Category Archives: Uncategorized

Week in links – Week 19/2011

– ToL provides a lucid analysis of the Kyrgyzstan authorities’ opaque and defensive response to the allegations raised by the Commission of Inquiry appointed to report on last summer’s ethnic violence in the south of the country (blogged on here). The comment notes that the Kyrgyz authorities raise valid points related to their own lack of capacity and preparedness for such violence, as well as the fact that they ultimately handled the situation without significant outside help. However, the fact that the response continues a government tendency to both blame the (Uzbek) victims and deny ethnic divisions in the country seems almost calculated to deepen them. As ToL gloomily concludes, “[i]f a lasting peace comes to Kyrgyzstan’s south, we fear it will be only after the last of a demoralized Uzbek community has left town.”

– UNHCR reports on the desperate situation of those displaced by the fighting last month in Cote d’Ivoire, which saw the belated installation of the winner of last year’s Presidential election, Alessane Ouattara. Even during its peak, the fighting in Cote d’Ivoire only barely emerged from the shadow of the ongoing drama in Libya and the lack of subsequent news has probably come as a relief to many in the overtaxed world of international diplomacy. However, according to UNHCR, the current obstacles to return and normalization are primarily related to relatively manageable phenomena such as security concerns and destruction, rather than the type of macro-level political blockages that can result in protracted displacement situations.

The New York Times provided some analysis on the UN’s recent upward revision of global population growth (to 10.1 billion and rising rather than 9 billion and stabilizing by mid-century). The report focuses on the fact that this is still not a Malthusian collapse scenario at the global level, but that the results could be devastating locally in places such as Yemen (with runaway population growth and the looming prospect of running completely out of water).

How do you steer a land rush?

by Rhodri C. Williams

In its most recent edition, the international section of the Economist leads with a thought-provoking summary of the latest wisdom on the ‘global land rush’, or the phenomenon by which large chunks of arable land in developing countries are acquired by foreign commercial and government interests seeking to produce food for international markets or their own (often distant) populations.

In the not so distant past, debates over whether the spread of such practices represented a development opportunity or a neo-colonialist relapse tended to be based as much on conviction as evidence. However, two years later, the Economist cites the results of a recent conference at the University of Sussex Institute of Development Studies (ISD) in delivering its verdict: more grab than rush. While the pendulum of expert opinion appears to have shifted decisively against this practice, however, execution of the sentence will undoubtedly be the hard part.

Even as large scale land acquisition has metastasized in many regions of the world, the unequal bargaining power and dubious motivations of the parties to such arrangements have tended to negate the benefits, in terms of jobs, technology transfer, infrastructure investments and tax revenues, which they were meant to entail. Indeed, in many cases, these elements remain shrouded in mystery along with all other details of the un-transparent contracts and concessions involved. The Economist notes that recent land acquisitions have stood out from ordinary development-related graft in light of “their combination of high levels of corruption with low levels of benefit.”

So what to do? One reasonable criticism of the Economist’s valuable survey of the terrain is its lack of prescription – or even speculation – on what type of measures might be taken to address these concerns. Given that the Economist tends to be thorough to a fault (as witnessed by the Onion’s memorable suggestion that it should take a month off so readers can catch up), this omission seem surprising. On the other hand, the coming challenge of influencing this process is likely to be much harder than the current challenge of judging it.

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Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission – Osh riots resulted in crimes against humanity

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission set up to examine the violence between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that killed nearly 500 people last June in the country’s south has just released its report. Most media attention has been devoted to the fact that the Commission identified the minority Uzbek community as the overwhelming victims of the attack, found evidence of official complicity, and alleged that some of the acts committed may amount to crimes against humanity. However, a number of the Commission’s less prominent findings confirm both the role of property destruction in consolidating the victimization of the Uzbek minority and the need for reparations to address these and other crimes.

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What’s in a border?

by Rhodri C. Williams

The headlines these days still have me scratching my head and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. For example, this morning I learn that the Government of Syria, having solemnly declared that an armed insurgency threatens the life of the nation yesterday, duly responded  by lifting a thirty year state of emergency today.  I guess they figured there wasn’t much point closing the barn doors once the constituency had bolted.

