Category Archives: Week in links

Week in links – Week 24/2011: murder in Colombia, biofuels in Sierra Leone

– Amid all the policy chatter on the recently passed Victims’ Law in Colombia, a moment of reflection is due on the fate of Ana Cordoba, widowed and displaced in 2001, and murdered in cold blood a decade later for having had the temerity to mobilize her fellow displaced persons for the return of their homes.

– The BBC reports on a recent study by the Oakland Institute that adds to the mounting chorus of criticism against large scale investors in land driving the current ‘global land-rush’. Although many of the Oakland Institute’s accusations are familiar – non-transparent transactions, unequal bargaining power, corruption, tribal chiefs bought for “a bottle of Johnny Walker” – the language is quite tough, with hedge fund use of arable land to “make room” for export commodities such as biofuels and cut flowers described as “creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism”:

“The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial manoeuvres are now doing the same with the world’s food supply,” the report said.

Interestingly, the BBC report includes a sidebar describing its reporters’ positive impression of a Swiss biofuel plantation in Sierra Leone, presumably in the interest of editorial balance. The juxtaposition does raise the issue of whether such investment in post-conflict contexts may – in some circumstances – provide valuable investment-driven rural job creation in a manner that fragile transitional governments can only dream of (as blogged on here in the case of Liberia).

More detail on this investment – along with the Oakland Institute criticism it has sailed into – is given in a New York Times article this week. The Swiss company investing in ethanol, Addax Biofuels, defends itself as a for-profit company that scrupulously follows existing corporate social responsibility guidelines and eschews non-transparent arrangements:

Construction begins this year, and the project is expected to be operational in 2013. It employs over 500 people and will create more than 2,000 jobs, according to Addax. The land will be leased from local landowners and tribal chiefs.

According to Addax Bioenergy, the deal follows evaluations of the social, environmental and economic effects with the government and local nonprofit groups. The memorandum of understanding was ratified by Sierra Leone’s Parliament last November, and according to local news media reports, it was supported by the political opposition as well.

Anyone who has followed coverage of the implementation of donor policies on involuntary resettlement in Cambodia on this blog will be aware that such guidelines may be worth little more than governments’ will to respect them. However, until someone comes up with a better idea, getting investment hungry governments and land hungry investors to take such standards seriously is probably the only realistic way forward.

Week in links – Week 22/2011

– A Guardian investigation shows that British firms have now secured more land in Africa for biofuels than those of any other country. Unwanted publicity, it seems, particularly in light of Oxfam’s simultaneous citation of biofuel production as a factor in an ongoing food crisis that may see the prices of staples double in the next two decades.

-In the long gap since my last postings on Haiti, the basic dynamic of urban IDP camps settling into informal settlement status is little changed, but the resulting tensions appear to be coming to a head. By November last year, tenure insecurity in IDP camps had become so rife that a coalition of rights groups sought and received a directive from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordering the Haitian authorities to “stop evicting earthquake survivors from camps unless they are provided safe and adequate shelter.” However, last week Beverly Bell of Other Worlds reported on a series of violent and systematic forced evictions of IDPs in the Delmas district of Port au Prince. The evictions were ordered by local mayor Wilson Jeudi, who justified them by disputing the humanitarian vulnerability of the residents:

Jeudi called the camps “disorderly” and claimed that many of those in the tents did not actually live there. “They just come to do their commercial activities [thievery and prostitution] and go back to their homes in the evening.”

The mayor said that no compensation would be offered to those ousted from their temporary shelter. “We were all victims of the earthquake,” he added.

-Meanwhile, a leaked USAID-commissioned report appeared to give some support to Mr. Jeudi’s diatribe, alleging not only that the death toll from the quake was less than one-third of the officially reported 316,000, but also that only 895,000 IDPs moved into the IDP camps after the quake with 375,000 remaining now (compared with IOM’s numbers of 1.5 million original residents and 680,000 current). Most interesting to Mr. Jeudi, the report also “suggests many of those still living in tent cities did not lose their homes in the disaster.” The report is not yet officially released due to the need to address apparent inconsistencies.

– The BBC carries a rather sad story about Palestinian refugees engaged in a lawsuit not be able to return to the village they fled in 1948 – a point they appear to have largely conceded – but to prevent others from living there in its proposed reincarnation as a luxury housing development.

Week in links – Week 21/2011

Good riddance Mr. (rat)Kom(l)adic.

– The New York Times reports on how the global land rush functions in a less permissive environment. The BRIC shows cracks as China, not satisfied with importing raw materials from Brazil and selling it finished goods, begins to make a play for control of soya growing land. Brazil fights back by doing what China has, ironically, always done – restricting foreign ownership of land.

