Monthly Archives: February 2012

Look before you legislate? The challenges facing restitution in Libya

by Rhodri C. Williams

It seems that plans are now afoot in Libya for a full-scale program of restitution of properties nationalized and appropriated under the Ghaddafi regime. Bloomberg reported yesterday that a law envisaging a two phase process will be rolled out as soon as next month:

Libya will announce a law that will return land and buildings expropriated by late ruler Muammar Qaddafi to the original landowners “within weeks,” a senior member of the Land Ownership Committee said.

“Phase one will return unused lands, empty shops, buildings and villas taken by Qaddafi’s regime and then by the rebels to the rightful owners,” said Fawzy Sheibany, legal representative for the committee, in an interview in the capital, Tripoli. “This will mean millions of dinars can be invested in construction projects and provide employment.”

Phase two of the new law involves rehousing families residing in buildings on expropriated land and could take several years to implement fully, he said. The Ministry of Justice will deal with individual cases through a civil court.

On the face of it, there is every reason to welcome this development. The Ghaddafi-era expropriations were ostensibly meant to further public purposes but became, by all accounts, an arbitrary means of both punishing enemies and rewarding those the regime favored. Moreover, the resulting legal uncertainty in property relations was cited (in 2004) by a leading Middle Eastern law firm as a key structural obstacle to legal reform efforts during the run-up to the uprising:

As a result of abolishing real property ownership for investment purposes, the commercial real estate market has been completely distorted. There exists now a private land market and a public land market with a price gap that creates considerable uncertainty for both foreign and local investors. Compounding the problem, the [1997] Foreign Investment Law is not clear as to whether real property can be used as collateral or even can be freely transferred without government approvals. The government has announced plans to reform the laws governing property and rentals, but their scope is uncertain.

Finally, perhaps the most convincing ground for pushing for quick legislative measures is the need for the National Transitional Council (NTC) to be seen to lead from the front. In the wake of Amnesty International’s widely publicized allegations of human rights abuses by ‘out of control’ militias in Libya, anything the NTC can do to stamp its legitimate authority on matters of broad public interest appears welcome. In fact, this is a particularly important issue in regard to property. Recent reports such as this one by the Guardian indicate that the militias have become part of a pattern of spontaneous restitution, often carried out by means of violent self-help.

So what, one might ask, is not to like in a bill that serves not only justice but also economic development and political consolidation? The answer is that if it is rushed through without consultation, this bill may actually have the opposite effect, generating new cycles of grievance, reducing legal certainty and even undermining the authority of government in Libya if it proves impossible to effectively and consistently implement. Perhaps the most cogent argument for a deliberative approach to restitution for the prior regime’s confiscations is that this is to some extent a constitutional decision rather than merely a legislative one. Continue reading

The ADB involuntary resettlement policy: Fifteen years on, the poorest still bear the brunt of development

by Natalie Bugalski

It has been more than 15 years since the Asian Development Bank (ADB) adopted a policy on involuntary resettlement with the objective of ensuring that “displaced people are at least as well-off as they would have been in the absence of the [ADB-financed] project.” The rationale behind the policy was a shift away from the perception that development-induced displacement and attendant harms suffered by those physically and economically displaced is a “sacrifice” some people have to make for the larger good. It is apparent, however, that despite the adoption of increasingly progressive and rights-oriented policies, the utilitarian view of development-induced displacement continues to dominate the culture and individual staff views of the ADB and many other aid and development institutions.

The report Derailed released by Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC) this month (which I co-authored with Jocelyn Medallo) describes the policy and international human rights law obligations meant to protect the rights of resettled families and provides evidence of how these obligations continue to be flouted in practice. The Rehabilitation of the Railway in Cambodia Project, principally financed by an ADB concessional loan and an ADB-administered grant from the Australian Government, is affecting over 4,000 households that are being involuntarily resettled or must move back out of the railway’s “corridor of impact” (COI) into the residual right of way (ROW).

Despite decades of global evidence of the necessity of injecting sufficient financial and technical resources into resettlement planning and processes as an integral part of the infrastructure project itself, resettlement under the railways project has been treated as peripheral and has been left almost entirely in the hands of the Cambodian Government. Rather than internalizing the costs of resettlement into the project’s budgets from the start and ensuring that the full costs of policy and legal compliance are covered including though ADB and AusAID contributions, the Cambodian Government is responsible for footing the bill.

Given the well-known poor track record of the Government on forced evictions coupled with the incentive to reduce costs, the alarming result – as recorded in the BABC report – was blatantly foreseeable at the time of the project’s inception. Competent planning and sufficient resourcing from the beginning could have avoided and mitigated the hardships resettled families are now experiencing. Key findings of the report  include the following (a fuller list of the findings is appended to the end of this post):  Continue reading

From National Responsibility to Response – Part II: IDPs’ Housing, Land and Property Rights

by Elizabeth Ferris, Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark

This post continues our discussion of the study entitled “From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Response to Internal Displacement” recently released by the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement.