It all seems a bit comical at times, but of course it is deadly serious and symptomatic of the way in which the ructions we are currently witnessing are straining the normal responses states would employ against civil unrest precisely because the neighborhoods involved are not inhabited by ‘normal’ states. Instead, places like Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Nigeria and Syria tend to be recent confections, with a territory defined by borders drawn to the convenience of some other country, a population composed of whoever happened to be living within those bounds at the time and effective control now exercised by those who managed to scramble to the top of the heap or be successfully implanted and hang on. Much of the Middle-East is still a good decade short of a century of sovereignty and I’m older than a few independent states in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Its easy to forget much of this when things are going well. Somehow, describing a country as a state and giving it a little stenciled name tag at the UN General Assembly creates all of these reassuring associations that may or may not apply. Certainly, institutions might not be perfectly democratic and economies may be shaky, but statehood implies a totality that is greater than the sum of the parts, bound up in some kind of national identity that can accommodate and eventually subsume local ethnic, sectarian and tribal loyalties. As previously noted with regard to Sudan, however, the elites that inherited these foundling post-colonial states well understood their fragility and embraced the lesser risks entailed by retaining colonial borders over the greater ones that could be triggered should the question of borders be re-opened.

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Next steps in Cambodia

by Rhodri C. Williams

Nearly six weeks have passed since the Board of the World Bank issued a Report acknowledging both specific failures previously identified by the Bank’s Inspection Panel in the implementation of land programming in Cambodia as well as the general dilemma of working with a government whose past approach to land issues might fairly be described as predatory.

As described at the time in TN, one of the main findings of the Report was that the Bank had no choice but to continue to engage with the Cambodian Government on land issues until it was clear that such engagement was counterproductive. Although the Board implied that it might review its broader programming in Cambodia, it did so in an oblique manner, perhaps reflecting the fact that the arrival of investors such as China has reduced its bargaining power.

In a recent commentary for the Bretton Woods Project, Cambodia experts David Pred and Natalie Bugalski (who will, with any luck, grace these pages with another guest posting soon), highlighted the dilemma faced by a bank with declining leverage over borrowing governments and increasing commitments to be accountable to those affected by the projects it funds:

The predicament in which the Bank finds itself highlights the limits of its ability to be accountable to those harmed by its projects – even if it wants to be. The institutional architecture of the Bank requires it to rely on the cooperation of borrowing governments in any effort to remedy harms resulting from safeguard policy violations.  This structure becomes highly problematic when the government in question is notoriously unaccountable to its own people and is the perpetrator of the violations at hand.

More than 15 years since the establishment of the Inspection Panel, there continues to be no guarantee that claimants whose rights are vindicated by the Panel will receive any remedy whatsoever. If the Bank continues to lend to governments that consistently violate safeguard policy obligations and refuse to remedy harm, then it must be prepared to provide reparations unilaterally. In the absence of such a redress mechanism, the Bank will continue to suffer from an accountability deficit and demands for stripping the Bank’s legal immunity will grow ever louder.

With a sixty day deadline for the Bank’s management in Cambodia to report back to the Board on the implementation of its ‘revised Action Plan’ looming, the signs are not all good. In a piece in the Diplomat blog late last month, Irwin Loy noted that little had changed in the Phnom Penh neighborhood of Boeung Kak, where the whole controversy started. An eviction order issued around the same time as the Bank’s Report still stood, and residents were taking painful decisions to settle at the risk of losing everything. With a few weeks remaining, the Bank has a hard but important row to hoe.

Yugoslavia Tribunal issues Gotovina judgment – discriminatory property laws deemed persecution

by Rhodri C. Williams

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) today convicted two Croatian Generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, and acquitted one, Ivan Čermak, of charges of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The charges were related to crimes committed during the Operation Storm military campaign between July and September 1995, during which Croatian forces reasserted control over the breakaway Krajina region and displaced as many as 250,000 Croatian Serbs to Bosnia and Serbia.

The Storm campaign has been described both as the largest land offensive in Europe since World War II and as the single most egregious act of ethnic cleansing in the first round of fighting surrounding the breakup of the former Yugoslavia (the consecutive expulsions of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs in the 1999 Kosovo conflict would give it a run later). While I have not yet had time to read the full decision (which weighs in at hundreds of pages), the ICTY press release and summary of the judgment are more accessible and provide a picture of an important and sweeping ruling.

