Tag Archives: autonomy

New book review on “the Åland example”: Balancing engagement and exclusion in autonomy regimes

by Rhodri C. Williams

I am very pleased to announce that my review of the Åland Island Peace Institute’s book on “the Åland example” was just published in the Nordic Journal of International Law. The editors at NJIL were quite generous in allowing me seventeen pages to discuss the contribution that the book makes to charting the lessons a distant Nordic language conflict that embraced peace may have for the numerous contemporary ethnic conflicts that evade it.

The review can be downloaded in full here so I will not go into detail in this post. However, it is worth noting that one of the consistent strengths throughout this volume is the emphasis on the process by which an autonomy regime is created and sustained, rather than the substance of its rules, as being crucial to its viability. This echoes one of the fundamental lessons of the ‘new constitutionalism’ described in my earlier research on constitution-building for the Folke Bernadotte Academy, namely that founding documents in ethnic conflict settings should emphasize ongoing dialogue rather than finality in order avoid the recurrence of conflict.

The ironic lesson to be drawn here is that the Ålanders ability to maintain a sustained and constructive engagement with the Finnish authorities in Helsinki has been crucial to securing their highly asymmetrical political status within the Finnish state. However, there is a further irony that will come as little surprise in light of my earlier writings on Åland in these pages. This involves the fact that the strong land rights of the Åland Islanders, including a limited right to exclude outsiders from the rest of Finland from acquiring property, may be a crucial part of the Ålanders bargaining power.

Openness resulting from the right to be closed. Hardly an easy sell in conflict-management settings, but far better than most of the alternatives.

What can indigenous peoples learn from the Åland Islands land acquisition regime?

by Rhodri C. Williams

This comment is cross-posted from the Åland Islands Peace Institute’s blog with the generous permission of my colleagues there. The Peace Institute is an independent foundation that examines peace and conflict issues from the perspective of the Åland Islands’ special legal status, as recently described in an edited volume on the utility of “the Åland example” in contemporary peace negotiations and peace-building. My below comment gives an overview of the issues I am currently researching with funding from the Åland Islands Cultural Foundation. For an earlier take on these issues, see a chapter I wrote for a 2009 study on “the foundations of the Åland autonomy” while still a guest researcher at the Peace Institute.

The autonomy regime enjoyed by the Åland Islands within Finland is an extraordinary political experiment that has withstood the test of time better than most of its kind. It has the authority of age, dating back to agreements brokered by the League of Nations during the interwar period. At the same time, the autonomy has not merely survived but thrived, having been progressively expanded in scope both during and after the Cold War. Perhaps most tellingly, Åland negotiated a path into the EU alongside Finland in 1994 that not only allowed it to retain the key features of its regime, but also endowed it with the confidence to negotiate hard for further arrangements seen as necessary to prevent its sub-national powers from being rolled over by the supra-national juggernaut in Brussels.

Having lived on Åland full time from 2004 to 2010 and made regular summer pilgrimages from Stockholm ever since, the place has made a deep impression on me and shaped my thinking about the rights and wrongs of minority protection. This is saying something as well, given that I was a skeptic on arrival. As an American raised on melting pot mythology and Brown vs. Board, my instinct was to believe that separate could neither be equal nor desirable. Moreover, having spent the previous five years as part of the international effort to stitch post-war Bosnia back together, I was painfully aware of the extent to which strategies based on entrenching group difference could feed conflict as easily as they could resolve it. But I was impressed from the start by two things about Åland.

First, Åland really did do a good job governing itself. Sure, there were things to complain about, but people got on with it and government delivered. Given that Åland was both tiny compared with other administrative units in the Nordic countries and relatively rich, the archipelago seemed like a textbook case for the subsidiarity-based efficiency arguments for decentralizing power. Second, Ålanders were incredibly interested in their own autonomy. Most outsiders I talk to have a hard time believing 27,000 people manage to support two daily newspapers that between them hardly have time for stories from beyond Kobba Klintar. The identity-based arguments for autonomy clearly applied as well – in other words, Åland has autonomy because Ålanders wouldn’t settle for less.

For reasons not entirely clear to myself, I have long been drawn to questions about land and property. I wrote a masters thesis in Geography long ago on the effect of East German housing policies after unification, and went on to work in Bosnia on the restitution of homes for families that had been forced to flee during the war. As a consultant, I also focused on property issues in post-conflict countries such as Cambodia, Colombia, Cyprus, Liberia and Turkey. Some of my most recent work included an analysis of property conflicts in contemporary Libya. However, even if my early consultancy career was focused on post-conflict countries, my life was being lived in one of Europe’s flagship autonomies. When I had the good fortune to be offered a guest-researcher position at the Åland Islands Peace Institute, I quickly began to realize how important land and property issues could also be in terms of protection and conflict prevention for minorities and indigenous peoples.