Addressing housing, land, and property (HLP) issues is a key component of national responsibility. Principle 29 of the non-binding but widely accepted Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement emphasizes that competent authorities have a duty to assist IDPs to recover their property and possessions or, when recovery is not possible, to obtain appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation.

The 2005 Framework for National Responsibility – which set the benchmarks we applied in our current study – reaffirms this responsibility (in Benchmark 10, “support durable solutions”) and flags a number of the challenges that often arise, such as IDPs’ lack of formal title or other documentary evidence of land and property ownership; the destruction of any such records due to conflict or natural disaster; and discrimination against women in laws and customs regulating property ownership and inheritance.  The Framework for National Responsibility stresses that, “Government authorities should anticipate these problems and address them in line with international human rights standards and in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner.”

The extent to which a government has safeguarded HLP rights, including by assisting IDPs to recover their housing, land, and property thus was among the indicators by which we evaluated the efforts of each of the 15 governments examined in our study. Our findings emphasized the importance of both an adequate legal and policy framework for addressing displacement related HLP issues and the role that bodies charged with adjudication and monitoring can play in ensuring implementation.

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From National Responsibility to Response – Part I: General Conclusions on IDP Protection

by Elizabeth Ferris, Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark

The Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement recently released a study entitled “From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Response to Internal Displacement“. The study examined 15 out of the 20 countries with the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations—Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen.

According to estimates, these 15 countries represent over 70 percent of the world’s 27.5 million conflict-induced IDPs.  Wherever possible, we also tried to include government efforts to address internal displacement by natural disasters. But in this and the subsequent blog post, we will focus on our main general conclusions as well as particular issues around housing, land and property (HLP) rights that emerged from our analysis (see Part II of this posting).

The study looks at how governments have fared in terms of implementing 12 practical steps (“benchmarks”) to prevent and address internal displacement, as outlined in the 2005 Brookings publication entitled “Addressing Internal Displacement: A Framework for National Responsibility.” The 12 benchmarks are as follows:

1. Prevent displacement and minimize its adverse effects.
2. Raise national awareness of the problem.
3. Collect data on the number and conditions of IDPs.
4. Support training on the rights of IDPs.
5. Create a legal framework for upholding the rights of IDPs.
6. Develop a national policy on internal displacement.
7. Designate an institutional focal point on IDPs.
8. Support national human rights institutions to integrate internal displacement into their work.
9. Ensure the participation of IDPs in decisionmaking.
10. Support durable solutions.
11. Allocate adequate resources to the problem.
12. Cooperate with the international community when national capacity is insufficient.

Stepping back from HLP issues (to be addressed in a subsequent set of comments in Part II of this guest posting), we drew several key observations on our overall findings. Continue reading

Waking from a dream in Bolivia: The TIPNIS victory that never was

by Nicholas A. Fromherz

Caption: Highlands indigenous leaders prepare for a hunger strike in Cochabamba, showing their support for the lowland tribes fighting against the road through TIPNIS. Photo credit: Nicholas A. Fromherz

On October 24, 2011, Bolivians breathed a collective sigh of relief.  After a two-month struggle, culminating in massive protests in front of the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Evo Morales signed a bill declaring the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure (TIPNIS) “untouchable.”

The controversial road connecting Villa Tunari with San Ignacio de Moxos would not pass through the national park and protected indigenous territory.  The peoples’ cry to defend TIPNIS had been heard; “Evo Pueblo” had lived up to his moniker, even if only under extreme pressure, and had listened to his constituents.  He even said so himself:  “The TIPNIS issue is resolved,” he declared. “This is governing by obeying the people.”

Or so we thought.  Though many were probably skeptical from the start, many others—myself included—thought the case was closed.  The government would still likely construct a road between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos, but the new law dictated that it would skirt the park.  That, not prohibition of a road altogether, had always been the goal.

As the last few weeks have shown, however, the victory dance was premature.  On February 10, 2012, President Morales signed a new law bringing back from the dead the possibility a road through TIPNIS.  Three-and-a-half months after declaring the park “untouchable,” Morales signed a law calling for a “prior consultation” to determine whether the road should go forward as originally planned. How did this happen, and how can we make sense of it?

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Upcoming guest postings by the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement

by Rhodri C. Williams

Rounding out a run of guest-posting announcements, I am very pleased to introduce an upcoming set of contributions by the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. For those of you not familiar with the Project, it is a small unit within the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy section that has not only played an outsized role in promoting effective responses to internal displacement, but also in laying the ground for rights-based approaches to humanitarian crises at a broader level.

