Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy Holidays!

I meant to write this a week ago on the ferry to the Åland Islands for an internet-free holiday season, but the perennially bad wireless on the boat was non-existent. So Happy Holidays to all TN readers and best wishes for all success in 2012! I will be back online by next week and have a set of extremely interesting guest-postings coming up, along with the usual HLP updates.

The Lisbon Treaty comes home to roost in Western Sahara

by Rhodri C. Williams

What with all the current speculation over the fate of the Euro, little attention has been given to other EU matters that might make headlines under ordinary circumstances. Last week, however, the European Parliament, long derided as an ineffectual talk-shop stuffed with protest vote populists, got its human rights groove on. By a vote of 326 to 296, the Parliament exercised its right under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty to reject the proposed one year extension of a 2006 EU fishing agreement with Morocco. In doing so, it fired off a belated but significant  shot for the Sahrawis, one of the last remaining colonized peoples that has been denied the right to self-determination.

As described in a rather useful backgrounder from BBC, the Sahrawis formed a resistance movement, the Polisario Front, that succeeded in destabilizing Spanish colonial rule by the early 1970s. However, in their rush for the door, the Spaniards allowed the Sahrawi territory of Western Sahara to be partitioned between neighboring Mauretania and Morocco in 1975. While the former withdrew in 1978, Morocco has pressed its claims, fighting the Polisario Front to a standstill in 1991 while allowing settlers to move to the territory from Morocco and exploiting Western Sahara’s large reserves of phosphates. All this makes Western Sahara a distant cognate to West Papua, which also shook off overseas colonial rule only to be invaded by a more populous (and better armed) neighbor. The parallels with the fate of other North African pastoral peoples slighted by the post-independence uti possedetis lottery, such as the Bedouins and Tuareg, is also striking.

In principle, the Sahrawis enjoy the distinct advantage of having been effectively recognized as a people entitled to self-determination by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled in 1975 that they should be allowed to shape their own political fate through a referendum. However, in practice, the Sahrawis have been marginalized over the course of years of fruitless negotiations over the process of holding a referendum, during which the bulk of their population has lived in wretched refugee camps in neighboring Algeria. All the while, the Moroccan de facto authorities in Western Sahara have consolidated their position and it is now thought that more than half of the population of the territory may consist of settlers from Morocco proper.

In this context, the 2006 fishing agreement has not been a striking economic success for either side but represented something of a political coup for Morocco in its quest for de jure recognition of its authority over Western Sahara. Continue reading

Consultancy on the HLP rights of internally displaced women in Iraq

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is seeking a consultant to advise its Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) program in Iraq on addressing the needs of internally displaced women in informal settlements. As set out in the ToRs (which are available in the ‘resources’ section of this blog) the basic issue relates to the tenure security of all IDPs, given that most settlements are located on state-owned land.

The threat of evictions in such scenarios – and the relevant human rights and development standards – are fairly familiar but not consistently applied. Just over a year ago, for instance, I developed an analysis on precisely this topic for the US Institute of Peace Rule of Law Network. Reference in the current ToRs to the planned  “relocation of many IDP communities as a solution in order to reclaim public lands in the capital, as part of the ‘Baghdad Initiative’” (along with a similar ongoing effort in Diyala) indicate that respect for such standards is more important than ever. However, previous analyses of this situation have not necessarily incorporated a level of gender analysis that corresponds to the realities of Iraq’s IDP settlements:

Conflict and forced displacement have led to the loss of land, homes and personal documentation for IDPs in informal settlements in Baghdad, which has impacted particularly on women. Iraq faces a severe housing crisis. Property is expensive and access to credit for housing very limited. These factors combine to force many IDPs and, in particular, female-headed households, to continue living in the settlements. Given the lack of basic infrastructure, poor sanitary and shelter conditions, this is a choice of last resort. One in eight IDP households is headed by a single female. In many settlements, the majority of women are illiterate and in some cases, confined to the domestic environment.

Potential applicants should contact Robert Beer at pm@iraq.nrc.no with any questions (sooner rather than later).

Week in links – Week 50/2011 – Durban, Wukan, Tawergha, Hoima

Quite a lot of interest last week, here goes:

First, Opinio Juris’ Dan Bodansky produced a nice concise guide to what actually happened in the unexpectedly (and confusingly) successful Durban meeting on climate change, followed by a longer analytical piece.  Hopenhagen its not, but neither, apparently, a complete fiasco. All beauteously skewered by the Onion:

Ultimately, however, our personal moments of distress won’t matter much unless our government intervenes with occasional mentions of climate change in important speeches, or by passing nonbinding legislation on the subject. I implore you: Spend a couple minutes each year imagining yourself writing impassioned letters to your elected representatives demanding a federal cap on emissions.

