Category Archives: Week in links

Week in links – Week 27/2012 – grab some sugar (or water) with your land?

Incredibly, its been about 7 months since my last WIL, but I thought I might dust the institution off now that the summer is upon me. As usual, it would be more accurate to describe this as a month in links, but here goes.

First, a moment to note the passing last month of Elinor Ostrom, a pioneering economist who decided that the commons might not actually be so tragic after all. At the top of my list of readings for whenever I eventually become an actual rather than frustrated academic. One of those scholars where even if one has yet to read her, one suspects she has colored analysis of these issues so thoroughly that her works will seem familiar.

Next, on the familiar theme of the global land rush/grab, a few items of interest recently. First, Grain just came out with a new report arguing that much of the land investment going on in Africa is actually targeting the scarce water resources necessary for large-scale agriculture – and in a manner heedlessly destructive of local, sustainable water management systems. Second, the Journal of Peasant Studies has been cranking out an amazing amount of analysis of the land grab phenomenon in all three issues of this year’s volume 39 (many articles available for free download).

And finally, Human Rights Watch released a grim report last month detailing the Ethiopian government’s self-inflicted land grab in the southern Omo valley, where a dam and state-run sugar plantations are expected to run 300,000 indigenous persons off their land, while ruining the livelihoods of a further 200,000 to the south in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region:

These developments – which threaten the economic, social, and cultural rights of the Omo valley’s indigenous inhabitants – are being carried out in contravention of domestic and international human rights standards, which call for the recognition of property rights, with meaningful consultation, consent, and compensation for loss of land, livelihoods, and food security, and which state that displacement, especially of indigenous peoples from their historic homelands, must be treated as an absolute last resort.

If that doesn’t drive home the message that sugar is the new palm oil, this video from Cambodia may. David Pred, who is pushing for the EU to take a more rigorous approach to human rights abuses related to Cambodian land concessions will hopefully guest post on the blood sugar phenomenon shortly.

Not that palm oil has reformed, mind you. The Economist provided a timely reminder of the inverse relationship between the money to be had from this lucrative form of monoculture and the chances of Indonesian-controlled West Papua ever being able to achieve ‘external’ self-determination in the manner East Timor did. Meanwhile, the ICTJ rather bravely attempts to promote a transitional justice approach to a situation in West Papua where the only transition seems to be toward more oppressive and militarized control and less chances of even meaningful internal self-determination (e.g. autonomy).

Update: See David Pred, Is the European Commission sweet on land grabbing? How trade benefits to sugar companies displace Cambodian farmers (23 July 2012)

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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.

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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…

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!

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.

Week in links – week 44/2011 – restitution in Libya, privatization in Cuba, assimilation in Israel

I’m a little behind this week having been in Cyprus, where I participated in the launch of the paper on property issues I co-wrote with Ayla Gürel for PRIO. The local feedback was very helpful as we are planning to expand the scope of inquiry a bit beyond the fallout of the Demopoulos case in the coming months.

Much of interest from the net this week, including one of the first really good reports on the transitional housing, land and property (HLP) issues in post-revolution Libya from the Guardian. This new article goes well beyond the expensive but relatively tractable reconstruction issues described by BBC last week and enters into the far more fraught territory of what to do about the great transfer of assets that resulted from the Ghaddafi regime’s selective nationalization of property.

Quite a few familiar dilemmas arise, including lurking historical claims (in this case, those of expelled Jews), multiple subsequent purchases by third parties, weak courts, unclear rules, the suspicious 1982 destruction of the land registry, and the fact that the expropriations had (in many cases) a genuinely distributive element, meaning that reversing them would disproportionately worsen the situation of marginalized groups.

In the area of belatedly getting with the times, the New York Times reports that Cuba has now formally adopted a new property law allowing far less restricted transactions in homes than was previously the case (see earlier observations on these developments here). After decades of state control, no one seems to be able to predict where this will go, although some positive economic affects and quick attempts to buy in to the property market by exile Cubans seem like safe bets.

In the area of never getting with the times, the Guardian reports that Israel has proposed a bill to allow the near wholesale resettlement of Bedouin nomads from (what remains of) their traditional territories in the Negev desert to planned new towns. All in the name of modernisation and progress, all undertaken without consulting those affected or paying any heed to the fact that previously forcibly urbanized Bedouins have hardly benefited. Very 1960s. A brief excerpt from the article reads like a compendium of discredited colonial and post-colonial assimilation policies:

Before 1948, the Bedouin tribes lived and grazed their animals on much of the Negev, claiming ancestral rights to the land. In the following decades, the state of Israel took over almost all of the land; the Bedouin lost more than 3,200 land ownership cases in the Israeli courts in the early 1970s, rejected mainly on the grounds there was no proper documentation. Now the Bedouin are claiming ownership of about 5% of the Negev as traditional tribal lands.