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Minority self-determination in China and the demolition of Kashgar

by Rhodri C. Williams

For those seeking yet more grim reading on the destruction of homes and cultural heritage worldwide, the Uyghur Human Rights Project can oblige. The UHRP just released a lengthy report on the final stages of the destruction of the old town of Kashgar, a cradle of the indigenous Uyghur culture within China’s Xinjiang autonomous region (referred to by Uyghurs as East Turkestan). The press release announcing the report stresses the manner in which both the nature of this process (top down, without the scantest consultation) and its apparent ends efface even the most notional commitments of the Chinese government to granting any meaningful self-determination to the Uyghur community:

The Chinese State’s Demolition of Uyghur Communities reveals how the destruction of Uyghur neighborhoods has resulted in the loss of both physical structures, including Uyghur homes, shops and religious sites, and patterns of traditional Uyghur life that cannot be replicated in the new, heavily-monitored Chinese-style apartment blocks where many have been forcibly relocated.

This report does not discount the importance of providing modern structural amenities to Uyghurs. However, it asserts a failure on the part of Chinese authorities to engage in meaningful consultation with Uyghurs regarding how they wish to transform their own communities. The report details the international and domestic legal instruments to which the Chinese government is bound that are designed to protect residents from forcible eviction from their homes and ensure that indigenous populations, such as the Uyghurs, have the right to develop according to their own principles.

Commenting on the report in Open Democracy, Henryk Szadziewski notes how ominously this paternalist, assimilationist and security-fixated approach comports with China’s growing role as a development actor in other states in which urbanization and ethnic tensions are politically salient factors (see also his earlier comment here).

Meanwhile, the not-so-subtly-monikered ‘True Xinjiang’ website lays down an uncompromising view from Beijing, with the ‘truth’ about the 2009 riots in Xinjiang stood up against the ‘lies’ of the exiled opposition groups, and unimpeachable foreign sources such as random English teachers, pleased German reporters, and the UNDP trotted out to attest to the mellow good feelings that actually prevail (just don’t mind that awkward link to ‘Beat down terrorism, separatism and extremism!‘).

Whatever one might think of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, Xinjiang is clearly one of those oppressed areas that is simply beyond the pale. Like Chechnya and Tibet, it lies within the internationally recognized territory of a country able and willing to go to the mat in the UN Security Council to prevent even the threat of intervention in oppressed areas outside its borders. Sadly, however, even having the deck stacked this clearly in their favor does not yet appear to have convinced the Chinese authorities they have nothing to lose (and much to gain) by  seeking out and taking on board the views of their Uyghur citizens.

Local governance in Somalia – New emperor in old clothes?

by Shane Quinn

Somalia has endured a rash of misguided international interventions to resolve its malaise, and apart from initial optimism of the Arta process in 2000 with its extensive civil society participation, these have consistently failed to deliver on their intentions. After all these years, is it finally time for the international community to move away from a centralised state solution towards a hybrid system of governance?

It’s a moot point, although in its latest policy briefing, Crisis Group is heavily advocating in favour of this solution. The latter is not the first to push for this. Back in 1999, in his article, ‘New Hope for Somalia? Building Block Approach’, Matt Bryden promoted autonomy for enclaves or regions which were traditonally recognised as being relatively clan homogenous. In his long research association with the country, Ken Menkhaus has gone further and addressed the idea of organic regional or district administrations assuming a greater role as a viable form of governance in Somalia.

Interestingly, we’ve come full circle after a series of failed initiatives aimed at establishing a central state. Despite all these calls for ‘going local’, promoting autonomy in Somalia is not without its critics. Many Somalis see autonomy as the final nail in the break-up of the country, and also a means of pandering to Ethiopian realpolitik with its emphasis on keeping the country weak rather than having a strong and potentially radical neighbour. The legitimacy of these emerging administrations has also been questioned, as some of them lack a close proximity to their respective communities and in some cases are more interested in being service providers or even, as a Chatham House report terms it, having a monopoly on security. International donors will have to make some hard calls before being possibly immersed in another political maelstrom.

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Land issues at the core of ethnic violence and internal displacement in north-east India

By Anne-Kathrin Glatz

Anne-Kathrin Glatz is a country analyst at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). IDMC’s report This is our land”: Ethnic violence and internal displacement in north-east India” can be accessed here.

The north-eastern region of India, which consists of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura, has seen many episodes of armed conflict and generalised violence since India’s independence in 1947. Some of these situations caused massive internal displacement, of hundreds of thousands of people. Currently more than 76,000 people remain in internal displacement in Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura due to such violence, according to conservative estimates provided in IDMC’s new report.

Conflict and violence in north-east India have had different causes, including violent competition for land and political power. Rebel groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland have fought for outright independence for their ethnic group, while other groups have strived to reach some level of autonomy. Related, the increasing scarcity of collective land available to indigenous people has led some to instigate violence against people they regard as “outsiders” in order to change ethnic demographics in their favour. Inter-ethnic violence between indigenous groups has also led to internal displacement.

The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India has been a means for some groups to establish a de facto ethnic “homeland”. It recognises “Tribal Areas” administered through Autonomous Councils, and thereby provides special protection to some “tribes” in the north-east. A demographic majority in an area is necessary for groups to seek this status. This has created grievances among minorities living in territories falling under Autonomous Councils. The hundreds of ethnic groups in north-east India do not live in distinct areas, and so their demands for ethnic homelands have often led to generalised violence and, in turn, internal displacement aimed at “ethnically cleansing” an area.

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Week in Links – Week 33/2011: Ethnic engineering in Osh, privatization in Havana

I should begin by noting that my NRC report on urban displacement in Liberia has now been published in the Journal of Internal Displacement, vol. 1, no. 2. