Category Archives: Admin

TN takes a sabbatical at six

Dear TN Readers,

The good news is that you are still there! Despite only running 4 new postings since my last annual report (one-seventh of 2014’s total and one-twentieth of peak year 2012), overall hits amount to 86,000, or a net increase of 7,000 since last year. This is a 50% decrease against 2014, but each visit is all the more welcome in light of the dearth in new postings.

Why less posts? Last year I mentioned how my shift away from consultancy to working with ILAC has forced me to focus more on my day job. I also decided to spend more time with the family – or just getting enough sleep – during the hours I have to myself. All that said, 2015 was particularly intensive with the untimely loss of an esteemed friend and colleague Håkan Henning. And the work didn’t exactly let up with a big three-year program in the MENA region hitting its stride, and leaving blogging firmly on the back burner.

If I was to be completely honest with myself, I would probably officially mothball TN at this point. But like a lot of you may be doing, I return now and then and browse through some of the posts, both my own and many of the fine guest pieces I’ve received over the years. And, the odd turkey aside (not too surprising when I typically pushed “publish” at three a.m.), it really reads well. As I’d hoped, its something I and the other authors can be proud of, and return to for information and inspiration. And maybe pick up again.

Meanwhile, I’ve faded away from the HLP discourse somewhat, but never so far that there’s no way back. Its been particularly satisfying to have been asked to be part of the advisory board for Inclusive Development International, although 2015 was as hard on my commitments there as it was on this blog. I’ve also enjoyed playing a supporting role in the campaign marshaled by Jeremie Gilbert and MRG to achieve recognition of a human right to land. And in the meantime, I’ve been tasked by ILAC with reviewing thematic issues such as transitional justice and land rights. In times like these, this blog’s issues have never been more important.

So, TN is down and may or may not also be out (check back latest by next February…) but I’ve been enriched by the journey we’ve taken either way. Hope you have as well.

Sincerely,
Rhodri

 

 

TN mellows out at five

by Rhodri C. Williams

Up till as late as last year, it was still possible to kid myself that having a title like “program manager” was compatible with having a family and raising a blog. Sadly, its not. Not entirely, in any case. At the end of the day, I couldn’t short the day job and I couldn’t short the family, so the blog has suffered as a result. While a bit of my online life has shifted to the newsfeed at the ILAC website, there is definitely a gap.

Most obviously, I’m not posting as often as I used to and, sadly, neither are you. The year that passed saw a total of 28 posts, of which five were guest postings. Compare this with last year’s numbers (64 and 11), or the year before’s (80 and 25) and a trend emerges. Happily, there seem to be enough fumes in the tank to keep the hits coming. The current total is just shy of 79,000, meaning about 14,000 hits since last February. That is only slightly shy of the previous annual total of 15,000 despite the lower number of posts this year.

As usual, I also want to praise the quality of last year’s guest posts, which included repeat guests Massimo Moratti (on how the Kosovo Constitutional Court is handling the legacy of a flawed restitution process) and Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque (on forest tenure trends), as well as first time guests Christina Williams (on ongoing land grabs in Sri Lanka), Paula Defensor Knack (rounding out the environmental peace-building series with a piece on Mindanao), and Rebecca Marlin (with a sobering assessment of how little progress has been made in implementing the ACHPR’s Endorois decision).

I was also pretty happy with my blogging year, which began with reactions to the deepening Syria crisis (here and here) and the emerging Ukraine crisis (here, herehere and here). In fact, the Crimea issue raised such strong associations with my ongoing research on the Åland Islands that I ended up posting my first guest piece in Opinio Juris on the topic and following up on TN. I also blogged on a book review related to Åland, and other matters of European interest including the Scottish referendum, xenophobia in Europe and in Sweden, and, God help me, the Eurovision song contest.