– Both National Public Radio and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have provided updates on the state of forced evictions in Cambodia. The NPR piece puts the ongoing controversy over the Boeung Kak Lake settlement in Phnom Penh (most recently blogged on here) into regional perspective by describing similar urban evictions in the Philippines and Thailand. The ABC story also describes the ongoing evictions related to an Australian funded project to reconstruct Cambodia’s rail lines, previously described by Natalie Bugalski here. However, the most impressive quote (by David Pred of BAB-Cambodia) concerns Boeung Kak and the latest innovations in forced eviction tech:

Families refused to accept the compensation that was being offered to them, so they just started directing the sand pumping machine at the houses and literally drowning them in mud.

– For those who may have inadvertently missed the latest high drama in Bosnian politics, Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, scored a little noticed and quite possibly Pyrrhic victory in convincing Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik not to hold a referendum on whether to say nasty things about State judicial institutions. Commentators on Balkan Insights noted that the whole thing may have been a very successful bluff by Mr. Dodik, and that the political establishment in Sarajevo continues to feed the type of resentment that props up Mr. Dodik by denigrating it.

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).

Week in links – Week 18/2011

Its been a busy Spring and is likely to go on that way, so I’m hoping to just keep up with current HLP events with a steady – but temporarily less prolific – stream of postings in the immediate future. There continues to be quite a lot going on in the area, ranging from developing understandings of what the ‘global land rush‘ is all about to recently blogged on confirmations that acts of property destruction and confiscation are deemed crimes against humanity in settings such as Croatia and Kyrgyzstan.

I also look forward to introducing a few new reports and publications I’ve contributed to in the course of my work in recent months. These have tended to focus on issues emerging from protracted displacement, in which the blurring of lines that have traditionally divided supposed dichotomies such as relief vs development; migration vs displacement; and integration vs return has become impossible to ignore.

Finally, I’m very happy to say that my cross-posting arrangement with the Landesa blog continues. Landesa recently produced a pair of postings on women’s land rights in China and India that together touch on the numerous challenges facing efforts to foster meaningful gender equality in land and property relations. Last week’s posting features a survey on the effect on women of expropriation of rural land in China and its conversion to urban use. Tomorrow, TN will host a companion piece on the benefits – and the inherent limitations – of land purchase programs for women in India.

Meanwhile, in the HLP news last week:

-Nice to lead with a local story for once; here is The Local on a Swedish High Court decision upholding the grazing rights of Sami reindeer herders in Northern Sweden. Now that the Court has done some heavy lifting for the Government, one wonders if they will find the gumption to finally fulfill their longstanding pledge to ratify ILO Convention No. 169.

– Advocacy on behalf of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has begun a new chapter with the formal announcement that the traditional relationship between the Brookings Institution and the UN mechanism on internal displacement will continue. The name of the firm will change somewhat, with the Brookings-Bern nameplates coming down and new ‘Brookings-LSE’ ones going up in reference to the institutional home of the new UN Special Rapporteur on IDPs, Chaloka Beyani.

– The International Alliance of Inhabitants published a new report on “the practical strategies and experiences of communities who have directly struggled against forced evictions.”

– The BBC reports on Shell’s recent judicial setback in its attempt to assert ownership over oil terminal land in Nigeria claimed by the local community.

– And, finally, Bosnia commentator Matthew Parish has some fairly tart things to say about the ICTJ Gotovina decision (posted on here in TN) in an editorial in Balkan Insight.

Week in links – week 17/2011

A somewhat abbreviated WiL this week as the family is on Åland for an extended Easter break.

BBC coverage of this week’s Communist Party congress in Cuba leads with the news that private property rights will be allowed again, though the details have yet to be released. The main rule at this point appears to be that “concentration of property” will not be permitted. One is tempted to wonder if part of the motivation is to cut off restitution claims by Cuban exiles. As a stratagem, this worked rather well in Cambodia, but that was the Eighties…

– The European Journal of International Law (EJIL) has released its latest issue online. The focus is on the ‘human dimension of international cultural heritage law’, with quite a lot on the restitution of cultural property but also a number of interesting articles on indigenous peoples’ rights, including to land.

– The New York Times reports that scientists met in Aleppo, Syria this week to develop strategies for combating new diseases afflicting wheat. Let us hope that they are not hit by any stray bullets from the strategies the Syrian security forces have developed for combating new diseases afflicting authoritarianism.

– Tim Dunne and Jess Gifkins do a nice job in OpenDemocracy of pushing along the debate on how the current Libya intervention may both support and undermine the new concept of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P).

– Finally, the New York Times reported first on the pending collapse of a promising flurry of regional cooperation over damming the Mekong in Southeast Asia – and then its actual collapse.

