Category Archives: Admin

How I spent my Christmas break

One of the less memorable milestones for TN in 2013 will be the first passage of an entire month – January – without a single posting. The fact, as many of you are probably now aware, is that I have been completely taken up with some recent work with the International Legal Assistance Consortium (‘ILAC’, based here in Stockholm) on supporting rule of law efforts in Libya.

This work builds on research I did last year for the UNHCR on housing, land and property issues for IDPs and refugees in Libya, which had important rule of law and transitional justice implications. It also reflects a little bit of a return to the rule-of-law fold via another assignment last Spring, this one mapping and analyzing the emerging field of constitutional assistance for the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy (report to be published soon). The job with ILAC has involved core RoL concerns of the kind I started out with long ago in Bosnia – an assessment of the judicial system and the RoL institutions around it as both the objects and carriers of transitional reform.

So there have been a few changes in the make, and these have kept me very busy. One is a shift from freelance consultancy to something more in the way of a day job, and the other might be described as a shift in focus from a particular substantive concern (property) to the kind of institutions that safeguard access to and enjoyment of property and most other rights. Whatever comes of all this, I do plan to keep TN going, based on two equations. First, and most practical, less consultancy equals more disposable time (on that, more later, once I have extracted myself more fully from the hamster wheel).

But, second and more important, the times are such that I no longer feel I have to make a choice between ‘rule of law’ proper and the more humanitarian, human rights and development-oriented concerns of my consultancy career and this blog. One of the reassuring things in coming back to grips with the UN rule of law literature was the extent to which this area has explicitly become interwoven with human rights, transitional justice, and development discourses. Or as I put it in commenting on the run-up to the UNGA’s ‘high-level meeting’ on RoL last Fall, what seems striking is an “increasingly emphatic accommodation of legal empowerment and economic/social concerns in an area of practice that arguably began as a bastion of orthodox civil and political imperatives.”

And for those who persist in the belief that a step toward rule of law must entail a step away from social and economic concerns, I have another announcement that may be reassuring. As some of you know, regular TN guest-blogger Natalie Bugalski and her colleague David Pred have founded an independent research and advocacy organization, Inclusive Development International (IDI). Last Fall, I was honored to be asked to join them as an associate and quickly accepted. IDI is dedicated to supporting poor and marginalized peoples in the face of unaccountable political and economic institutions that promote harmful development activities and fail to properly implement safeguards to protect their rights. I cannot imagine a more timely and relevant rule of law challenge.

Happy Holidays from TN

It’s been another great year with TN, which feels a little more like an old shoe than a new project now as we creep up on three years. And that, dear readers, is entirely to your credit. Hit numbers keep ticking up and we’ve seen bumps in both guest-postings and comments, which I am always grateful for even when I occasionally take issue with them (znaci, sretan ti bozic i hvala i tebi, istina voda duboka).

Worth noting that total hits are now creeping up close to 48,000. Would be fun to see how close we can get to 50,000 by the time of TN’s third birthday, on February 8 next year. But hope all of you readers with the geographical preconditions and cultural excuses for doing so get a good rest in the meantime!

Tweeting, for my sins

A bit over a year after my colleague Greg Kitt urged me climb aboard the twenty-first century, the dime finally dropped and blimey if the @Terra0Nullius tag had not waited faithfully for me, lo these many months. So I will cling fiercely to my old Nokia with no camera, no 3g, and bluetooth strictly in theory as my last remaining shred of Luddite integrity while I invite you to follow me as I blunder into the unknown arboreal delights of the twittersphere.

Advanced course on response to internal displacement

Just a brief note to TN readers to say that there are some spaces left for last minute applicants in a three day course I co-facilitate on internal displacement for the Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA). This year’s “Specialized Training on Protection of Internally Displaced Persons” will take place from November 5-7 in Sida’s excellent training facility in the Swedish town of Härnösand. A few more details on the course as well as information on how to apply are available here.

This will be the fourth time I’ve taught this course and the second time I will have the pleasure of co-facilitating it with Susanne Ringgaard Pedersen, a 15 year veteran of human rights and protection monitoring in numerous conflict and disaster-based internal displacement settings. The course is targeted toward participants with significant experience and demonstrable interest in human rights and displacement issues, and has consistently been engaging and stimulating for me to be a part of. Part of the secret is the setting – Härnösand is only mid-Sweden, but it is probably as far north as most of us ordinary mortals will get in our lives. Its a charming place and with any luck the current onset of winter – low sun beaming over fresh snow – will hold for another week.

Hope to see some of you there!