Some thematic pieces too, on current rule of law debates, IHL dilemmas and refugee law debacles. Some advocacy work with Inclusive Development International (I am privileged to be on the advisory board) regarding the World Bank’s depressing start to its safeguard policies revision process. A continuation of my picaresque crusade against the efforts by the IRS to grind Americans abroad into pulp and print them as freshly minted dollars. And a tribute to an extraordinary Libyan who did more in the space of a single revolution to improve the lives of vulnerable people than I may do in my lifetime.

All that next to working with some wonderful colleagues to get a huge rule of law program up and running across a broad range of countries in the Maghreb and Mashriq that have clung to a modicum of stability or representativeness (or in the best case both) in the wake of a very turbulent Spring. And, perhaps most significant, the kids have learned to ski, discovered Minecraft without abandoning books, and spent one more summer waking to loons in Vermont. Not a bad year.

Upcoming discussion of restitution at Stockholm University

Just a quick note to say I will be giving a talk on the right of restitution in two weeks at the Stockholm Center for International Law and Justice. Any TN readers locally-based or passing through are welcome to join!

SCILJ V Rhodri 6 oktober copy 2

TN turns four!

by Rhodri C. Williams

Well, its official dear readers. After three years of dramatic growth, TerraNullius has officially arrived at a plateau this year. To be precise, where the site got 20,000 hits last year, putting it just shy of 50,000 overall, this years total represents a 25% drop to about 15,000 (with a current total of 65,000, give or take).

TN was born as a by-product of my consultancy career, which is now largely a thing of the past. In fact, last year was the first full-year in which I was taken on full-time by a single employer – ILAC in Stockholm – since I upped stakes and left the OSCE in Bosnia in 2004 (ten years ago in June). Inevitably, it has been more of a struggle to find the time to put together posts and my overall total dropped from 80 last year (total 290) to 64 this year (new total 354). Of these, 11 are guest-postings, down from a high of 25 the previous year.

So, the calculation seems to be pretty simple: post more; get more hits. But whatever the score, I am truly grateful for every one of you that dropped in. I honestly never imagined that I would be able to bandy these kind of numbers around when I started the blog, and still enjoy being in a somewhat one-sided conversation with 15,000 of you far more than I would enjoy the kind of splendid isolation I shared with my ideas before. And as always, I am particularly grateful to TN’s guest authors, old and new, for taking the blog to places I never could on my own.

Some highlights this year – First, a lot on the Balkans. I wrapped up a series of forays into the ICTY’s erratic jurisprudence with a piece on the Perisic decision that provoked a virtually identical narrative of innocent grievance (by ‘observer’) to that I had earlier heard from ‘deep water of truth’ to support his irreconcilably contradictory views of the Gotovina decision (from 2012). Despite some misgivings about the level of reconciliation in the region, I was nevertheless as happy as the next guy to wave Croatia into the EU.

Beyond the Balkans, there were not so many bright spots, or maybe the dark spots just weighed heavier. Generally speaking, the humanitarian effects of new waves of conflict seemed to turn the clock back to a pattern of highly effective atrocities and bumbling international responses that seemed all too familiar. The unfolding calamity in Syria, in particular, has often been painful to watch. There is just a bit too much cognitive dissonance in understanding precisely why everything is falling apart (from having seen it before) and wondering why we haven’t actually internalized any lessons (from having seen it before).

A bit of self-promotion is always lighter, and it really was fun to get a raft of publications out this year. Maybe most notably, a huge volume on post-conflict land management Jon Unruh and I have labored on as co-editors lo these many years, with the chapters now available for free download. TN also became the sole outlet for a big report on land, property and displacement issues in Libya I wrote for UNHCR. And I released an analysis of the international constitutional assistance field for the Folke Bernadotte Academy, along with my first major ILAC job, an assessment report on rule of law in Libya.

So, thanks again for joining me and feel free to call in with a comment or a guest post idea anytime. TN may have peaked, but then again, it may just be getting warmed up.

