Category Archives: Week in links

Week in Links – Week 06/2011: Food prices, injustice and Egypt

– Confirming that earlier food price alarums represent a trend rather than a blip, the FAO registered the highest food prices ever earlier this month. Linking this development to the re-emergence of actual food riots in the last years, commentators in Foreign Affairs assert that violence generally fails to erupt unless food price fluctuations are accompanied by a concrete sense of injustice perpetrated by local actors. Whether this should be seen as a reassuring or alarming factor is left to you, gentle reader, to decide.

– While the situation in Egypt is less obviously connected to the subject matter of this blog (whatever the role of food prices there), it is one of the unfolding human rights events of the century and I cannot avert my eyes. And despite the breathing room the Mubarak regime gave the protesters by its cretinous decision to assault foreign reporters last week, things still look pretty precarious. Even as the military appears to wobble on not using open force against protesters, the Guardian has carried allegations of systematic torture of protesters by army units. Meanwhile, even murkier allegations are coming to light about the agenda of the Obama administration and the dubious resume of Omar Suleiman, the ostensible midwife of Egypt’s democratic transition. I am generally not one for conspiracy theories but at this point even fairly mainstream commentators such as Nicholas Kristof and Roger Cohen at the New York Times are nervously urging President Obama to keep himself on the right side of history. I never dreamed I would say this, but I am beginning to feel downright sentimental for the moral clarity (such as it was) of the Cold War.

Week in links – Week 2/2011

This week picks up a few interesting items from the end of last year as well as some more updated texts:

– Now that the referendum on South Sudan’s separation appears to have gone off peacefully, attention is turning to the contested territory of Abyei. As described in this NYT article, Abyei represents a microcosm of the North-South conflict but one which has, alarmingly, been left on the sidelines of last week’s putative solution. Here’s a sample:

“We will go to war over this,” said Rou Minyiel Rou, a veterinarian in Abyei. “This is about land, and we can’t compromise on land.”

– Anyone remember Osh? Fortunately Transitions OnLine does, and they released a series of reports last week on the aftermath of last June’s orchestrated attacks on Uzbek minority communities in this town in southern Kyrgyzstan. The first two reports focus squarely on land and property issues, including the plight of women left behind to safeguard destroyed family homes, and ongoing ethnic tensions over land access in the region. Against a chilling backdrop of arbitrary arrests of Uzbek men, the latter report notes that the reconstruction of Uzbek neighborhoods may not take place according to the victims’ preferences:

Other unsubstantiated claims center around the urban plan under discussion by city authorities. Few details have been released, but the plan is said to include building apartment blocks in place of the traditional family compounds where many Uzbeks live. Uzbek neighborhoods take up large areas of the city, particularly in central districts and around the famous Suleiman Mountain.

– Carl Soderbergh of Minority Rights Group International (MRG) wrote a two part report in the MRG Blog late last year on the threatened land rights of the Maasai in Tanzania. The first part of the report analogizes latter day practices of removing this indigenous group from the environs of a wildlife park with the colonial doctrine of terra nullius (sound familiar?) used to justify earlier annexations. The second part examines the violent expulsion of another group of Maasai from a wildlife sanctuary acquired on disputed legal grounds by the American tour operator Thomson Safaris. Fully 37 years after the facts that triggered the Endorois decision by the ACHPR in neighboring Kenya, this must be only one of many more such cases in the making.

Week in links – Week 1/2011

I owe about a month in links this time, given the blur in which last December passed! However, I have tried to exercise a bit of restraint in order to keep things current.

– The New York Times covers Bashir’s conciliatory trip to Juba and sets out the case for a peaceful referendum on secession in southern Sudan next weekend, including hints that a last minute fix could resolve the territorial dispute in Abyei. Along with shared incentives over oil (the South will have the bulk of reserves and the North controls access to the world market), focused international attention and pressure is credited with keeping the parties on course. However, this observation underscores the risks presented as international attention wanders from other theatres of unresolved conflict. For instance, this week has also seen news of the forthcoming closure of the ostensibly short-term UN Mission established in Nepal in 2007 to consolidate what remains a very shaky peace deal there. The outgoing SRSG in Nepal is expected to move on to head a significantly curtailed UN Mission in Burundi, where large scale violence has ended but human rights abuses remain rife and rebel groups are said to be re-arming.