Next, all hell has once again broken loose in a Chinese village that has seen virtually all its arable land siphoned off in crooked development deals. In this case, Wukan village in southern China’s Guangdong province exploded in protests after a local butcher appointed to negotiate with the government was arrested and died in custody. The villagers succeeded in entirely driving out local authorities and appear to still be in a state of open revolt, with police having set up a cordon  around the area without reestablishing control.

The BBC ran an analysis piece last week pointing out the increasing levels of so-called ‘mass incidents’ related to land and how China’s ‘rigid stability’ policy – which sets a premium on absolute social calm above all other considerations – appears to have reached the point of diminishing returns in the face of such grievances. Tao Ran describes the corrosive effect of land disputes on local democracy for the Guardian. Finally, an analysis on the WSJ blog raised the worrisome intimation that the implacable logic of land development in China may threaten the country’s food security:

(A local expert indicates) that local officials have seized about 16.6 million acres of rural land (more than the entire state of West Virginia) since 1990, depriving farmers of about two trillion yuan ($314 billion) due to the discrepancy between the compensation they receive and the land’s real market value.

China’s Land Ministry has also warned that misappropriation of farmland has brought the country dangerously close to the so-called red line of 296 million acres of arable land that the government believes it needs to feed China’s 1.34 billion people.

***

But the central government’s attempts to curb such abuses, and to draft new legislation that would protect against land grabs and give farmers a market rate for their land, have met fierce resistance from local authorities who rely on land sales to maintain growth, service debt and top up their budgets.

In 2010 alone, China’s local governments raised 2.9 trillion yuan from land sales. And the National Audit Office estimates that 23% of local government debt, which it put at 10.7 trillion yuan in June, depends on land sales for repayment.

Moving to Libya, transitional human rights complications continue to pile up (see an earlier posting on restitution questions here). BBC now reports that one of the most problematic human rights issues in the new Libya appears to have resulted from an act of revenge – not that taken on the late ‘buffoon dictator‘ Ghaddafi himself – but an apparent reprisal against the entire population of the town of Tawergha. The population of Tawergha were ethnically distinct, singled out for favor by Ghaddafi (as were the Tuareg minority, see posting here) and allegedly implicated in severe human rights violations related to the regime’s attempt to retake neighboring Misrata. They are now displaced in camps throughout Libya, unable to return to a town described as laid waste:

Building after building is burnt and ransacked. The possessions of the people who lived here are scattered about, suggesting desperate flight. In places, the green flags of the former regime still flutter from some of the houses.

Finally, the Guardian reports on the residents of the Hoima district of western Uganda, where local residents fully expect to bear the cost of the rest of the country’s development as plans to develop an oil refinery there take shape. May the other shoe drop gently and in strict accordance with international involuntary resettlement standards…

Land issues at the core of ethnic violence and internal displacement in north-east India

By Anne-Kathrin Glatz

Anne-Kathrin Glatz is a country analyst at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). IDMC’s report This is our land”: Ethnic violence and internal displacement in north-east India” can be accessed here.

The north-eastern region of India, which consists of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura, has seen many episodes of armed conflict and generalised violence since India’s independence in 1947. Some of these situations caused massive internal displacement, of hundreds of thousands of people. Currently more than 76,000 people remain in internal displacement in Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura due to such violence, according to conservative estimates provided in IDMC’s new report.

Conflict and violence in north-east India have had different causes, including violent competition for land and political power. Rebel groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland have fought for outright independence for their ethnic group, while other groups have strived to reach some level of autonomy. Related, the increasing scarcity of collective land available to indigenous people has led some to instigate violence against people they regard as “outsiders” in order to change ethnic demographics in their favour. Inter-ethnic violence between indigenous groups has also led to internal displacement.

The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India has been a means for some groups to establish a de facto ethnic “homeland”. It recognises “Tribal Areas” administered through Autonomous Councils, and thereby provides special protection to some “tribes” in the north-east. A demographic majority in an area is necessary for groups to seek this status. This has created grievances among minorities living in territories falling under Autonomous Councils. The hundreds of ethnic groups in north-east India do not live in distinct areas, and so their demands for ethnic homelands have often led to generalised violence and, in turn, internal displacement aimed at “ethnically cleansing” an area.

Continue reading

Redressing the ‘Endorois Case’ violations or replicating them?

by Rhodri C. Williams

Although I gather that the Government of Kenya is serious about implementing the February 2010 decision by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in the ‘Endorois case‘, I have yet to hear much about what actual progress has been made in the nearly two years since it was issued. However, an article in the Guardian on the recent displacement of Kenya’s Samburu people indicates that the fundamental lesson of the Endorois decision may be slow in sinking in, at a high cost to indigenous peoples in East Africa.

