Monthly Archives: May 2011

Squatters, IDPs or both? Untangling urban displacement in Liberia

by Rhodri C. Williams

I’m happy to announce the release of a report I wrote (available for download here) for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Liberia Office based on recent fieldwork. The report focuses on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced to Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, during the 1989-2003 conflict who chose unassisted integration into local informal settlements over assisted return to their homes of origin elsewhere in the country.

In resisting the expectation that they would return by becoming urban squatters, these internally displaced persons (IDPs) dropped off the radar of many humanitarian actors. However, their continued presence – which may have effectively doubled the population of Monrovia – has become a development question as infrastructure projects, investors and returning landowners begin to place pressure on the Capital’s many slums. The significance and potential volatility of the issue is reflected in the Liberian Land Commission’s decision to prioritize urban land issues in 2011.

In this context, it is very much to NRC’s credit that they have recognized the continuing humanitarian implications of what had come to be viewed almost solely as a development challenge. To quote from my report, the issue of urban displaced squatters in Liberia can be seen a classic exercise in the emerging discipline of ‘early recovery’, or the attempt to design both relief and development measures in a coordinated and complementary manner:

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Week in links – Week 21/2011

Good riddance Mr. (rat)Kom(l)adic.

– The New York Times reports on how the global land rush functions in a less permissive environment. The BRIC shows cracks as China, not satisfied with importing raw materials from Brazil and selling it finished goods, begins to make a play for control of soya growing land. Brazil fights back by doing what China has, ironically, always done – restricting foreign ownership of land.

– Both National Public Radio and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have provided updates on the state of forced evictions in Cambodia. The NPR piece puts the ongoing controversy over the Boeung Kak Lake settlement in Phnom Penh (most recently blogged on here) into regional perspective by describing similar urban evictions in the Philippines and Thailand. The ABC story also describes the ongoing evictions related to an Australian funded project to reconstruct Cambodia’s rail lines, previously described by Natalie Bugalski here. However, the most impressive quote (by David Pred of BAB-Cambodia) concerns Boeung Kak and the latest innovations in forced eviction tech:

Families refused to accept the compensation that was being offered to them, so they just started directing the sand pumping machine at the houses and literally drowning them in mud.

– For those who may have inadvertently missed the latest high drama in Bosnian politics, Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, scored a little noticed and quite possibly Pyrrhic victory in convincing Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik not to hold a referendum on whether to say nasty things about State judicial institutions. Commentators on Balkan Insights noted that the whole thing may have been a very successful bluff by Mr. Dodik, and that the political establishment in Sarajevo continues to feed the type of resentment that props up Mr. Dodik by denigrating it.

With me or against us? The Economist mourns the passing of the rugged individual right

by Rhodri C. Williams

A common problem with minority rights is that their necessity is not always self-evident for the people in the majority, who, as we all know, get to call most of the shots in a democracy. This is most problematic in situations where minorities find themselves inconveniently present in countries that have staked a good deal of their credibility on not having minorities, such as newly consolidated and politically fragile post-colonial states or France. However, it may also raise issues when well-intentioned outsiders turn up and start loudly wondering what all the fuss is about.

Before I cast any aspersions on the Economist, I might as well clear my own conscience. Minority and indigenous rights are complex and contested terrain for minority and indigenous peoples, let alone suburban white Americans. Whatever insights living as an expat in the Swedish-speaking Åland archipelago of Finland may have given me, I am still only really in an intellectual position to assess the issue not an intuitive one. This can result in misunderstandings.

In the year since TN was born for instance, I have come to realize that (1) the tag ‘indigenous groups’ may not please a readership that may include some ‘groups’ that have spent the last thirty years struggling to be recognized as ‘peoples’, and that (2) the name of the blog will be received by some right-minded Australians as a hair less offensive than calling it ‘ApartHeid’ would be to South Africans. The point being that perhaps the first duty of the well-meaning outsider is to seek to attain more than a  superficial understanding of the situation they will inevitably influence through their statements.

