Monthly Archives: January 2011

FAO forum on on land tenure and international investments in agriculture

The FAO Forum on Food Security has invited interested persons to comment on the terms of of reference to be given to a project team that will examine the issue of land tenure in the context of international investments in agriculture. Based on the resulting final ToR, the project team is then expected to develop a report and recommendations for the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at its next session in October 2011.

Phew. Now that we are past all the acronyms, I hope readers will take the time to comment and to follow this process. The ‘global land-rush’ has, despite my best intentions, been sadly neglected to date on this blog. That said, it reflects the most existential land and property issues facing contemporary humanity and, as reflected in Chris Huggins’ excellent guest posting from last year, it is also an important point of contact (one might also say ‘conflict’) between human rights and development discourses related to land tenure. Indeed, the ‘land-rush’ label is somewhat misleading, as it applies to a diverse variety of practices, some of which may be sustainable, replicable and necessary, and others of which undermine both individual rights and sustainable development:

Governments stand at this crossroads where on the one hand, as many studies and analysis demonstrate, appropriate investments, efficient and effective use of natural resources and land may have both economic and ecological advantages under certain conditions but where, on the other hand, there are also typical examples of land grabbing with very negative effects for sustainable development, including social effects on small scale farmers, ecological effects such as decreased efficiency and effectiveness of the use of natural resources and the mining of soils.

In a world where food security is likely to require not only increased efficiency but also expansion of the area currently under cultivation, the report resulting from the current ToRs can provide some guidance on how to steer an unstoppable process in a sustainable direction.

Jon Unruh to guest-post on new guidelines on land rights and demining

The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) just released a new Policy Brief on “Landmines and Land Rights in Conflict Affected Countries”. The Brief is based on case studies undertaken in Angola, Cambodia, Bosnia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Yemen (also available for download with the Angola and Cambodia reports to be posted by the end of January).

The report admonishes de-mining agencies for past failures to understand the local implications of their work, and encourages them to actively coordinate with humanitarian and development actors working with displaced populations and land issues:

Mine action organisations are not neutral when it comes to land rights. Releasing land which was previously contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) and making it accessible changes its status. This inevitably involves land rights issues, even if the intent is to avoid them.

The report is a timely attempt to apply the type of conflict-sensitive, do no harm approach now commonplace to other humanitarian aid sectors in the heretofore somewhat distinct area of demining. I am therefore very happy to announce that its primary author, Jon Unruh, will be guest-posting on some of the report’s key findings in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Week in links – Week 3/2011

– Preliminary results of the referendum in southern Sudan indicate an overwhelming majority in favor of secession after a surprisingly orderly process. The potential for serious violence in Abyei appears to be the main cloud on the horizon, with Foreign Affairs highlighting a worrisome link with the ongoing conflict in Darfur. A further aspect of the Abyei dispute that has gotten less attention in the mainstream press (but is well reflected in humanitarian reports such as OCHA’s latest bulletin) is the fact that its location not only invites conflict over oil and grazing land, but also constitutes a significant choke point for North to South return movements:

Organized returns have been suspended since 9 January, as a result of a series of security incidents involving returnees from northern to southern Sudan. Small convoys of spontaneous returnees have continued, with some reports of continued harassment and obstruction along the journey in Southern Kordofan and Abyei. Another convoy was reportedly shot at on 17 January in Abyei. Security incidents come despite a 13 January agreement reached between traditional leaders of the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka to cease hostilities and allow safe passage of returnees.

– The institute formerly known as RDI has departed the terse world of beltway bandit-style acronyms and re-fashioned itself as Landesa, in an unusually lyrical reference to the fact that LANd so often determines DEStinies. Its transformation has been accompanied by the founding of a promising blog on land and development issues.

– The initial posts in the Landesa blog include a considered response to a recent New York Times article on the effects of the global land rush in Africa, which itself draws on last September’s World Bank report on the topic.

– Landesa also blogs on the destabilizing effects of feudal land relations in Pakistan. Pakistan’s failure to reform its highly inequitable land relations were a rallying point for the Taliban in their bid to take over the Swat Valley, with the ironic result that the success of the Army’s campaign to retake the area was determined by whether large landholders could be convinced to return and recreate the inequitable conditions that fueled the insurgency.

– And finally, on a non-HLP vein, a wonderfully concise summary by Tihomir Loza in Transitions OnLine of the so-near-and-yet-so-far state of Bosnian ethnic politics.

Choosing in the absence of choice: Protracted displacement and integration

by Rhodri C. Williams

This week, my blogging is likely to suffer a bit as a result of my participation in a timely and interesting meeting on protracted displacement. The conference – or more accurately, the “Second Expert Seminar on Protracted Internal Displacement” – is supported by a dedicated webpage at IDMC with a good overview of what will be discussed and a useful selection of background documents.