The Court appears to have taken further steps to shift the post-Cold War phenomenon of ethnic cleansing more clearly into the legal category of crimes against humanity involving persecution. In doing so, they have provided an important (and overdue) recognition of the central role that administrative confiscation and reallocation of property and homes play in consolidating such acts. Whether this ruling will have an impact on the somewhat murky negotiations now going on between Croatia and Serbia over compensation for the effects of these acts – in the form of the permanent loss of many Croatian Serb homes – is another question.

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Europe and Central Asia housing forum

Another interesting event coming up, this time in Budapest from 4-6 April, the first ever ‘Housing Forum for Europe and Central Asia‘. Certainly an idea whose time has come, given all the ructions in Europe over the last two decades over denationalization, privatization, discrimination and, not least, restitution. Apparently a successful format as well, given that we are now approaching the third iteration of the Asia Pacific version. And some very interesting topics under discussion, not least disaster risk reduction, social sustainability, and attention to vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Land in Liberia

by Rhodri C. Williams

I’ve had the privilege of working in Liberia over the last week with colleagues at the Norwegian Refugee Council’s legal advice and information program on post-conflict land and property issues, which, simply put, are legion. Fortunately, the national Land Commission set up to provide advice and chart out policy is both competent and committed, and some real political space exists for tackling the issues.

Problems related to displacement and return still exist. Although a return program for internally displaced persons run by a separate Commission has largely been completed, life outside the Capital is still heavily affected by land disputes that both predate and result from the conflict. In response, NRC’s country program has developed a mediation program meant to provide sustainable resolutions.

NRC has also sponsored a number of reports analyzing these programs and the context they operate in (bottom right on the country page), including Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque’s piece on land encroachment, launched last year on TN. More recently, a reporter sponsored by the International Reporting Project was assisted by NRC in developing an article providing an overview of the topic. Attention has also begun to refocus on land issues in the countryside in light of the new wave of refugees in northern Liberia fleeing conflict in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.

Lurking behind these issues is the question of durable solutions for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the past conflict in Monrovia who have been unable or unwilling to return. As I discussed in a previous post, some observers have called for greater return to the land in order to unlock the enormous untapped potential for commercial agriculture in the countryside. These calls reinforce a post-conflict emphasis on ‘decentralization’ of the country currently under discussion by the national Governance Commission (they also echo the post-quake strategy of investing in provincial towns in Haiti rather encouraging greater expansion of the capital).

By contrast, the main focus of my current work in Liberia has been to look at the question of how displaced persons now living in Monrovia’s many informal settlements can be assisted in achieving durable solutions in the form of local integration. In this sense, it involves a very practical application of some of the principles now emerging in the ongoing humanitarian discussion about protracted displacement. Most important in the context of Monrovia are questions related to security of tenure and the extent to which the decreasing humanitarian effort and the well-established development actors (national and international) can build on each others’ work.

World Bank land conference next month

The World Bank’s annual conference on land and poverty will be held in Washington D.C. this year on April 18-20. The agenda and other information is available on a dedicated website, which also includes some information on previous years’ events – including a very interesting trove of papers and presentations available under ‘proceedings’.

This year’s agenda includes much of interest, including ongoing treatment of the issue of the ‘global land rush’, this time put in the perspective of urbanization and climate change. There will also be a panel on land in conflict and disaster situations with presentations on Haiti, Colombia, Eastern DRC and Southern Sudan and discussion by TN guest-blogger Barbara McCallin.

World Bank Management Report on Cambodia acknowledges past mistakes and future challenges

by Rhodri C. Williams

Following up on yesterday’s post on the World Bank Executive Board’s consideration of an Inspection Panel report on Cambodia, a full Management Report and Recommendations is available today. All documentation related to the case including the underlying Investigation Report discussed yesterday and today’s Management Report are available on a dedicated page of the Inspection Panel website.

In brief, the Management Report presents a forthright picture of the difficulties encountered in carrying out a complex land administration reform and titling project with multiple objectives in a socio-political context that is difficult to reconcile (to say the least) with classic rule of law principles (for a concise and highly instructive description of the peripheral role occupied by formal law in Cambodia, TN readers are referred to a 2008 Briefing Note by the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor program).

The Management Report includes an interesting set of lessons learned (pages 19-20), including the insight that outsourcing the issue of tenure security for the urban poor to parallel programs without ensuring coordination and nationwide coverage constituted a significant risk factor. It goes on to note the continuing deadlock with the Cambodian government over urban tenure security issues but nevertheless calls renewed efforts, including:

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