The Project has been closely associated with the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur tasked with advising on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) since 1992 (formally in the guise of a ‘Representative to the UN Secretary General or ‘RSG’ until 2010).  Thus, the ‘LSE’ component refers to the academic home of the current mandate holder, Chaloka Beyani. This comes after a 2004-2010 period as ‘Brookings-Bern’ in reference to prior mandate-holder Walter Kälin, and earlier stint as ‘Brookings-SAIS’ in association with the first RSG, Francis Deng.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that the opportunity to work with Brookings early and often in my consultancy career not only made that career viable but also helped to expand my horizons tremendously. When the legendary IDP advocate Roberta Cohen plucked me out of obscurity to coordinate the development of a comprehensive manual on national response to internal displacement, I was quickly pushed out of my comfort zone of Balkan restitution issues and began to engage with the entire range of humanitarian, human rights and advocacy issues that still bedevil effective responses to the fundamental vulnerability of losing one’s home.

I am therefore happy to observe that Brookings is still going strong and recently published a raft of publications of both broad, humanitarian interest and more narrow relevance for the housing, land and property (HLP) community. The guest postings scheduled for the next weeks will feature a number of these.

First, Elizabeth Ferris, Brookings Project Co-Director, and her collaborators Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark will present their recent report From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Approaches to Internal Displacement. The report builds on an assessment of the implementation of the non-binding but seminal UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in fifteen of the world’s countries “most affected by internal displacement due to conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations”. The authors not only review the general conclusions of the report but also elaborate some of the most important findings related to HLP issues in internal displacement settings.

Second, Roberto Vidal, law professor at the Javeriana University of Bogota, will be writing on property-related themes related to his extensive recent work with the Project. And, third, authors Yulia Gureyeva-Aliyeva and Tabib Huseynov will be writing on their recent Brookings report “Can You Be an IDP for Twenty Years?” A Comparative Field Study on the Protection Needs and Attitudes Toward Displacement Among IDPs and Host Communities in Azerbaijan. While numerous HLP issues arise in relation to protracted displacement in Azerbaijan, some of the most difficult reflect tensions between IDPs and host communities and have been litigated as far as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg:

At the time of displacement many IDPs in urban and rural areas arbitrarily seized houses and land, which belonged (or were assigned later) to local residents. According to executive decrees, IDPs cannot be evicted from their places of residence—even those which they do not legally own—unless they are provided with alternative living arrangements. This has led some homeowners to take their cases all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, which questioned the existing government practices as a violation of property rights.

UPDATE – the following guest-postings have now been published:

– Yulia Aliyeva, Can you be internally displaced for twenty years? Housing issues and protracted displacement in Azerbaijan (12 September 2012)

– From National Responsibility to Response – Part II: IDPs’ Housing, Land and Property Rights (22 February 2012)

 From National Responsibility to Response – Part I: General Conclusions on IDP Protection (21 February 2012)

Nicholas Fromherz to guest post on the Bolivia TIPNIS debate

by Rhodri C. Williams

Land issues in Bolivia made their debut on TN last Fall, when a dispute over President Evo Morales’ plan to run a road straight through the center of the the  Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS in Spanish) came to light. Commentators fastened on the seeming irony of Bolivia’s first emphatically indigenous head of state’s decision to compromise the integrity of indigenous land without even observing the constitutional necessity of prior consultation. At the time, I contrasted the problem of lack of democratic accountability in simultaneous land riots in China with the problem of overreliance on majority rule in Bolivia:

The rationale for recognizing the territories of indigenous peoples is typically the need to protect them – as minorities – from the effects of democratic decision-making processes they can never win. This is what makes both the failure to consult with the affected communities in advance and the proposal for a referendum now more than dubious. Even at the regional level, a majority can surely be found that would prefer commerce with Brazil to the less tangible benefits of living next to some of the world’s last functioning indigenous societies. At the national level, support for the road may be even stronger. Mr. Morales may be indigenous, but he is also an elected politician.

 As subsequent analysis would in fact demonstrate, “indigenous peoples” are no more a monolithic category in Bolivia than minority groups are anywhere, and many of the key backers of the road were also indigenous groups with diverging economic agendas and political links to the President. Accordingly, even as protesters forced the government to negotiations by October, the outcome of the issue remained uncertain. At that point, I quoted an interesting commentary in Foreign Affairs chronicling the “tremendous damage” the mishandling of the TIPNIS issue had done to President Morales’ credibility. Unbeknownst to me, the author, Nicholas Fromherz, was a fellow blogger at South American Law & Policy. When Nicholas later picked up on a TN piece on Colombia, I began to realize how much good, locally informed analysis is out there on the TIPNIS controversy.

