Monthly Archives: June 2011

Week in links – Week 24/2011: murder in Colombia, biofuels in Sierra Leone

– Amid all the policy chatter on the recently passed Victims’ Law in Colombia, a moment of reflection is due on the fate of Ana Cordoba, widowed and displaced in 2001, and murdered in cold blood a decade later for having had the temerity to mobilize her fellow displaced persons for the return of their homes.

– The BBC reports on a recent study by the Oakland Institute that adds to the mounting chorus of criticism against large scale investors in land driving the current ‘global land-rush’. Although many of the Oakland Institute’s accusations are familiar – non-transparent transactions, unequal bargaining power, corruption, tribal chiefs bought for “a bottle of Johnny Walker” – the language is quite tough, with hedge fund use of arable land to “make room” for export commodities such as biofuels and cut flowers described as “creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism”:

“The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial manoeuvres are now doing the same with the world’s food supply,” the report said.

Interestingly, the BBC report includes a sidebar describing its reporters’ positive impression of a Swiss biofuel plantation in Sierra Leone, presumably in the interest of editorial balance. The juxtaposition does raise the issue of whether such investment in post-conflict contexts may – in some circumstances – provide valuable investment-driven rural job creation in a manner that fragile transitional governments can only dream of (as blogged on here in the case of Liberia).

More detail on this investment – along with the Oakland Institute criticism it has sailed into – is given in a New York Times article this week. The Swiss company investing in ethanol, Addax Biofuels, defends itself as a for-profit company that scrupulously follows existing corporate social responsibility guidelines and eschews non-transparent arrangements:

Construction begins this year, and the project is expected to be operational in 2013. It employs over 500 people and will create more than 2,000 jobs, according to Addax. The land will be leased from local landowners and tribal chiefs.

According to Addax Bioenergy, the deal follows evaluations of the social, environmental and economic effects with the government and local nonprofit groups. The memorandum of understanding was ratified by Sierra Leone’s Parliament last November, and according to local news media reports, it was supported by the political opposition as well.

Anyone who has followed coverage of the implementation of donor policies on involuntary resettlement in Cambodia on this blog will be aware that such guidelines may be worth little more than governments’ will to respect them. However, until someone comes up with a better idea, getting investment hungry governments and land hungry investors to take such standards seriously is probably the only realistic way forward.

Housing, land and property issues obstruct integration of IDPs in protracted displacement

by Nadine Walicki

Nadine Walicki is a country analyst and advisor on protracted internal displacement at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). As previously reported on TN, the reports referred to below as well as other key relevant documents are available on the IDMC durable solutions web page.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in protracted displacement in some 40 countries. These are situations where solutions to displacement are absent or inadequate and IDPs cannot fully enjoy their rights as a result. Housing, land and property issues are usually central to the resolution of protracted displacement. This applies to the homes IDPs leave behind and the new ones they build after fleeing. Many IDPs have yet to receive a remedy for property lost or destroyed at their place of origin, while they live in substandard housing and struggle to access land in their area of displacement.

In early 2011, displacement experts gathered at an international seminar to discuss the potential of local integration as a solution to protracted displacement. Case studies on local integration of IDPs in Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Serbia, Sudan (southern) and Uganda were prepared to serve as the basis for the discussion. The result was a Statement of Principles and a compilation of good practices and recommendations, which were recently published in the seminar report. Among other key issues, seminar participants outlined several housing, land and property challenges that obstruct local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement. These include tenure insecurity, lack of effective mechanisms to restore property rights, limited access to land, inadequate housing, as well as lack of legal frameworks and access to justice.

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Colombia’s Victims’ Law enacted – Last stand or new beginning for programmatic property restitution?

by Rhodri C. Williams

In a signing ceremony attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ratified the Victims’ Law last Saturday, fulfilling his  unexpected and ambitious post-election pledge to enact a property restitution bill. Commentary on TN has highlighted both the unprecedented nature of this effort and the formidable obstacles it faces.