One striking thing about the Samburu case is the broad similarity it bears to the original Endorois evictions in 1974. This includes the fact the Samburu are  also a pastoralist people, that they have been moved through acts of official violence and intimidation to marginal areas at the edge of their former homeland, and that the justification for the eviction in both cases involved the creation of a nature reserve. In both cases, national litigation appears to focus on formal title issue without apparent regard to customary ownership (or “indigenous title” in the ACHPR’s parlance). Coincidentally (or not?) both cases even involve land associated with former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi.

However, one factor clearly distinguishing the Samburu case is the involvement of two international charities, the Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation in acquiring the land and gifting it to Kenya for use as a nature park. While the Guardian reports that both are maintaining a watchful silence, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure that will inevitably mount on them. Given the public profile of these organizations, neither are likely to tolerate the patterns of cooptation and brutality apparently encouraged with regard to pastoralists by private safari park interests in neighboring Tanzania (I linked to an MRG account of this situation earlier here; for an exhaustive report by a Swedish observer who was actually expelled from the country for her troubles, see the view from the termite mound).

Whether the Nature Conservancy and AWF will be willing to act as decisively as the Body Shop did in Colombia last year in response to allegations of land-grabbing by one of its suppliers is another question. In that case, an NGO, Christian Aid, was able to act as an intermediary between the aggrieved Colombian farmers and a fundamentally sympathetic company. In the case of the Samburu, however, another NGO, Survival International, has taken a more skeptical stance. Upon reading their press release and watching a documentary clip on the evictions by Channel 4, it is not too hard to see why.

Week in links – Week 49/2011

Very briefly this week:

IDMC has much of interest, including updates on land restitution in Colombia, forced evictions of Roma in Serbia, and an ongoing crackdown on West Papua. Of most interest is a new report on land rights and ethnic conflict in Northeast India, but I won’t go into more detail here as I am quite hopeful that the author, Anne-Kathrin Glatz, will shortly be introducing the issue in more detail in a guest-posting. Finally, a new research report is available on ‘unlocking’ situations of protracted refugee and IDP displacement.

Meanwhile, Antoine Buyse of the ECHR Blog provides an enlightening summary of a new European Court of Human Rights judgment – in the case of Gladysheva v Russia – involving the rights to property and the the home. On the property side, the Court finds an unsurprising violation in the annulment of the applicant’s purchase of an apartment from the person who had fraudulently privatized it (pointing out that the privatization resulted from the state’s failure of due diligence). On the housing side, the Court condemns the summary eviction proceedings initiated as a result and orders the equivalent of restitution (restoration of title and quashing of the eviction order). Antoine points out the significance of some particularly strong dictum on the centrality of the right to the home:

This judgment sends a clear signal that national authorities should take housing rights, specifically the protection of the home, seriously. Under the ECHR, this is more than a simple property issue – respect for the home also has important social and other connotations which strengthen the protective umbrella of the ECHR (the issue of attachment to a home counts) in such cases. Individual interests based on this should always be taken into account by states when interfering with housing rights. To put it differently, human rights start at home!

Back to business as usual in Cambodia?

by Rhodri C. Williams

Followers of this blog will have noticed a pattern of periodic eruptions of postings regarding land issues in Cambodia. Last Spring, it was brought on by a decision by the World Bank  Executive Board to give effect to an earlier Inspection Panel ruling finding fault with the Bank’s implementation of land titling programs. Later last Summer, it related to the Bank’s resulting standoff with the Cambodian government over setting aside land for people facing eviction from the Boeung Kak Lake (BKL) neighborhood of Phnom Penh – a staring match that the Bank appeared to win, albeit without guarantees any further reforms would ensue.

Having left Cambodia to its own devices for a while, my attention was drawn back when frequent TN guest-blogger Natalie Bugalski informed me about a recent Amnesty International report that she wrote outlining the experience of five women who have experienced forced evictions in the country. One of them, Vanny, has led protests against the Boeung Kak Lake development:

On 11 August 2011, the community achieved a partial victory when the prime minister ordered a portion of land to be handed over to the remaining 800 families for onsite housing in plots with legal ownership.

Vanny said: “A lot of people think that this is the first success of people’s demonstration… it’s a great example for other communities all over the country,” she said. Yet Vanny still feels insecure. “When I leave my house, I don’t know whether I can expect to come home or not.”