As a result, I am very grateful to Nicholas for agreeing to post on TN with an update on TIPNIS that will pull together some of the threads from the various media and blogosphere sources Nicholas covers. To update the story a little since TN’s last coverage, South American Law has chronicled the progress of the protesters, their arrival in La Paz, Morales’ initial acquiescence to their demands, and the adoption of a bill in late October quashing the road project. However, by December proponents of the road had organized, leading to legislative reconsideration of the TIPNIS bill and a decision by Morales to revisit the issue in consultation with all affected parties. Nicholas also provided an analysis of the requirement to consult in the Bolivian Constitution, linking it with broader research he is undertaking on whether resettlement standards should require actors to merely seek or actually secure informed consent.UPDATE: Please see Nicholas’ guest-posting here.

New report on railway rehabilitation and displacement in Cambodia – Natalie Bugalski to guest-post

by Rhodri C. Williams

Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BAB-C) released a new report this week on displacement in Cambodia caused by donor-funded rehabilitation of the country’s railway system (the PR is reprinted after the jump, below).

The findings are consistent with bad practice in development-induced displacement everywhere – poor planning, little consultation, thinly-veiled coercion, badly located and serviced resettlement sites, resulting in precisely the type of impoverishment risks that the standards long espoused by donors such as the World Bank and (more to the point in this case) the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are meant to prevent.

However, the report also reflects a particularly Cambodian failure to act on decades of advice and occasional pressure to comply with standards that would allow the country – at relatively little cost – to be seen to live up to its international commitments and to avoid the human tragedy and bad optics associated with forced evictions. After all, it is only six months since the Cambodian Government appeared to make tactical concessions in a standoff with the World Bank over evictions in Phnom Penh, but subsequent events indicate a reversion to form.

In this case, it is also over a year since early research on the very project criticized in the BAB-C’s new report forecast the problems that the latter now documents. For instance, Natalie Bugalski guest-posted at the time on the tragic drowning death of two children sent to fetch water because water sources available at the resettlement site where they lived were “polluted by chemicals used for rice growing and … caused skin diseases and other illnesses.”

Natalie will shortly be providing TN readers with another guest-posting with observations on BAB-C’s new report. As is often the case in Cambodia, all of this will make awkward reading not only for the Cambodian government, but also for international donors (in this case the ADB and AusAid) that are responsible for ensuring that the Cambodian Government accepts their resettlement standards along with their funding. For the time being, acceptance of this principle remains elusive.

UPDATE: read Natalie’s guest-posting here:  The ADB involuntary resettlement policy: Fifteen years on, the poorest still bear the brunt of development (23 February 2012)

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Humanitarian spacebook

TN readers working on humanitarian assistance and development cooperation issues may be interested to know that there is now a serious but not solemn place on the web for them to exchange practice pointers and cooking tips. Aid Source bills itself as a humanitarian social network that is “fun, super cool, and counts as work”. I just established myself there and have proposed to help set up a working group on HLP issues, so feel free to “like” that idea upon arrival…

UPDATE – Pursuant to Chris Huggins’ eminently sensible suggestion that my proposal to start an HLP WG should actually be visible somewhere on the Aid Source site, I have now contrived to initiate a discussion on the topic. Feel free to wade in.

FURTHER UPDATE – After one week, my discussion topic has garnered a grand total of six views and no responses. As a result, I have decided to go with the flow and join the foodies group!

TN turns two!

by Rhodri C. Williams

Thanks to readers, commentators and guest authors alike for another great year. In the interest of providing the briefest imaginable stockholder report, I will try to illustrate just a few key trends since our little blog turned one last year.

First, hits are steadily going up from a total of 12,500 a year ago to precisely 29,000 now, or about a 25% increase. Not stratospheric, but no risk of a bubble either! Second, and maybe even more reassuring, this growth comes when the overall rate of posting has slowed from the occasionally frenetic pace of year one (120 posts or ten per month) to something a bit more manageable (around 90 posts this year). Meanwhile, guest-postings leveled out with 17 registered last year, followed by 15 this year, along with some interesting cross-postings from Landesa’s Field Focus blog.

In order to give TN’s prolific guest authors the props they deserve, I have set up a new tab that includes an alphabetical directory of all who have contributed to date, along with links to their respective pieces. And in order to encourage both regulars and first-timers to consider writing guest posts, I’ve also laid on some fairly non-demanding guidelines on how to go about proposing and writing pieces on TN.

Its been a very enjoyable year for me, and one where the blog itself has branched out considerably from its narrow initial base of post-conflict housing, land and property (HLP) issues. As I mentioned at the turn of the year, the most significant developments have come in response to the Arab Spring, with more systematic attention being given to the territorial aspects of minority rights and self-determination issues (in the MENA region – see links below – and beyond).

However, many recent guest-bloggers have also explored development and conflict prevention-related lines of inquiry, and I have also made a few forays into broader questions of social and economic rights (particularly in the Swedish context) and citizenship. So, thanks once again to everyone who has contributed in small ways and large and I look forward to seeing what the next twelve months brings. Continue reading