Week in links – week 15/2011

Apologies to TN readers for having been a little incommunicado in the last days! Have been too busy to even chase down some interesting guest postings that are in the works, let alone write, but I hope to pick up the pace again in the next weeks. Lots of interesting items out there in the HLP-related world as usual:

First, on womens’ land rights, the Landesa blog includes an interesting piece on the recent ‘revolution’ in Bengal that resulted from the inclusion of an extra line allowing registration of land grants in both spouses’ names. Earlier this month, the fourth Women’s Land Link Africa (WLLA) Land Academy was held in Arusha, Tanzania, with participants from fourteen African countries.

The Financial Times reported on the land issues now awaiting the attention of Ivory Coast’s new President Alassane Ouattara, now that the technicalities of the succession appear to have been resolved. As anticipated in Barbara McCallin’s earlier guest-post and report, both the technical and political obstacles will be sobering:

Some immigrants – many of whom have now lived in Ivory Coast for decades – have been thrown off their farms and may now want to return. This is a delicate issue for Mr Ouattara, and risks further alienating Mr Gbagbo’s supporters – those who already see the president-elect as a foreigner who favours immigrants. “He can’t be seen as someone who wants to take away the land from the indigenous groups,” the analyst added.

As documented in the report on a recent seminar held by Swedish Water House, the Swedish Government has come around to the notion of a human right to water after a surprising amount of circumspection (compared to peers such as the UK, which took the plunge in 2006). While Sweden is undoubtedly a progressive country, it has for various reasons been historically reluctant to consistently express this outlook in a vocabulary of rights. The official justification given for the delay in this case is somewhat lame – if everyone waited for the results of contradictory and bumbling UN processes instead of pushing them along, who knows where we would be right now. But the apparently enthusiastic embrace of this right by a key player in the water business is more than welcome.

The ICJ case pitting Georgia against Russia that I blogged on earlier here has been dismissed without examination on the merits. For a good analysis of the reception of this news in Georgia and Russia, see this recent piece in Opinio Juris. Presumably, the rather innovative interim measures previously ordered by the Court to protect the property of displaced persons have lapsed as well. More jaded readers may be tempted to wonder whether anyone on the ground will notice… (UPDATE – a bit more analysis by Marko Milovanovic at EJILtalk)

Finally, as if you didn’t have enough to peruse, the Forum for International, Criminal and Humanitarian Law has published a 440 page door-stopper of a book on ‘Distributive Justice in Transitions‘. It focuses heavily on land issues, with lots of case-studies on Colombia, and looks to be a fascinating read.

Week in links – week 12/2011

The current march of historic events continues apace with the aftermath of the Sendai quake still causing headlines and a new chapter in the annals of R2P being written in the skies over Libya. Quite a few bits of less dramatic but very interesting HLP-related news as well, many detailed below.

Some interesting things coming up on TN as well – in addition to a number of individual guest-postings currently in the works, I am very excited to announce that Landesa has offered to periodically cross-post pieces from their excellent Field Focus blog. Look out for a debut piece early this week.

Turning to the news, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) just released their global overview for 2010. The conclusions are sobering, with a new rise in overall conflict-related internal displacement and the consolidation of a number of negative trends such as protracted displacement situations and displacement due to generalized violence (e.g. criminal activities as opposed to ordinary armed conflict).

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, recently submitted his annual report, this year with a plug for ‘agroecology’ – a cultivation technique identified by Mr. De Schutter after an “extensive review of the scientific literature” as most likely to help states “achieve a reorientation of their agricultural systems towards modes of production that are highly productive, highly sustainable and that contribute to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate food.” Kudos to Mr. De Schutter for sparing the rest of us the scientific literature and moving the debate over global agriculture in an interesting new direction.

In the wake of the triple catastrophe in Japan, the New York Times reports on how much of the affected coast was inhabited by elderly persons unlikely to rebuild. In the clinical terminology of climate change, the obvious question is whether the abandonment of many of these obliterated towns and villages will ultimately come to be seen as a form of adaptation to be replicated in other parts of the world. As the Times notes, it is hardly the first time the question has come up:

“We faced exactly the same question after Katrina,” said John Campbell, [a] visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo. “There was a big discussion about whether we should rebuild the Ninth Ward, since it was below sea level, and so on. In terms of economic rationality, it didn’t make any sense, really. But on the other hand, it’s where these people lived, and there were emotional reasons to do it.