Three years ago, the government commissioned a retired judge, Eliezer Goldberg, to make recommendations for dealing with the Bedouin. He advised that many of their villages should be recognised, acknowledging their “general historic ties” to the land.

A committee chaired by the planning policy chief, Ehud Prawer, was tasked with looking at how to implement Goldberg’s recommendations, and proposed the immediate transfer to the state of 50% of the land claimed by the Bedouin, minimal compensation for the remaining land with severe exclusions and the demolition of 35 unrecognised villages. The Bedouin were neither represented on nor consulted by the committee.

As my soapbox is only so big, I’ll leave aside the issue of Israel’s apparently retaliatory expansion of its West Bank settlements this week.

And a last note, the Guardian also reports on the aftermath of the Dale Farm evictions in the UK (see previous WiL)

Week in links – week 43/2011

First, can’t we all find a reasonable substitute for palm oil if we put our heads together? The litany of indigenous cultures being wiped off the face of the earth so that the formula we give our kids in the evening won’t clot is becoming mind-numbing. Here, the New York Times reports on the latest victims of tasty, affordable transfats in Malaysia. However, lest we forget that plenty of other threats exist, the BBC reports on the standoff over the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which threatens the traditional fishing grounds of Amazonian indigenous groups, and the UNHCR describes the plight of indigenous peoples displaced by the violence in Mindanao.

Second, the BBC provides evidence that property issues are already rearing their ugly head in the new Libya. The extent to which the NTC tent will be big enough to accommodate the traumatized residents of Sirte may well depend on how quickly the NTC can get said residents out of tents and back into their homes.

And finally, the New York Times reports on how a middle class suburb in Beijing is now being exposed to the same type of frenetic official land grabbing that its relatively pampered residents thought could only happen to “peasants in the countryside or voiceless city people with no education”. In a curious form of negative egalitarianism, the local government has not hesitated to administer beatings to protesters and harnessed an impressive mix of new and old media to its cause:

From morning until sundown, a van drives through the neighborhood blaring warnings. “Don’t be influenced by other people who might cause you unnecessary loss,” the loudspeaker says again and again. Daily text messages that clog residents’ cellphones drive home that point. More than one resident has had a window smashed. A half dozen homes, their owners having folded, have already been leveled.

Week in links – week 42/2011: land disputes in Bolivia, India, Kyrgyzstan and the UK

This week, we have a few updates on recent stories covered in TN:

First, the indigenous protesters marching against the construction of a road through the Tipnis national park in Bolivia have reached the capital La Paz and are settling in to force the Government to negotiate on the issue. Nicholas Fromherz of Foreign Affairs provides an analysis of the tremendous damage the mishandling of this issue has done to President Evo Morales’ credibility.

Having recently taken China to task for its stereotypically stilted response to public outrage over crooked land takings, as well as its stereotypically draconian response to community resistance to being evicted, I am now presented with the classic counter-stereotype in India, where public acquisition of rural land to facilitate large-scale investment is also a pressing issue. Having adopted a new ‘light footprint’ policy on facilitating purchases of land for industrial use after protests last spring and summer, the government of the Uttar Pradesh province now faces a court decision ordering the return of previously acquired land and compensation for parcels investors already built on. Without taking a position on the actual case, it is a classic instance of the great BRIC dichotomy, with India a trickier business environment than China, but frequently for the right reasons.

More dispiriting follow-up to the ethnic mayhem in Kyrgyzstan last year, this time in OpenDemocracy. First, Bruno de Cordier gives a bleak overview of structural violence in Central Asia in the form of rentier politics and patronage societies. Then Elmira Satybaldieva portrays how these patterns are reflected in the fragmented and untransparent politicking in the leadup to Kyrgyzstan’s 30 October elections. With the land disputes and other grievances underlying last year’s violence still unresolved, the prognosis is worrisome.

FAO has described how Sweden, notwithstanding its past ambiguity on the right to water, is funding a highly innovative scheme to help farmers in eastern Kenya develop greater resilience in the face of climate instability, in part through better water management techniques. IRIN, for its part, reports on how poorly Kenya fares in general in advance mitigation of disasters, whether of the natural variety or man-made examples such as last month’s appalling pipeline fire.

And just to recall that housing and land issues remain relevant in the Global North, the New York Times reports on the messy beginnings of the eviction of a traveler community from the Dale Farm encampment they have occupied for years in Essex, UK – while the Guardian documents the surprisingly peaceful end of the process. On OpenDemocracy, Justin Baidoo-Hackman explores the issue of whether the evictions qualify as ethnic cleansing (my take: forced evictions are already plenty bad).