Vanny has good reason to be concerned, as she now faces a defamation charge brought by the Municipality of Phnom Penh.  In addition, eight more homes on the edge of Boeung Kak Lake were destroyed by bulldozers on 16 September, the families left homeless.

The destruction last September of the homes left out of the BKL deal support concerns that the Government may plan to tailor its concession to the World Bank as narrowly as possible. This inference is also supported by the heedless brutality with which the evictions were apparently carried out. The matter-of-fact nature of such violence is captured in Heather Stilwell’s report for Asia Calling on BKL resident Suong Sophoan’s quixotic attempt at civil disobedience:

“I was born in Boeung Kak, so I must protect my place and these people. I stood in front of the tractors to stop them and to solve this problem with peaceful non-violence. At the same time, I tell them that if you want to destroy these houses, you must destroy me first.”

Police kicked him and beat him with guns. They left him on the ground, unconscious and bloody. Then they destroyed the homes.

Natalie reported that the Government has dismissed Amnesty’s “black report” as shameful. To get a taste of official policy on land, I checked Cambodia’s London Embassy website, which is frequently tasked with composing baroquely worded refutals of international criticism (follow links to ‘Ambassador’, then ‘Media Releases’ and ‘Responses’). On the front page I noticed a curious call for investment (“Rich in farmland”) that mixed disarming candor (“it is unclear exactly what the deals with Qatar and Kuwait are…”) with an intriguing reference to working with small farmers:

The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) approved agricultural investment projects worth a combined $499.7 million in the first eight months of 2009, in comparison to $81.7 million worth of projects approved over the same period in 2008.

For investors looking to grow and process crops, Cambodia is an ideal location with plenty of land available for agricultural concessions. The Cambodian agriculture & agro-industry sector has developed significantly in recent years and has great potential for investment, employment creation and as a source for economic growth.

Qatar and Kuwait have also signed agreements to secure long-term food supplies for their countries. The UAE is also keen to explore opportunities in rice cultivation in Cambodia. It is unclear exactly what the deals with Qatar and Kuwait are, but Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hor Namhong, told reporters that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with Kuwait agreeing to finance a $350,000 irrigation project that would cover 130,000 hectares of rice fields.

Cambodia is rich in farmland and hopes to attract more investment to the sector. The country wants to develop its rice exports and therefore welcomes investors, especially those willing to work with small farmers. In return for investments such as credit and technical assistance, farmers would be contracted to sell their crops to the investor.

However, anyone hoping that this notice may portend a fresh approach to rural land and natural resource concessions would be well-advised to skim the national news page of the Phnom Penh Post. Highlights currently include a judge severely beaten by seven suspected illegal loggers and left by the roadside, as well as coastal villagers cut off by a military checkpoint in order to ease them off land conceded to a Chinese concern. In the latter case, the type of frustration expressed by urban BKL residents is evident in a less guarded form:

“If this had happened in the past, I would join the Khmer Rouge to protect my land,” said Sim Navy, adding that she was furious with the government for granting the land she lives on to a Chinese company.

So it seems that the Cambodian authorities have reverted to form? Given the scale of land grabbing and forced evictions in Cambodia’s recent history, it would be unfair to expect the World Bank to tackle the issue on its own. On the other hand, it is not clear that weighty international donors and policymakers are lining up behind the Bank’s efforts. And at the end of the day, the Cambodian authorities should know better. Alongside all the reports and recommendations and rhetoric, there is the simple truth that behavior like land-grabbing is destructive of any sense of national purpose or civic trust. In an incisive blog post from last Fall, an expat in Cambodia described the effect of the despoliation of land he and his Cambodian wife had bought on one decent person:

Whilst many of the landowners had had their homes and livelihoods destroyed, and had been physically assaulted, I initially told myself that we had only lost land and money. However, the events had a traumatic effect on my family. By this time my father-in-law was very sick with cancer (he has since passed away, a week ago). In those last few months of his life he began to question out loud whether he’d been a fool to have lived a life of honesty and integrity in Cambodia. He felt responsible that he had recommended the land to us because he knew the sellers to be decent people, and he regretted that he had left his family poor due to his fairness whilst other unscrupulous people in positions of power were giving their families a good life. A good man’s spirit was crushed.

Week in links – Week 48/2011

Lots to report on recently, but I have been caught up in my annual push to clear my consultancy inbox before the holidays. Could be thin pickings this week as well, as I will be doing my fourth turn as co-facilitator and coordinator for a very engaging advanced course on internal displacement held at Sida’s ‘Partnership Forum‘ in the mind-focusing north of Sweden (with winter coming on and the sun rising at 9 a.m. and setting just after 2 p.m., it can be a bit like holding a training in outer space!)