Happy Holidays (and on to 2014)

First of all, a happy holiday season to all TN readers who are so geographically located and culturally inclined. I’ve been taking some badly-needed time off on the winter dark Åland Islands and am happy to observe many of the rest of you are getting some downtime too, at least based on the cratering hit numbers during the last week. So, if you are reading this, many thanks but now close your laptop please, and go play Legos with your kids (thats my plan).

Second of all, because after all this is a blog that follows international affairs, here’s to 2014 because 2013 felt like a pretty lousy year. I don’t really go in for conspiracy theories or notions about auspicious and inauspicious years, but it felt like the world overdid it a bit during 2011, slept through 2012 and had a debilitating global headache in 2013.

Most obviously, of course, was the scramble to find a suitably lousy epithet to re-dub the events-formerly-known-as-the-Arab-Spring. As Tunisia stagnated, Egypt reverted to form, Libya seethed, Yemen and Bahrain dropped off the media horizon, Iraq re-ignited and Syria dragged everyone into a pit of fear and loathing. The only arguable bright spot was an apparent opening in Iran, although it remains to see whether the “worst ever” US Congress will tank the modest progress made this year by piling on further sanctions in 2014.

In light of general developments in the Middle East, the commentariat was quick to proceed from predictions of Syria’s breakup to a vision of redrawn lines throughout the entire region based on the abandonment of the ‘Sykes-Picot’ agreement that carved up the region after the First World War. Last year saw the eruption of both old and relatively new fissures. Events in 2014 will be decisive in determining whether these can be bridged or will further harden into boundaries and borders, endangering tens of thousands of civilians that may ultimately find themselves on the wrong sides.

Similarly worrying (if less threatening to global security) is the failure of Myanmar to fully emerge from the miasma of ethnic tensions that erupted into the full light of day in 2013 – again two years after a spectacular opening in 2011, with the dissolution of the military junta, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and a sprinkling of Clinton fairy dust.

And most recently, 2013 is set to close to the tune of yet another meltdown – in less than a week of bloody ethnic conflict – of Africa’s newest state. As in all the above cases, South Sudan was consecrated in a burst of optimism – in retrospect, perhaps naive – that followed from the surprisingly peaceful and well-organized referendum on independence from Sudan proper, again in 2011.

So let’s hold the auld lang syne this year and move on expeditiously to a better 2014.

Upcoming guest posting on the Colombian restitution process

by Rhodri C. Williams

I am very pleased to announce another happy by-product of my recent participation in the Essex Transitional Justice Network’s recent course and seminar on land issues in transitions. In addition to Clara Sandoval’s upcoming guest-post on the Inter-American Court of Human Right’s recent ruling on Chile, I can now reveal that another seminar participant, Camilo Sánchez of the Colombian NGO Dejusticia, will be writing for TN together with his colleague Ilan Grapel.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Camilo during earlier work on property issues in Colombia, such as a UNHCHR workshop for the then-newly minted restitution judges precisely a year ago (for all the presentations including my own in simultaneous Español, see here). In the context of what is often a hopelessly prickly relationship between government and civil society, Camilo and his colleagues at Dejusticia deftly combine effective advocacy with sharp, independent analysis.

Camilo’s post will focus on the implementation of the current program of restitution of land aimed primarily at victims of Colombia’s right wing paramilitaries, arguing that improvements to the functioning of the restitution law should be accompanied by a broader commitment to distributive reforms. This is of course a crucial topic at the moment for Colombia, given the negotiation process with the Farc that resulted in a landmark agreement on agrarian reform last Spring.

One of the issues that has haunted both the current restitution process and the Government’s efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict with the Farc has been the issue of whether it will truly be capable of ending a centuries-long tradition of failed land reform and resulting political instability. Ana Maria Ibanez and Juan Carlos Munoz captured this historical dynamic in their chapter of a 2010 Forum for International Criminal and Humanitarian Law volume on “distributive justice in transitions” (highly recommended and available here in pdf).