Sadly, I’m not really so sure that the latest Economist take on group rights meets this test. The article in question, ‘Me myself and them‘ (May 14, 2011), generates a bit more heat than light in its discussion of this complicated topic and links its conclusions somewhat debatably to the fate of the Arab Spring. To paraphrase their argument:

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Week in links – Week 19/2011

– ToL provides a lucid analysis of the Kyrgyzstan authorities’ opaque and defensive response to the allegations raised by the Commission of Inquiry appointed to report on last summer’s ethnic violence in the south of the country (blogged on here). The comment notes that the Kyrgyz authorities raise valid points related to their own lack of capacity and preparedness for such violence, as well as the fact that they ultimately handled the situation without significant outside help. However, the fact that the response continues a government tendency to both blame the (Uzbek) victims and deny ethnic divisions in the country seems almost calculated to deepen them. As ToL gloomily concludes, “[i]f a lasting peace comes to Kyrgyzstan’s south, we fear it will be only after the last of a demoralized Uzbek community has left town.”

– UNHCR reports on the desperate situation of those displaced by the fighting last month in Cote d’Ivoire, which saw the belated installation of the winner of last year’s Presidential election, Alessane Ouattara. Even during its peak, the fighting in Cote d’Ivoire only barely emerged from the shadow of the ongoing drama in Libya and the lack of subsequent news has probably come as a relief to many in the overtaxed world of international diplomacy. However, according to UNHCR, the current obstacles to return and normalization are primarily related to relatively manageable phenomena such as security concerns and destruction, rather than the type of macro-level political blockages that can result in protracted displacement situations.

The New York Times provided some analysis on the UN’s recent upward revision of global population growth (to 10.1 billion and rising rather than 9 billion and stabilizing by mid-century). The report focuses on the fact that this is still not a Malthusian collapse scenario at the global level, but that the results could be devastating locally in places such as Yemen (with runaway population growth and the looming prospect of running completely out of water).

How do you steer a land rush?

by Rhodri C. Williams

In its most recent edition, the international section of the Economist leads with a thought-provoking summary of the latest wisdom on the ‘global land rush’, or the phenomenon by which large chunks of arable land in developing countries are acquired by foreign commercial and government interests seeking to produce food for international markets or their own (often distant) populations.

In the not so distant past, debates over whether the spread of such practices represented a development opportunity or a neo-colonialist relapse tended to be based as much on conviction as evidence. However, two years later, the Economist cites the results of a recent conference at the University of Sussex Institute of Development Studies (ISD) in delivering its verdict: more grab than rush. While the pendulum of expert opinion appears to have shifted decisively against this practice, however, execution of the sentence will undoubtedly be the hard part.

Even as large scale land acquisition has metastasized in many regions of the world, the unequal bargaining power and dubious motivations of the parties to such arrangements have tended to negate the benefits, in terms of jobs, technology transfer, infrastructure investments and tax revenues, which they were meant to entail. Indeed, in many cases, these elements remain shrouded in mystery along with all other details of the un-transparent contracts and concessions involved. The Economist notes that recent land acquisitions have stood out from ordinary development-related graft in light of “their combination of high levels of corruption with low levels of benefit.”

So what to do? One reasonable criticism of the Economist’s valuable survey of the terrain is its lack of prescription – or even speculation – on what type of measures might be taken to address these concerns. Given that the Economist tends to be thorough to a fault (as witnessed by the Onion’s memorable suggestion that it should take a month off so readers can catch up), this omission seem surprising. On the other hand, the coming challenge of influencing this process is likely to be much harder than the current challenge of judging it.

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They know the solution – Land purchase programs for rural women in India

by Deborah Espinosa
This guest post was originally posted on Landesa’s Field Focus blog, which provides expert insight on the issues surrounding land rights and international development. Deborah Espinosa is a senior attorney and land tenure specialist.

She was one of at least 40 landless women who demanded to meet with us that day.  They had heard that we would be visiting their village to talk with women in self-help groups (SHG) who had participated in the Indira Kranthi Patham (IKP) Land Purchase Program, one of several programs that the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh was implementing.  She was determined that we hear her message. That day was one of the more difficult days of my career as a lawyer advocating for land rights for the world’s poorest.