That said, the most obvious story from last week is the apparent opening of Myanmar, as indicated by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s much-discussed visit. I planned to summarize some of the land and natural resource issues arising from Myanmar’s tentative political transition here and now, but quickly found that there were too many! More than enough to justify a separate posting, at least, which I hope will come before the end of the week.

A less ballyhooed event last week was the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the independent state of West Papua. If you haven’t heard of it, that may be because it only lasted a year before being incorporated into Indonesia via a dubious ‘Act of Free Choice’. Hugh Brody gives an angry appraisal of the territory’s subsequent and ongoing misery, with some of the world’s most isolated indigenous peoples threatened by an alliance of military force and mining interests. The case of West Papua is similar to that of Western Sahara, East Timor, and other territories that essentially went straight from the frying pan of overseas colonialism into the fire of regional expansionism. While the East Timorese suffered greatly in the process, they ultimately exercised the right to self-determination. Whether West Papua or Western Sahara will follow suit remains less clear.

Also on OpenDemocracy, Luis Cabrera makes an intriguing argument for the morality of illegal migration as a response to the immorality of the continued extreme levels of inequality between the countries that produce migrants and those that attract them:

More specifically, the claim is that by illicitly crossing borders in order to better provide for themselves and their families, unauthorized migrants are implicitly claiming some core human rights. Because most of the rich, immigrant-receiving countries have formally bound themselves to treaties proclaiming the importance of those universal rights—to adequate food, decent work, and an overall adequate standard of living—the migrants can plausibly be viewed as challenging rich countries to make good on their promises.

This argument is the mirror image of the objection many human rights and humanitarian actors initially had against the 1990s effort to organize an international response to internal displacement. In effect, critics viewed such efforts as a means for rich countries to shirk their responsibility to provide international protection to refugees by discouraging them from crossing state borders to claim what, under international law, was their due.

We are here! post-Thanksgiving musings on minority conflicts and political participation

by Rhodri C. Williams

Just like last year, I spent the previous week celebrating Thanksgiving with relatives in northern Virginia and, just like last year, the curious nature of the holiday got me thinking about all the people that used to live there and may now find themselves west of the Mississippi in the best case. This year I found some inspiration in both the Economist I brought on the plane and the Dr. Seuss book I read my daughter. You, gentle reader, can be the judge of whether it all adds up or I just put a little too much gravy on the stuffing.

The Economist got me thinking with an apparently unconscious pairing of articles on natural resource conflicts in the Americas  (hurry up if you are interested, both are sliding fast toward the paywall). The first focuses on Peru, where newly anointed President Ollanta Humala has found his newly minted ministry of ‘development and social inclusion’ outflanked by a brushfire of protest movements against large-scale gold mining concerns in the highlands.

The article implies that by passing new legislation requiring consultation with local indigenous peoples on extractive projects, Mr. Humala has opened a floodgate of dissent stifled under previous, more business-friendly regimes. However, as in nearby Bolivia, the real political and economic power that flows from meaningful  consultation also appears to have highlighted unresolved tensions between indigenous peoples that may range from identity politics to competing political and economic agendas:

The native-consultation law could … prove perilous for Mr Humala. By January the government must decide which groups should be consulted, and how recommendations will be made. Formally, the process only applies to indigenous groups, prompting squabbling over who can use that label. “The situation in Cajamarca is heating up and could boil over if people feel excluded,” says (Cajamarca president Gregorio) Santos.

The second article focuses on Canada, where the socio-economic status of the  country’s ‘First Nations’ remains far below the national average and natural resources exploitation represent a grave threat to traditional ways of life. Recently, First Nations have apparently responded by resisting the historic pattern of woefully low representation in the national government bodies that are dominated by the majority but take many of the important decisions regarding the fate of minorities:

“Aboriginal peoples realise that decisions regarding their future, their territories, their resources are being made in Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, and perhaps in Shanghai and New York,” says (Cree First Nation parliamentarian Romeo) Saganash. “So they understand they have to participate in the democratic institutions of this country.”

Without either minimizing or exaggerating the undoubted historical, socio-economic and cultural differences that complicate any attempt to compare Peru and Canada, I found the second article encouraging. ‘Consult’ and ‘participate’ are both transitive verbs but in the former case (consultation), indigenous peoples are the object, the recipient. Participation, on the other hand, is something that peoples – and people – do as active subjects. As with Mr. Saganash, who aspires to be Canada’s first aboriginal prime minister, you take it to the majority on the ‘best defense is a good offense’ theory.

So where does Theodor Geisel come into the picture? Continue reading