Ibanez and Munoz describe how Colombia’s vast interior allowed successive governments to buck pressure to redistribute land by encouraging the “colonization” of smallholder plots – only to have the big landowners swallow these plots up again, turning their cultivators into impoverished and aggrieved tenants. Cited in a recent article in the Economist, Ibanez has gone on to note how mass displacement and ongoing violence from the last round of ‘agrarian counter-reform’ have fundamentally reduced tenure security for all farmers, reducing the country’s agricultural efficiency:  Continue reading

Reparations for Chile’s exiles: upcoming guest-post on the Inter-American Court decision in García Lucero

by Rhodri C. Williams

Earlier this Fall, I had the pleasure of being invited to lecture at the Essex Transitional Justice Network’s 2013 summer school, which focused on land issues in transitional settings. I also stayed on for a seminar on land and traditions that got me back together with some familiar leading lights on HLP questions and acquainted me with a number of others. The EJTN has been doing some very interesting work at the frontiers of the transitional justice discourse, including research on economic and social rights approaches to TJ, rehabilitation as a form of reparation and, most recently, a book on corporate accountability in transitional settings.

As a human rights practitioner frequently (and rightly) accused of being a frustrated academic, the seminar was a good reminder of how many other people believe that the strain of trying to keep a foot in both camps is more than compensated for by the synergies that can result. One of the more impressive examples I encountered during my stay in Colchester was the work of ETJN Director Clara Sandoval, who is also not only a Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex Law School, but also a frequent practitioner. Recently, as a consultant for Redress, she helped to bring the case of Leopoldo Garcia Lucero v. Chile before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Garcia Lucero case involves the claim of an 80 year old torture survivor who was held for a year and a half in Chilean prison camps before being expelled in 1975. Since then, Mr. Garcia Lucero has struggled to make a new life in London, one among some 200,000 Chileans forced out by the Pinochet regime. Physically disfigured and permanently disabled, he sought an “effective remedy and full and adequate reparation for what happened to him” before the Inter-American Court.

In the decades since Mr. Garcia Lucero was victimized, the Chilean experience of transitional justice has come to be seen as a model in many respects. However, as Clara Sandoval noted in a BBC interview, efforts to provide reparations to victims of the Pinochet regime have been accompanied by relatively few convictions of perpetrators and largely excluded exiled victims, exacerbating their vulnerability. Meanwhile, with the recent commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Pinochet coup, painful new revelations such as the failure of the Chilean courts to protect ordinary citizens continue to emerge.

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Announcing a new book and guest posts on post-conflict land management and peacebuilding

PCNRM cover 9781849712316I’m very happy to announce the forthcoming publication of a volume on Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding that I co-edited with Mc Gill Geography professor and land tenure guru Jon Unruh. The volume is the third of six volumes in a series on natural resource management and post-conflict peace building. The books are the fruit of a project initiated by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the University of Tokyo, and McGill University with a view to analyzing experiences and documenting good practice in post-conflict peacebuilding and natural resource management.

As with all the volumes, Jon and mine on land tenure issues is meant to be available exclusively for sale at first, but the chapters will be available for free download on the Environmental Peacebuilding website six months after the official announcement of the book’s publication. For instance, the first volume on high-value natural resources (also announced here on TN) is now available in full here, and the second volume on post-conflict restoration of the natural resource base should be available early next month.

As part of the launch several of the authors in the land volume have kindly agreed to provide guest-postings on TerraNullius updating or elaborating on their chapters. These will included the following:

First out is Douglas Batson, who wrote on the need for a cadastral system that records the array of relationships between people and land in Afghanistan. The chapter discusses the relevance of Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) to record customary land tenures, a theme which he will elaborate on in his guest post.

A second post by Paula Defensor Knack will elaborate on her chapter on “Legal Frameworks and Land Issues in Muslim Mindanao” by describing how the subsequent peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has exacerbated some of the conflict dynamics she describes. Finally, a third post by Arthur “Gill” Green will update his chapter on land tenure and peace-building in Aceh, Indonesia.