– The New York Times recently ran two pieces demonstrating how ostensibly local urban policies reflect and shape broader politics. The more straightforward of the two discusses how urban squatting in Buenos Aires reflect a national political rivalry in Argentina. However, the second piece, on the renovation of the Old City of Aleppo, Syria, came as a revelation. By involving poor communities rather than displacing them, this project is aimed not only at achieving truly sustainable preservation but also at retaining the traditional family housing models that are thought to avoid the social tensions that can fuel Islamic radicalism. The key question going forward is how to inspire similar approaches to the architecturally less interesting but socially volatile shantytowns at the edge of the city:

…how to make the final link between historic preservation and the creation of a contemporary city remains blurry. Many preservationists working here, including some at GTZ, see the last 70 years as unworthy of their interest. And most contemporary architects, whose clients are almost uniformly drawn from the global elite, are out of touch with the complex political realities of the poor in the region.

– Paul Krugman on how climbing commodity prices signal the fundamental good news/bad news arithmetic of our times – increasing global demand based on resilient growth in the developing world, climate change, and the absolute scarcity of the natural resources we depend on.

– Open Democracy contributors Christophe Solioz and Denis MacShane differ on whether the Kosovo organ trafficking allegations raised at the Council of Europe are a devastating indictment of the dark grip of the past and international passivity in the West Balkans or a glorified rumor hijacked by Serbian nationalist interests.

Week in links – Week 46/2010

– The New York Times reports on extensive destruction of booby-trapped houses and damage to agricultural land through the construction of new military roads by NATO troops in Afghanistan. Compensation programs appear to be up and running but the verdict of one district governor is a little chilling: “We had to destroy them to make them safe.”

UNHCR reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. The ReliefWeb headline says it all: “Voluntary Refugee Returns Worst in Two Decades; World Faces Quasi-Permanent Refugee Situations in Areas of Never-Ending Conflict, Third Committee Told.”

– In the latest twist in the protracted real estate crisis in the US, the New York Times reports on a new wave of adverse possession. By taking open possession of abandoned foreclosed homes, repairing them and even renting them out, private individuals are hoping to eventually meet the statutory requirements to receive title, with both positive and negative local impacts.

– On desertification and pastoralism in the Sahel, we have a bullish take from the EU-Africa Partnership and a more apocalyptic one on climate conflicts from Yale’s E360 publication.

– ASIL has made available an interesting introductory note to a recent property decision by the European Court of Human Rights – in this case, the Court confirmed that the definition of possessions under the European Convention includes final and enforceable arbitration decisions.

Refugees International urges African Union member-states to ratify last year’s groundbreaking Kampala Convention on the rights of IDPs. IDMC has a dedicated webpage on the Convention.

– Indonesia gets serious about climate change adaptation with the announcement of new guidelines on permanent relocations of populations from disaster areas too dangerous to allow return.

– UN Habitat issued its technical assessment of housing reconstruction needs after the Pakistan floods.

– FAO launched a new report and website on ‘climate-smart agriculture’, highlighting a mixture of traditional and high-tech approaches that raise yield and reduce carbon emissions.

– Finally, an interesting example of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) taking up ‘HLP’ issues in a case in which Georgia accuses Russia of violating its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by virtue of its failure to allow ethnic Georgians to return to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia is alleged to exercise effective control. A recent blog piece on this by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research provides some background and reminds of an interesting October 2008 interim measure in which the Court ordered the parties, among other things, to:

do all in their power, whenever and wherever possible, to ensure, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin,
(i) security of persons ;
(ii) the right of persons to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State ;
(iii) the protection of the property of displaced persons and of refugees …

Week in links – Week 43/2010

A short but interesting list this week:

IDMC reminds us that its been a year since the groundbreaking Kampala Convention was passed, committing African Member states to address internal displacement. However, only two member-states have ratified to date, leaving thirteen to go until entry into force.

– IRIN published a short article on the prevalence of land-grabbing after natural disasters and new efforts to secure land tenure.

– NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice published a report on the global land rush and human rights based on three negative case-studies (Tanzania, Sudan and Pakistan) and one more hopeful one (Mali).