The prior ‘first expert seminar’ in 2007 addressed the problem of protracted internal displacement quite broadly and provided an important service by simply defining it. The definition selected departed somewhat from those proposed in the past for for protracted refugee situations in that it dispensed with minimum durations of displacement or numbers of people affected in favor of focusing on the obstacles posed to internally displaced persons’ (IDPs’) rights and dignity by the sheer fact that prospects for voluntary durable solutions remain indefinitely remote.

The current seminar focuses on local integration as a solution to displacement. As described in my background paper on Serbia, as well as the five other highly informative case-studies commissioned for this meeting, local integration may often be inevitable but is rarely a popular political choice. For instance, in conflict-related displacement situations, integration may be seen by the authorities and even IDPs themselves as undermining policies meant to ensure the reintegration of breakaway regions through mass return.

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Week in links – Week 2/2011

This week picks up a few interesting items from the end of last year as well as some more updated texts:

– Now that the referendum on South Sudan’s separation appears to have gone off peacefully, attention is turning to the contested territory of Abyei. As described in this NYT article, Abyei represents a microcosm of the North-South conflict but one which has, alarmingly, been left on the sidelines of last week’s putative solution. Here’s a sample:

“We will go to war over this,” said Rou Minyiel Rou, a veterinarian in Abyei. “This is about land, and we can’t compromise on land.”

– Anyone remember Osh? Fortunately Transitions OnLine does, and they released a series of reports last week on the aftermath of last June’s orchestrated attacks on Uzbek minority communities in this town in southern Kyrgyzstan. The first two reports focus squarely on land and property issues, including the plight of women left behind to safeguard destroyed family homes, and ongoing ethnic tensions over land access in the region. Against a chilling backdrop of arbitrary arrests of Uzbek men, the latter report notes that the reconstruction of Uzbek neighborhoods may not take place according to the victims’ preferences:

Other unsubstantiated claims center around the urban plan under discussion by city authorities. Few details have been released, but the plan is said to include building apartment blocks in place of the traditional family compounds where many Uzbeks live. Uzbek neighborhoods take up large areas of the city, particularly in central districts and around the famous Suleiman Mountain.

– Carl Soderbergh of Minority Rights Group International (MRG) wrote a two part report in the MRG Blog late last year on the threatened land rights of the Maasai in Tanzania. The first part of the report analogizes latter day practices of removing this indigenous group from the environs of a wildlife park with the colonial doctrine of terra nullius (sound familiar?) used to justify earlier annexations. The second part examines the violent expulsion of another group of Maasai from a wildlife sanctuary acquired on disputed legal grounds by the American tour operator Thomson Safaris. Fully 37 years after the facts that triggered the Endorois decision by the ACHPR in neighboring Kenya, this must be only one of many more such cases in the making.

Revisiting uti possidetis: Is Southern Sudan’s referendum scarier if it succeeds?

by Rhodri C. Williams

On day three, all signs indicate that the referendum on the separation of Southern Sudan from Khartoum is going shockingly well. Continued high turnout bodes well for achievement of the key threshold of 60% of registered voters and the mood appears to be nigh on festive at many polling stations. Violence has flared in the contested Abyei region, but it remains to be seen whether this dispute will join the ranks of the intractable (along with Jerusalem, Kirkuk and Nagorno Karabakh) or can eventually be arbitrated into submission (a la Bosnia’s Brcko District). So why are there still some long faces in the world of diplomacy?

In looking at land issues in conflict, it is helpful to recall that various individuals’ and groups’ asserted property rights are not the only relevant claims. States have traditionally had rather an important vote as well. Indeed, until recently states were relatively unfettered in their ability to regulate and expropriate property rights and forcibly remove people from their homes and lands when they deemed it necessary. Sovereignty-related concerns related to development, national security and territorial integrity were paramount.

Since the end of Cold War, greater attention to both regional and global human rights standards and the assertion of doctrines such as human security and responsibility to protect (R2P) have altered this balance. As a result, while states continue to enjoy  broad discretion over the use of their land resources, they have come under increasing pressure to recognize that their ‘territory’ is co-terminous with the homes, homelands, property and possessions of their citizens, and to respect the rights accruing to affected individuals and groups as a result.

The resulting situation should in theory ensure that the costs of necessary government action that infringes on private property interests are not externalized solely onto those directly affected. As I blogged on earlier here, both development and human rights standards are converging on this understanding. In situations where these rights are egregiously violated in the context of war and ethnic cleansing, legal remedies such as restitution have come to the fore, both in practice and in standards such as the Pinheiro Principles.