I’m very pleased to be able to host these guest postings and hope that some of the other authors may yet be moved to update their excellent chapters. I should probably also do a plug for my own chapters as well – one of which, on Cambodia, will be old hat to readers of this blog, but the other of which, on Bosnia, might provide more novelty.

In the latter chapter, I build on astute analysis by both ESI and Gerard Toal in describing an extraordinarily ambitious, mercifully brief and ultimately shambolic attempt by international officials in Bosnia to control all property transactions in the entire country. A footnote in the history of peace-building, one hopes, although great ambitions never seem to entirely run dry.

Guest posts:

– Paula Defensor Knack, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Peace Deal for Mindanao and its lessons for practitioners of environmental peacebuilding (10 April 2014)

– Dan E. Stigall, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The durability of Middle Eastern Civil Codes and durable solutions to displacement (26 September 2013)

– Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Customary governance, property rights, and state building in Afghanistan (08 May 2013)

– Douglas Batson, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: A new global standard for land administration (25 April 2013)

Upcoming guest posting on the World Bank and ‘villageization’ in Ethiopia

by Rhodri C. Williams

Since early last year, Human Rights Watch has kept a weather eye on Ethiopia, where land concessions in the Gambella region and agricultural development plans in the Omo valley are giving rise to allegations of violent mass-displacement of local villagers and pastoralists. HRW also reported on the role of international development assistance actors in actively or passively facilitating such patterns of displacement.

The violent and systematic nature of the displacement alleged to have taken place in Ethiopia – and the government’s invocation of development priorities as a justification for them – place the country firmly within a broader global trend. Just as the 2004 tsunami forced humanitarian advocates for the global population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to turn their attention from conflict to natural disasters, I have argued that the effects of new trends involving large scale investment in land – the global land rush – should prompt new humanitarian and human rights scrutiny of development-induced displacement.

In Ethiopia, such scrutiny has been quick to follow HRW’s reports. In September 2012, the NGO Inclusive Development International (IDI) alleged a link between World Bank projects in Ethiopia and the Gambella ‘villageization’ program and assisted affected indigenous persons in submitting a complaint to the Bank’s Inspection Panel. Now, as reported by Helen Epstein in the NYR Blog, the Panel has forced the Bank to decide whether to act on a finding that a full investigation is warranted:

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TN turns three!

I would like to mark another year of blogging with a huge thanks to the many readers, guest-bloggers and commenters who have brought life to these pages. At three years old, TN is starting to look like a blue chip blog, with dependable, steady growth, a loyal readership, and no dramatic swings either way. In times like these, thats hardly the worst you could say of a weblog.

This year brought a touch over 20,000 hits, or 20% growth over last year (which in turn was up 25% from the year before). The total hits on the blog so far are about 49,300, which is probably about what Justin Bieber’s fansite gets every two minutes, but hey, we know we’re more interesting, right? The overall rate of posting is steady with about 80 posts this year, down slightly from 90 last year. Happily, guest postings jumped a notch to 25 (from 15 last year and 17 the year before).

For me, the energy put into these guest posts and the generosity of their authors are the most rewarding thing about running a blog. The ‘housing, land and property’ field sometimes feels like a large assembly of small parallel conversations. TN will never be capable of capturing the richness of all these discourses in anything like their entirety, but its nice to think that this may be becoming a space where both experts and newcomers to the field may be able to get a sense of what the others are talking about and how to get involved.

Other high points this year included doing my paltry best to make last year’s Eurovision contest uncomfortable for its autocratic hosts, guest-posting on Mark Kersten’s excellent Justice in Conflict blog, running a poll to be sure TN readers understood the name of this blog in its intended sense, expressing my amazement at the US tax service’s decision to further complicate the tangled lives of its citizens abroad, and putting my oar in once again on Cambodia’s land grab debate. An undoubted low point was being subjected to censorship for the first time, with a valued guest contributor forced to pull a much praised and timely piece.

Onward to year 4.