by Rhodri C. Williams
As we become inured to a steady procession of breaking political and humanitarian crises, it is relatively easy to forget about the many protracted low-level conflict scenarios that seem to grind relentlessly forward, perpetuating human misery in isolated corners of the world without ever improving or deteriorating sufficiently to register very strongly in the public consciousness. The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is arguably the premier example of this phenomenon. Featured in the most recent issue of Forced Migration Review (FMR), the situation in DRC is succinctly described by former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes as ‘a scandal that needs to end’.
With nearly two million internally displaced persons and a history of being locked into its own conflicts and victimized by those of its neighbors, the untapped human potential and resource wealth of DRC is staggering. However, the nervous initial reception and subsequent awkward silence surrounding an October 2010 UN Mapping Report on human rights violations committed between 1993 and 2003 in DRC hint at the extent of the challenges to addressing the root causes of conflict there. This blog has not done justice to land and human rights issues in DRC to date, but that is about to change thanks to the expertise of two upcoming guest-bloggers:
First, Chris Huggins will be contributing his third guest-posting on TN, this time introducing an October 2010 report he wrote for International Alert on ‘Land, Power and Identity: Roots of Violent Conflict in Eastern DRC’. As indicated in the title, Chris’ report focuses not only on the significance of land for individuals but also its role as a sustaining factor in inter-group conflicts, particularly in the volatile province of North Kivu.
Second, first time TN guest-blogger Shane Quinn describes the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Great Lakes region in seeking to draw attention to the findings of the above-mentioned UN Human Rights Mapping Report. Efforts to end impunity and promote reparations for victims identified through the report have been proposed through both political processes such as the upcoming DRC elections and legal procedures such as those before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).
As in virtually all other contemporary conflicts, land is a crucial underlying issue in DRC. In both the findings of a recent RSC workshop and a number of articles in the latest issue of FMR (available for free download here), experts and practitioners have attested to the link between land competition and ethnic tensions that persist both within the eastern provinces of DRC and across its borders.
In one very relevant FMR article, Oumar Sylla of UN HABITAT describes a program undertaken in cooperation with UNHCR to resolve land disputes exacerbated by the impending repatriation of over 50,000 Congolese refugees from Rwanda. In light of both the lack of capacity of the formal legal system and its blindness to the customary rules and institutions governing de facto land administration throughout eastern DRC, the program focuses on preventive training and information as well as actual mediation of disputes where necessary to supplement the efforts of local traditional leaders.
However, neither the poor outset conditions described in the article, nor an avowed lack of donor interest prevent Mr. Sylla from setting out an ambitious agenda to promote the development of a land policy and legal framework reflecting international standards, harmonization and coordination of the many local initiatives currently addressing land issues, and the pursuit of a broader regional framework reflecting “a shared land policy vision in accordance with the Stability Pact for the Great Lakes” (a treaty adopted by a regional conference that includes protocols on internal displacement and property issues).
A second article on the land issues and the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) by Baptiste Raymond evokes a similar tension between what can currently be achieved through mediation techniques adapted to local customs and culture and the potential for sweeping reform. Finally, a third relevant article highlights the neglected issue of conservation-induced evictions and loss of access to land – an issue that allegedly affects nearly a quarter of the population of DRC. Other articles in the issue cover broader displacement and return questions, as well as natural resource competition and the systematic use of rape by the parties to the conflicts in eastern DRC.
Despite this good overall coverage, one of the frustrations of FMR articles is that their format is often inherently too short to allow for the type of detailed description and analysis that can do full justice to a situation as complicated as land and reparations issues in eastern DRC. It is therefore to be hoped that the two upcoming guest posts serve to draw greater attention to the valuable contributions made by both Chris’ recent report on land issues and the broader conclusions of the UN human rights mapping process.