However, as many commentators have pointed out, the current exercise of self-determination by the people of southern Sudan hearkens back to older understandings of the primacy of state territorial control and threatens the integrity of a longstanding legal consensus of such age and fixity that it has been anointed with a Latin phrase. “Uti possidetis” or “as you possessed” is a sort of interstate rule of adverse possession that originally ratified territorial conquests in warfare and later shaped the process of liberation of former colonies.

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Week in links – Week 1/2011

I owe about a month in links this time, given the blur in which last December passed! However, I have tried to exercise a bit of restraint in order to keep things current.

– The New York Times covers Bashir’s conciliatory trip to Juba and sets out the case for a peaceful referendum on secession in southern Sudan next weekend, including hints that a last minute fix could resolve the territorial dispute in Abyei. Along with shared incentives over oil (the South will have the bulk of reserves and the North controls access to the world market), focused international attention and pressure is credited with keeping the parties on course. However, this observation underscores the risks presented as international attention wanders from other theatres of unresolved conflict. For instance, this week has also seen news of the forthcoming closure of the ostensibly short-term UN Mission established in Nepal in 2007 to consolidate what remains a very shaky peace deal there. The outgoing SRSG in Nepal is expected to move on to head a significantly curtailed UN Mission in Burundi, where large scale violence has ended but human rights abuses remain rife and rebel groups are said to be re-arming.

– The New York Times recently ran two pieces demonstrating how ostensibly local urban policies reflect and shape broader politics. The more straightforward of the two discusses how urban squatting in Buenos Aires reflect a national political rivalry in Argentina. However, the second piece, on the renovation of the Old City of Aleppo, Syria, came as a revelation. By involving poor communities rather than displacing them, this project is aimed not only at achieving truly sustainable preservation but also at retaining the traditional family housing models that are thought to avoid the social tensions that can fuel Islamic radicalism. The key question going forward is how to inspire similar approaches to the architecturally less interesting but socially volatile shantytowns at the edge of the city:

…how to make the final link between historic preservation and the creation of a contemporary city remains blurry. Many preservationists working here, including some at GTZ, see the last 70 years as unworthy of their interest. And most contemporary architects, whose clients are almost uniformly drawn from the global elite, are out of touch with the complex political realities of the poor in the region.

– Paul Krugman on how climbing commodity prices signal the fundamental good news/bad news arithmetic of our times – increasing global demand based on resilient growth in the developing world, climate change, and the absolute scarcity of the natural resources we depend on.

– Open Democracy contributors Christophe Solioz and Denis MacShane differ on whether the Kosovo organ trafficking allegations raised at the Council of Europe are a devastating indictment of the dark grip of the past and international passivity in the West Balkans or a glorified rumor hijacked by Serbian nationalist interests.

Tracking aid in Cambodia: Monitoring the resettlement impacts of the Railways Rehabilitation Project

By Natalie Bugalski

In October 2010, I traveled with a small research team from the rights groups Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC) and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) to Battambang in northwest Cambodia to interview families resettled to make way for the rehabilitation of Cambodia’s rail network.  The trip was a part of an NGO effort to monitor the resettlement impacts of the railways project and assess whether it is being implemented in accordance with the Asian Development Bank’s Involuntary Resettlement Safeguard Policy, international human rights norms, and Cambodian laws. The ADB is contributing US$84 million in concessional loans to the Rehabilitation of the Railways in Cambodia Project (hereafter “the Project”) and the Australian Government is contributing US$21.5 million in aid.

Although we had heard from community representatives that there were serious problems at the resettlement site, we were appalled to find the families living in deplorable conditions. Our interviews at the Battambang resettlement site raised a plethora of serious problems relating to a lack of access to food and basic services, and increased impoverishment. It appears that almost all families have been forced to borrow money to survive, rebuild houses, connect to electricity (other families remain unconnected because they simply cannot afford to do so) and in some cases earn less per day than their interest repayments. Widows have been treated particularly unfairly and in some cases have not received a separate plot of land.  Instead they have been told to live with their parents or children, despite having lived separately at their former location. These women are extremely vulnerable and have received insufficient support, if any at all. Every family we spoke to reported that they were significantly worse off now than before they moved. They feel desperate and abandoned.

Most alarmingly, four days after the families had been resettled in May, two children  – a brother (9) and sister (13) – had drowned in a nearby pond. We were told by the brother of the deceased children and other members of the community that the children had gone to collect water for household chores. Since piped water has not been provided at the resettlement site, families there had no choice but to trek through a muddy rice field to access water from the pond, or use water directly from the adjacent rice field. These water sources are polluted by chemicals used for rice growing and have caused skin diseases and other illnesses. On this occasion the children went to the pond and never returned. The community searched for many hours, and the bodies were eventually found at the bottom of the eight-meter deep pond.

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