Upcoming guest postings and recent HLP resources

An apology to TN readers for the sparseness of recent postings. It has been one of those periods where the non-blog related aspects of one’s life (there are a few) predominate and I am particularly grateful to recent guest bloggers such as Anneke Smit, Yulia AliyevaRoger Duthie and Megan Bradley for keeping things interesting. Most recently, Megan Bradley has teamed up again, this time with Mike Asplet, to co-author a very intriguing piece on how the new Kampala Convention deals with property issues in durable solutions.

I would also like to take this opportunity to announce a few upcoming guest-postings. These include a piece by Guido van Heugten based on his recent thesis on property restitution in Kosovo, as well as a co-authored update on land issues and de-mining by GICHD’s Sharmala Naidoo and UN-HABITAT’s Szilard Fricska. In addition, Ayla Gürel, with whom I previously collaborated on Cyprus research, will be introducing the PRIO Cyprus Centre’s innovative new project on tracking displacement and dispossession. Finally, I am hopeful that Anneke Smit may soon provide an update to her earlier observations on indigenous land ownership in Canada. And to top it off, I gather that Kaigyluu may once again be stirred to write on HLP issues in Kyrgyzstan.

With all that out of the way, there have been a number of developments on the housing, land and property front, and I would like to highlight just a few here. I am hoping that some of the involved parties may soon guest-post in more detail on them, but wanted to introduce them in brief and without further delay.

First, the Global Protection Cluster – the flagship body of the ongoing UN-led humanitarian reform process – has just launched a new website. Having migrated from the defunct humanitarianreform.org to the confusing oneresponse.info, it now has a home of its own. In addition to several thematic resources pages, the new site highlights the four GPC sub-working groups, or ‘areas of responsibility‘, including the UN-HABITAT-led AoR on housing, land and property issues. The HLP AoR site includes a useful overview of resources including both country-related and general references. While the former in particular still suffers from some notable gaps (Colombia?), it provides a very cogent set of references for other current HLP contexts and may be useful for practitioners and researchers alike.

Second,  the most recent Annual Report by Minority Rights Group International focuses squarely on the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights to land and natural resources – an issue that has taken on an increasingly important role in light of the ongoing pressure on these assets from both national governments and private investors.

TN stays TN – and wishes a happy Summer break

Thanks to all TN readers who participated in last week’s poll on re-dubbing the blog. I was not unpleasantly surprised to find a consistent majority (currently 53%) in favor of keeping TerraNullius, ‘edgy’ as it may be. In addition, there was no clear alternative, with the rest of the votes split fairly evenly for all the other proposed names. And as a last point, overall participation was fairly low compared with readership of the blog, indicating that its name probably just is not a big issue for many of you.

So, TerraNullius it is for the time being. However, I would like to point out that this decision remains subject to revision. I would also continue to invite anyone with strong views either way on the matter to freely express them (perhaps as a comment on this posting). As an international law doctrine, terra nullius has been  abused to support flagrantly racist policies, the effect of which are still felt by tens of thousands of indigenous persons, most notably in Australia. It is a term badly in need of some form of lustration, but as a profoundly non-indigenous person, it is hardly my place to lead this process. If I can provide a forum for some of the necessary conversations to be had, however, more is the better.

So, with all that out of the way, I want to wish all TN readers a happy and relaxing summer of 2012 (oops, yet more insensitivity to the Antipodes – and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere!) While the blog will not be closed down completely over the next few months, I look forward to running it in very low gear for a while. Guest postings welcomed as always from those so inclined. And for those more interested in sleeping in, poolside and a good book, hasta luego!

Whats in a name? TN reconsidered…

As announced on the recent anniversary of the Mabo decision, I am serious about reconsidering the name of this blog and grateful for all the reader input received by comment and email so far. TN readers are invited to participate in a referendum of an advisory nature (who said the blogosphere was democratic?), below. The options represent reader suggestions to date, as well as my own thoughts on the subject. Voting closes and results to be announced in a week!

YouTube human rights channel, Cambodia and an upcoming guest posting by Natalie Bugalski

by Rhodri C. Williams

A bit of a Monday morning mashup today. First, I wanted to get the word out generally about the fact that YouTube has now teamed up with  WITNESS, an organization that has pioneered in the use of video for human rights, and Storyful, a social newsgathering operation, to provide a new human rights channel. According to the announcement run on the YouTube blog, the channel will add value to the raw footage uploaded to the website every day:

The channel, which will also feature content from a slate of human rights organizations already sharing their work on YouTube, aims to shed light on and contextualize under-reported stories, to record otherwise undocumented abuses, and to amplify previously unheard voices. …. Storyful will source and verify the videos, and WITNESS will ensure the channel features a balanced breadth of issues with the context viewers need to understand the rights issue involved.