The fate of this legislation takes on additional significance against the background of current debates over the post-conflict ‘right to restitution’ proclaimed most prominently in the 2005 Pinheiro Principles. As early enthusiasm about restitution has faded, the need to respond to prevailing humanitarian trends such as urban vulnerability and protracted displacement has led to an increased emphasis on local integration as a durable solution. The extent to which programmatic restitution – and the promotion of voluntary return – remains seen as a viable complementary strategy to local integration efforts may depend on the outcome of the increasingly rare test cases, such as Colombia, that tackle this challenge head on.

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New report on protracted internal displacement – Nadine Walicki to guest post on HLP issues and local integration

by Rhodri C. Williams

The full proceedings of last January’s Second Expert Seminar on Protracted Internal Displacement (previously posted on here) have now been published on a dedicated webpage by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). The available texts include both a shorter report from the Seminar itself and a longer publication featuring observations on local integration as a solution to protracted internal displacement by Beth Ferris of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and the IDMC’s Nadine Walicki. The latter document also includes my own background report for the Seminar on protracted displacement in Serbia, Nadine’s on Georgia and four further reports on Burundi, Colombia, Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda.

The theme of the Seminar was the question of local integration as either an interim or a durable solution to internal displacement. Although integration often remains politically sensitive, international humanitarian actors have been increasingly willing to break the taboo on discussing this issue in light of a greater awareness of the potential consequences of not doing so. Perhaps the most salient point to be made is that keeping IDPs in limbo pending a breakthrough on return that may never come to pass virtually guarantees that they will not have the resilience to sustainably return if it does.

The shifting emphasis from return to integration was given perhaps its most emphatic expression to date by Patricia Weiss Fagen – author of the above-mentioned background report on Colombia – in a recent USIP briefing simply entitled: “Refugees and IDPs after conflict: Why they do not go home.” As Patricia notes, restitution has not lost its relevance, but there is a new consciousness that the challenges to integration may be no less significant than those to property restoration:

While reclaiming land or receiving compensation for losses is important, the challenge for many returnees is to settle where they can maintain sustainable livelihoods; find peaceful living conditions; have access to health care, education, and employment opportunities; and enjoy full rights of citizenship.

In some senses, focusing on integration in protracted displacement settings – where restitution may or may not ultimately be possible – means an effective doubling of the housing, land and property (HLP) challenge – not only must remedies for past violations of HLP rights be kept in the offing but the current HLP rights of the displaced must be respected going forward. Against this background, I am very pleased to announce that the IDMC’s Nadine Walicki will be guest-blogging in the coming days in order to highlight some of the key HLP-related insights emerging from both the Seminar proceedings and the background reports.

Note from the field: Colombia’s new Victims’ Law in context

by Megan Ballard

Megan J. Ballard is an associate professor of law at Gonzaga University. She has previously guest-posted on TN regarding debates surrounding the right to restitution. Her current posting comes in response to Sebastián Albuja’s recent update on the Colombian Victims’ Law. The text of the Law (in Spanish) is now available under ‘key documents’ on IDMC’s Colombia page.

Thanks for this update on Colombia. I just returned from a quick research trip there and had a number of interesting discussions with lawyers and others involved in Colombia’s property restitution efforts. I heard many people echo repeatedly three of your points: 1) passage of the “Victim’s Law” is an incredible accomplishment; 2) assuming good-faith efforts to implement it’s provisions, there are a number of challenges ahead; and 3) suspicion that government actors might have ulterior motives in adopting this legislation.

This is an amazing step, for the reasons you mention. In addition, the change in the definition of “victims” from an earlier draft to the final bill is an impressive one that will allow this legislation to apply to a significantly larger number of people. As of mid-April, the draft defined a victim as a person whose fundamental rights have been impaired since 1991 or later. The final law, defining victims as people who have been harmed since 1985, is a huge accomplishment.