– IRIN also reports on the connection between land and water scarcity and conflict in Yemen, a fundamental issue that appears to have been overlooked in the rush for political solutions:

“Social violence is the greatest threat to Yemen over the long term,” said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst. “Political violence and violence by the state against the population can be reversed relatively easily; there could be a new political settlement. But diminishing resources is an intractable problem that cannot be solved by political consensus. It will require much more work.”

– OpenDemocracy ran a long and thoughtful piece on the forthcoming Sudan referendum. In addition to pointing out the various tensions that risk returning the region to all out warfare, this comment also provides some useful background on the recent history of referendums in Africa and notes the potential of African and regional institutions to contain the potential for fiasco.

– David Cronin posts in OpenDemocracy on corporate capture of trade agreement negotiations and some of the more unpleasant social and environmental consequences.

The week in links – week 41/2010

This week’s food for thought:

– Continuing the nervous drumbeat on the upcoming Southern Sudan referendum, here is Open Democracy on the apparent new delay to the Abyei referendum, and a good news-then-bad news analysis by Phillipe De Pontet at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

– The International Law Observer notes that the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is now official – a recent decision by the Human Rights Council brings the number of states that have gone on the record to 178.

– Meanwhile, the FAO Right to Food people are about to release a guideline on responsible land tenure management and the right to food (it is available now in Spanish).

– Lyric Thompson reports in Open Democracy on the whiff of UN politics behind the anticlimactic tenth birthday party in the UN Security Council for Resolution 1325.

– In case anyone forgot the link between land and identity, here is a comment in the Jerusalem Post on what the construction ban and its absence is seen to signify by some in the Middle East. In the meantime, the NYT reports on the resumption of construction plans in East Jerusalem, and Open Democracy has news of a possible response, with the Arab League apparently considering whether to “appeal directly to the UN to recognise the state of Palestine.”

– From the US, Paul Krugman reports on the ongoing fallout of the mortgage crisis and the fact that it now appears that the USA, one of the world’s great proponents of rule of law and the sanctity of property, is witnessing foreclosures by banks that are unable to actually document the mortgage agreements they are enforcing.

– And in the unremarked on but terrifying land violence category, IRIN reports on inter-clan skirmishes over land in northeastern Kenya that displaced 600 families.

– Finally, the ECFR has issued a new short comment and report on the ‘spectre of a multipolar Europe with a fairly provocative set of findings:

  • The post-Cold War order is unravelling. Rather than uniting under a single system, Europe’s big powers are moving apart. Tensions between them have made security systems dysfunctional: they failed to prevent war in Kosovo and Georgia, instability in Kyrgyzstan, disruption to Europe’s gas supplies, and solve frozen conflicts.
  • The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions. Russia and Turkey may complain more, but the EU has the most to lose from the current peaceful disorder.
  • A frustrated Turkey still wants to join the EU, but it is increasingly pursuing an independent foreign policy and looking for a larger role as a regional power. In the words of foreign minister Davutoglu, Turkey is now an ‘actor not an issue’. Its accession negotiations to the EU should be speeded up, and it must also be engaged as an important regional power.
  • Russia never accepted the post-Cold War order. Moscow is now strong enough to openly challenge it, but its Westpolitik strategy also means that it is open to engagement – that is why Dmitri Medvedev suggested a new European security treaty a couple of years ago.
  • Obama’s non-appearance at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the latest sign that the US is no longer focused on Europe’s internal security. Washington has its hands full dealing with Afghanistan, Iran and China and is no longer a European power.

The week in links – week 40/2010

A fairly modest crop after a busy week:

  1. Oxfam’s turn to ring the alarm on the numerous risks entailed by Southern Sudan’s upcoming referendum …
  2. … and to promote reconstruction of the agricultural sector in Haiti in a new briefing paper.
  3. UNHCR comments on how protracted conflict situations are creating a ‘new global refugee’ population.
  4. FAO and WFP comment on how protracted crises involving chronic hunger and food insecurity affect twenty-two countries worldwide “due to a combination of natural disasters, conflict and weak institutions”.