Meanwhile the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) released its mid-term review, halfway through the ten year period envisioned for implementation of the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action. In an almost morbid quirk of timing, the document was released two days before the catastrophe in Japan, rendering its calls for greater attention to disaster risk eerily antiquated: “…the Hyogo Framework for Action is the world’s only blueprint for staving off losses caused by natural hazards, often overshadowed by news on losses from war, unemployment or inflation.” With all due respect to Col. Ghadafi’s current bout of attention-seeking, this shouldn’t be an issue now.

After quite a lot of coverage earlier this year, the renewed efforts to achieve land restitution in Colombia fell off TN’s radar somewhat. However, things seem to be moving forward – here, NPR reports on how some land has already been returned to displaced owners (it is unclear on what basis this has occurred) as well as on how restitution remains tied to broader agricultural reform goals.

Finally, having cited EurasiaNet earlier on the lengths gone to by Azerbaijan’s IDPs to avoid locally integrating in order to maintain their prospects for return, I have now found a companion piece on Transitions OnLine on how far Armenians in contested territories will go in order to maintain their competing claims:

The people here acknowledge that life in villages is difficult and boring, especially when there is no electricity. But they persevere. “This land needs to be tended,” Khachatryan says. “My children have to plant trees, harvest crops, and have children here to understand this is the homeland and it needs to be kept,” Khachatryan says, lighting the oil lamp with care.

Week in links – week 10/2011

First, the weblog equivalent of a moment of silence for the victims of the ongoing disaster in Japan. Six years after their adoption and sixteen years after the similarly devastating Kobe quake that gave rise to them, the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction face a gruesomely concrete field test.

Second, on an administrative note, I should announce a likely hiatus in TN postings over the next ten days or so, during which I will be on mission in West Africa. I hope that a few guest-postings may land during that period (and they will be rushed to press) but its likely to be pretty quiet here otherwise.

Moving to news, UN housing rights rapporteur Raquel Rolnik focused on the right to housing in post-conflict and disaster reconstruction settings in her latest annual report. While I have not yet had the chance to review the report in detail, it is interesting to note that the press release focuses heavily on land rights for affected persons. From this perspective, there is likely to be some overlap with last year’s humanitarian guidance on post-disaster land issues (posted on by Esteban Leon here).

The FAO has released a new report on gender equality in agriculture that focuses on women’s unequal access to the various economic opportunities and inputs that would let them compete with men – and the enormous price tag of such bias in a hungry world where women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. If TN readers are willing to overlook one appalling pun (“a level ploughing field”), they will find much of interest.

The New York Times followed up on articles from October  2010 and January of this year with a more recent piece on the complications faced by NATO troops in Afghanistan attempting to compensate villagers for property destroyed in the course of counter-insurgency fighting.

Finally, following up on last week’s posting on the Economist’s special report on agriculture, I should point out that my plug for this week’s corresponding report on ‘property’ may have been a case of irrational exuberance. The new special report is a fascinating read on property as an investment, the ostensible safety of which appears increasingly fragile in an era of recurrent bubbles. Of great interest to me, but perhaps more in my capacity as a mortgage-holder in one of Europe’s few remaining bubble candidates than as a blogger.

The week in links – week 09/2011

I thought I would begin this one with a plug for a Roger Cohen column. It ostensibly focuses on the unfolding of ‘Obama-ism’ as a nascent foreign policy doctrine, but beautifully makes the point that just as 2001 was seen as interring the spirit of 1989, 2011 may signal an equally new and more hopeful turning point in human affairs. The uplifted tone invites a certain amount of skepticism, but one can also choose to simply indulge in a moment of abandoned optimism.

Events in North Africa have obscured what would otherwise be headline (well at least visible) news from other parts of Africa. Perhaps most notably, Cote d’Ivoire continues its slide toward civil war. Turtle Bay recently reported that South Africa’s contributions to the mediation efforts have been viewed with some skepticism, as it is not clear whether an effort is afoot to impose the type of power-sharing agreement that has worked so brilliantly in Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe itself, political repression by Mugabe’s paramilitaries and displacement continue apace. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has unsurprisingly upheld the country’s draconian land reforms, as reported in ASIL’s most recent ‘International Law in Brief’. Finally, returning to South Africa, the BBC reports this week on a bid by Georgia to poach  white farmers disgruntled by the far less arbitrary but ambitious and problematic land restitution program there.

A year on, BBC also provides a useful followup report on the earthquake in Chile. Although Chile’s relatively advanced state of preparedness spared it from loss of life on anything like the scale seen a month earlier in Haiti, the economic consequences were devastating. BBC points out that the cost of the damage was one-third of all costs caused by disasters worldwide in 2010 and amounted to one-fifth of Chile’s GNP. As in Haiti, the greatest challenge a year on is presented by the need to move survivors from ad hoc shelter arrangements to more sustainable housing.