You are correct to note the challenges, even if there is a good faith effort to implement this legislation. While you point to special mechanisms to help meet these challenges, some may not be new mechanisms, but repurposed ones. For example, the new “special agency” is likely to be the “Project on Protection of Land and Patrimony of Internally Displaced Persons (Proyecto)”, formerly under the auspices of Acción Social, but recently moved to the Agricultural Ministry.

Similarly, the legislation creates a new registry of forcibly abandoned property, but this will use the former registry (Registro Único de Predios y Territorios Abandonados – RUPTA) as its basis. Maybe repurposing existing mechanisms will be an efficient way of getting the restitution ball rolling. But given what I understand to be widespread lack of confidence on behalf of victims in either the initial Proyecto group or the RUPTA process, I don’t know how renaming these mechanisms will generate credibility.

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Week in links – Week 22/2011

– A Guardian investigation shows that British firms have now secured more land in Africa for biofuels than those of any other country. Unwanted publicity, it seems, particularly in light of Oxfam’s simultaneous citation of biofuel production as a factor in an ongoing food crisis that may see the prices of staples double in the next two decades.

-In the long gap since my last postings on Haiti, the basic dynamic of urban IDP camps settling into informal settlement status is little changed, but the resulting tensions appear to be coming to a head. By November last year, tenure insecurity in IDP camps had become so rife that a coalition of rights groups sought and received a directive from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordering the Haitian authorities to “stop evicting earthquake survivors from camps unless they are provided safe and adequate shelter.” However, last week Beverly Bell of Other Worlds reported on a series of violent and systematic forced evictions of IDPs in the Delmas district of Port au Prince. The evictions were ordered by local mayor Wilson Jeudi, who justified them by disputing the humanitarian vulnerability of the residents:

Jeudi called the camps “disorderly” and claimed that many of those in the tents did not actually live there. “They just come to do their commercial activities [thievery and prostitution] and go back to their homes in the evening.”

The mayor said that no compensation would be offered to those ousted from their temporary shelter. “We were all victims of the earthquake,” he added.

-Meanwhile, a leaked USAID-commissioned report appeared to give some support to Mr. Jeudi’s diatribe, alleging not only that the death toll from the quake was less than one-third of the officially reported 316,000, but also that only 895,000 IDPs moved into the IDP camps after the quake with 375,000 remaining now (compared with IOM’s numbers of 1.5 million original residents and 680,000 current). Most interesting to Mr. Jeudi, the report also “suggests many of those still living in tent cities did not lose their homes in the disaster.” The report is not yet officially released due to the need to address apparent inconsistencies.

– The BBC carries a rather sad story about Palestinian refugees engaged in a lawsuit not be able to return to the village they fled in 1948 – a point they appear to have largely conceded – but to prevent others from living there in its proposed reincarnation as a luxury housing development.

Colombia passes a Victim’s Law promising land restitution and broader redress

by Sebastián Albuja

Sebastián Albuja is the country analyst for Colombia for the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). He previously guest-posted on earlier drafts of the current Colombian restitution legislation here. In light of the possibility that further changes to the legislation may come about as a result of a possible conciliation process between the two houses of the Colombian legislature, Sebastián has kindly offered to provide further updates if necessary. A pdf version of the current draft will also shortly be available at the IDMC Colombia page.

The Colombian Congress recently passed a law to provide reparations to the victims of conflict and set up a property restitution plan.  The so-called ‘Victim’s Law,’ which has been in the making since September 2010, has been much awaited by hundreds of thousands of victims of violence and human rights abuses in Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict.

The law has been hailed as an important accomplishment for the victims of conflict and land dispossession, and IDMC, whose 2010 report supported the initiative and commented on the bill’s text, joins in welcoming the adoption of the Victim’s Law.  In a highly charged political environment, and trailing on a path of similar failed initiatives, the political deal brokered by the majority is no minor accomplishment.  With this law, the Colombian Government has taken a step in the right direction to redress the victims of a conflict they did not seek, and to discharge its obligations under Colombian and International Law.

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