The AP Land Purchase Program, which Landesa and RDI-India helped the State design, assisted landless women in organizing to negotiate with large landowners and purchase and subdivide agricultural land for themselves and their families.  From 2004 to 2009, 5,303 women paid US $604,418 (just over $100 each) to purchase 4,539 acres of farmland.  The women paid a total of 25% of the purchase price, 15% of which they borrowed.  The government subsidized the remaining amount.  For weeks, our team  had been traveling throughout the state, talking with formerly landless women whose lives had been transformed through the program.  Most of the women had owned the land for about four years, with titles to their land in their name alone.  State law permits only one name on the patta, or title, and the State required that the patta had to be in the name of the wife (if married) or a female head of household.

The women whom we interviewed reported significant benefits associated with shedding the “landless” cloak and becoming a full-fledged landowner.  They reported increased income and the ability to start saving, improvement in their family’s health due to having more food to consume and higher quality food, and the ability to access credit from banks and village moneylenders.  They also perceived an improvement in their family’s status within the community as evidenced by having better marriage opportunities for their children.  Although the women reported that there still was room for improvement on all fronts, for them, becoming a landowner had profound effects on their family’s welfare.

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Week in links – Week 18/2011

Its been a busy Spring and is likely to go on that way, so I’m hoping to just keep up with current HLP events with a steady – but temporarily less prolific – stream of postings in the immediate future. There continues to be quite a lot going on in the area, ranging from developing understandings of what the ‘global land rush‘ is all about to recently blogged on confirmations that acts of property destruction and confiscation are deemed crimes against humanity in settings such as Croatia and Kyrgyzstan.

I also look forward to introducing a few new reports and publications I’ve contributed to in the course of my work in recent months. These have tended to focus on issues emerging from protracted displacement, in which the blurring of lines that have traditionally divided supposed dichotomies such as relief vs development; migration vs displacement; and integration vs return has become impossible to ignore.

Finally, I’m very happy to say that my cross-posting arrangement with the Landesa blog continues. Landesa recently produced a pair of postings on women’s land rights in China and India that together touch on the numerous challenges facing efforts to foster meaningful gender equality in land and property relations. Last week’s posting features a survey on the effect on women of expropriation of rural land in China and its conversion to urban use. Tomorrow, TN will host a companion piece on the benefits – and the inherent limitations – of land purchase programs for women in India.

Meanwhile, in the HLP news last week:

-Nice to lead with a local story for once; here is The Local on a Swedish High Court decision upholding the grazing rights of Sami reindeer herders in Northern Sweden. Now that the Court has done some heavy lifting for the Government, one wonders if they will find the gumption to finally fulfill their longstanding pledge to ratify ILO Convention No. 169.

– Advocacy on behalf of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has begun a new chapter with the formal announcement that the traditional relationship between the Brookings Institution and the UN mechanism on internal displacement will continue. The name of the firm will change somewhat, with the Brookings-Bern nameplates coming down and new ‘Brookings-LSE’ ones going up in reference to the institutional home of the new UN Special Rapporteur on IDPs, Chaloka Beyani.

– The International Alliance of Inhabitants published a new report on “the practical strategies and experiences of communities who have directly struggled against forced evictions.”

– The BBC reports on Shell’s recent judicial setback in its attempt to assert ownership over oil terminal land in Nigeria claimed by the local community.

– And, finally, Bosnia commentator Matthew Parish has some fairly tart things to say about the ICTJ Gotovina decision (posted on here in TN) in an editorial in Balkan Insight.

Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission – Osh riots resulted in crimes against humanity

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission set up to examine the violence between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that killed nearly 500 people last June in the country’s south has just released its report. Most media attention has been devoted to the fact that the Commission identified the minority Uzbek community as the overwhelming victims of the attack, found evidence of official complicity, and alleged that some of the acts committed may amount to crimes against humanity. However, a number of the Commission’s less prominent findings confirm both the role of property destruction in consolidating the victimization of the Uzbek minority and the need for reparations to address these and other crimes.

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