This is clearly a valuable service from an advocacy perspective. The rush of compelling footage coming out of places like Syria has grabbed the attention of people everywhere and Kony2012 has controversially but undoubtedly shown the power of net-based media to reach out to non-traditional audiences with a human rights message. Hopefully a systematic effort to sort and contextualize raw footage will have a stabilizing effect, allowing video to continue conveying the urgency of human rights crises, but in a manner that allows people to educate themselves rather than simply be shocked. Whether this service can also allow such amateur evidence-gathering to be given a more prominent role in international criminal proceedings will be an interesting question to watch.

As witnessed in recent writings in this blog on both Azerbaijan and Cambodia, forced evictions and use of force against those protesting them have, among other things, made for some eye-grabbing visuals. The new YouTube channel has not failed to miss this, and one of the early ‘in-depth’ topics listed is ‘Cambodia deadly land clashes‘. TN readers with mobile phone cameras who find themselves at the front lines of the tenure security struggle should take note.

Keeping with Cambodia, I also wanted to follow on to last week’s guest-posting by Natalie Bugalski and David Pred on the ‘Boeung Kak Lake 15’ protesters and my subsequent report on the campaign for their release. This week, I wanted to belatedly announce Natalie’s publication of a Discussion Paper on a human rights approach to the development of Cambodia’s land sector. Natalie will also be guest-writing on TN again shortly in order to describe the World Bank’s forthcoming review of its safeguard policies, with a particular look at the involuntary resettlement policy (note that this topic is the focus of a campaign to be pursued by David and Natalie’s newly-founded, Cambodia-based human rights organization Inclusive Development International).

New RRI report (and upcoming guest post) on community land rights in tropical forests

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) just released a new report indicating that forest peoples have “quietly gained unprecedented legal rights to the land and resources owned under customary law” over the last twenty years. However, the authors also express concerns about legal obstacles to the exercise of such rights and the risk of their rollback by elite groups seeking to facilitate international land and natural resource deals. According to RRI’s press release:

“Forest peoples are caught between the forces of a drive for environmental sustainability and the intense pressure of economic development”, said Jeffrey Hatcher, Director of Global Programs for RRI, and one of the authors of the new report. “Despite tremendous progress in establishing legal tenure regimes, a lack of political will and bureaucratic obstacles make it a struggle to implement any real action in most forest-rich developing nations. ….”

The report is described as providing “the most comprehensive global legal analysis to date of the status of forest tenure rights held by Indigenous Peoples and other local communities in more than two-dozen developing countries”, which together account for “approximately 75 percent of the forests of the developing world, home to some 2.2 billion people.” It was released together with a separate study on the positive development effects of recognizing customary forest tenure. Both reports taken together constitute the results of an analysis undertaken by RRI on the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in order to inform the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on June 20-22.

I am very pleased to announce that Fernanda Almeida, the lead author of the report, will be guest-writing on TN next week in order to provide further analysis of the results of RRI’s research and insights on how these findings may be of practical assistance in efforts to secure the tenure rights of forest peoples.

Fernanda’s guest-posting can now be read at the following link:

– What Rights? Comparing developing countries’ national legislation on community forest tenure rights (11 June 2012)

 

 

Guest posting announcements and updates – Focus on Somalia, Colombia, Kosovo, Bolivia and Ecuador

First of all, I am very pleased to announce that repeat TN guest author and independent consultant Shane Quinn will shortly be providing some observations on recent proposals to stabilize Somalia by providing autonomy to its regions. I am also expecting follow-up pieces by Brookings collaborator Roberto Vidal on property issues in Colombia, and by legal aid team leader Massimo Moratti on property claims in Kosovo.

In the meantime, I also wanted to provide some follow-up on two recent guest-postings contributed by Nicholas Fromherz of the South American Law and Policy blog. First, Nicholas has provided an update to his earlier observations in TN on the controversy over plans to build a road through the TIPNIS nature reserve in Bolivia. Once again, it seems that the appearance of government restraint in the matter may be deceiving.

Second, a further comment on litigation over oil extraction-related damages in Bolivia by Chevron-associated law professor Doug Cassel on Opinio Juris – as well as the associated comments – highlight some of the key issues Nick raised in his guest-posting on the same topic – and its associated comments. Particularly interesting are questions related to tensions between the merits of the case and the behavior of the parties. However, Dr. Cassel also defends the engagement of human rights actors in favor of even big corporate plaintiffs like Chevron as necessary to demonstrate a level of consistency and impartiality necessary to convince such firms to sign onto voluntary human rights guidelines.

See Shane’s posting here:
– Local governance in Somalia – New emperor in old clothes? (18 April 2012)