‘downloads’). For TN readers who are not familiar with this book, it comes highly recommended.

The signal contribution of ‘UT’ has been to problematize the international discourse around property restitution in a much more sophisticated way than had previously been the case. While the subtitle of the book references humanitarian action, the most incisive critiques really come from a development perspective and challenge a perceived tendency of humanitarian actors to uncritically adopt (and, crucially, promote) a particular human rights-based approach to post-conflict property issues that has worked well in some settings but may be radically inappropriate for others. I could go on and on, but would propose that the chapters speak better for themselves than I could speak for them…

The Body Shop drops Colombian palm oil supplier for alleged land grabbing

by Rhodri C. Williams

For an example of the entrenched problems facing incoming Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ land restitution bill and some of the forces that may nevertheless give it legs, its hard to beat the following story, brought to my attention recently by Samir Elhawary at ODI.

One of the subtexts in discussions about the restitution bill has been the question of whether its passage and implementation will be resisted by vested interests that may, in many cases, have supported Santos’ candidacy. While this gives rise to concern that the bill may be weakened through a bit of friendly fire by the new governing coalition in Parliament, it also gives rise to a certain ‘Nixon goes to China’-type hope. If Santos is capable of forcing concessions on government-friendly landed interests, and is seen to do so by the opposition, this would represent an unprecedented opportunity to transcend what has been a depressingly polarized debate about victims’ reparations issues.

However, as I pointed out in an addendum to my earlier post on Colombia, the bill faces some really extraordinary problems. One of the thorniest is presented by cases of concessions and mono-culture plantations. An IDMC report on palm oil plantations a few years back gave a very good sense of the intractability of this problem. On one hand, the report found patent usurpation of land recognized by law as irreplaceable to its highly vulnerable inhabitants, providing an incredibly compelling case for restitution in integrum. On the other hand, the land has been irretrievably transformed and is churning out cash for a product that world public opinion would otherwise cherish as bio-fuel or a viable coca-substitute or … hand soap?

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The week in links – week 40/2010

A fairly modest crop after a busy week:

  1. Oxfam’s turn to ring the alarm on the numerous risks entailed by Southern Sudan’s upcoming referendum …
  2. … and to promote reconstruction of the agricultural sector in Haiti in a new briefing paper.
  3. UNHCR comments on how protracted conflict situations are creating a ‘new global refugee’ population.
  4. FAO and WFP comment on how protracted crises involving chronic hunger and food insecurity affect twenty-two countries worldwide “due to a combination of natural disasters, conflict and weak institutions”.

More on the new Colombia restitution bill

I’m happy to announce that Sebastián Albuja of IDMC will be guest-posting in the next ten days or so in connection with the release of a new report on restitution issues in Colombia. Sebastián previously posted some very interesting initial observations on the Santos restitution bill, and has been kind enough to send a preview of what the IDMC report will cover:

The report addresses the issue of restitution for IDPs in Colombia in connection to the bill recently brought by the Government to Congress for a land restitution law.  The report provides an analysis and description of the problems that the reparations program must overcome and its challenges, and a description of processes for reparations that have taken place up to now as the context in which this brand new bill will be debated. It also evaluates the latest bill, including its positive aspects in terms of its legal adequacy vis-a-vis international law on restitution, issues that the bill raises and questions it leaves unanswered.

In the meantime, an interesting piece has been published by Olof Blomqvist on OpenDemocracy. The author is realistic in portraying both the political obstacles to passage of the bill and the practical obstacles to its implementation, but ends on a strikingly upbeat note:

Almost two months into his presidency, Santos has already made several high-profile attempts to distinguish himself from his predecessor. While the land reform effort has not received much international media attention, it could end up being the most important. Successful implementation could reap rewards not just in terms of security and economic development, but also go some way towards providing reconciliation for the millions of Colombians affected by paramilitary and guerrilla violence.

So for a splash of cold water, its worth reading the latest OCHA Colombia humanitarian bulletin, which documents ongoing displacement and land-grabbing in Córdoba and Chocó Departments.

The week in links – week 39/2010

A few interesting items last week:

  1. Nicholas Christoph at the NY Times lays out a scenario for a derailed referendum on the independence of southern Sudan to result in yet another post-Cold War genocide in early 2011 – and advises the Obama administration to put punitive pipeline bombing on the table as a foreign policy instrument.
  2. Lazaro Sumbeiywo and John Danforth provide a slightly more prosaic account of what is at stake in the upcoming referendum and take rather a different policy tack in plugging for increased development assistance to help Sudan improve its woeful MDG standing.
  3. Its twenty years since German unification, the event that bumped me out of my teenage apathy and into the slipstream of the New World Order we have all enjoyed the fruits of since. Foreign Policy reports on how Europe’s current economic woes relate to the deal cut back then, while NYT notes that South Korea is scrutinizing the unification model for events foreseeable over the next twenty.
  4. Its also been 20 years since the first human development report. Who knew? UNDP has a dedicated webpage including a number of new thematic research papers on “key issues and concepts of human development”
  5. Finally, a new journal has just come out of Penn Press that bundles together a lot of the issues a lot of TN readers hold dear: “Humanity is a semiannual publication dedicated to publishing original research and reflection on human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern and contemporary world.” Enjoy it, o those of you with access to academic databases, and may a little bit trickle down to the rest of us.