The week in links – week 39/2010

A few interesting items last week:

  1. Nicholas Christoph at the NY Times lays out a scenario for a derailed referendum on the independence of southern Sudan to result in yet another post-Cold War genocide in early 2011 – and advises the Obama administration to put punitive pipeline bombing on the table as a foreign policy instrument.
  2. Lazaro Sumbeiywo and John Danforth provide a slightly more prosaic account of what is at stake in the upcoming referendum and take rather a different policy tack in plugging for increased development assistance to help Sudan improve its woeful MDG standing.
  3. Its twenty years since German unification, the event that bumped me out of my teenage apathy and into the slipstream of the New World Order we have all enjoyed the fruits of since. Foreign Policy reports on how Europe’s current economic woes relate to the deal cut back then, while NYT notes that South Korea is scrutinizing the unification model for events foreseeable over the next twenty.
  4. Its also been 20 years since the first human development report. Who knew? UNDP has a dedicated webpage including a number of new thematic research papers on “key issues and concepts of human development”
  5. Finally, a new journal has just come out of Penn Press that bundles together a lot of the issues a lot of TN readers hold dear: “Humanity is a semiannual publication dedicated to publishing original research and reflection on human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern and contemporary world.” Enjoy it, o those of you with access to academic databases, and may a little bit trickle down to the rest of us.

The week in links – week 38/2010

It will not have escaped discerning readers that I’ve been a little neglectful of my blogging duties over the last weeks. Sorry for that and thanks for hanging on. I thought I’d float a new format that would be a bit more manageable for times when I’m too frazzled to pontificate. So here is this week’s pick:

  1. Anybody remember the Pakistan earthquake? USAID does and its a little bittersweet and a little encouraging to skim their year 3 recovery report, brimming with build back better and participatory assessment. I wonder what the headlines will look like when we are all opening up the Pakistan flood year 3 report.
  2. While we are on the topic, here is a link to a succinct and slightly puzzling briefing note on a program to resettle IDPs whose land was lost or rendered unusable by the Pakistan quake. Slightly odd terminology (“One Window Operation is a mechanism devised to organize mutation of land and disbursement of financial assistance at one spot on the same day”) but a logical local response to what climate change sadly has in store for many more…
  3. …as in Southeast Asia, where World Vision has issued a sobering PR spelling out what the truism about the poor being least resilient to natural disasters looks like in practice. As in Pakistan, Haiti and many other settings, land remains a central issue a year after Hurricane Ketsana struck the Philippines: “…thousands of the poorest survivors are still living in tents, displaced from their former shanty homes onto patches of land where they face an uncertain future as authorities attempt to negotiate land rights that would grant them a permanent home.”
  4. EurasiaNet has an interesting piece on Azerbaijani IDPs from Nagorno-Karabakh who are resisting local integration by refusing to send their children to a new school they would share with host communities. Again land. In the words of one observer: “These are people whose mindset is fundamentally tied to the land, … and that is a factor in their tie to the school — good or bad.”
  5. The NY Times ran a sad piece on the vulnerability of indigenous groups even in countries such as Venezuela that are officially committed to protecting their rights. In this case, members of the Warao tribe have turned to scavenging in a dump in Ciudad Guayana. A community leader expresses an unfamiliar take on indigenous land rights: “We’re never going to leave this place … We’ve claimed this land and made our life in this dump, and this is where our future rests.”
  6. Meanwhile, UNHCR reports on the vulnerability of indigenous groups in countries where they find themselves in the way of conflict-facilitated natural resource stripping. The Tule people of Colombia, facing extinction in September 2010.
  7. In the category of disasters that haven’t happened, the IASC reminds that just because a hurricane hasn’t hit Haiti yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen…
  8. …and Reuters informs that the Sahel appears to have been spared the worst effects of a potentially catastrophic drought.
  9. Staying on disasters but of a political nature, we have Tihomir Loza’s TOL commentary on the logic of Bosnian political stagnation…
  10. …and Paul Krugman’s take on the Republicans’ Pledge to America.
  11. And moving to high concept, the NY Times Review of a new book on human rights that posits its roots less in the enlightenment than in decolonization and “the failure of national self-determination to guarantee human dignity”. Prolonged commentary on Opinio Juris as well.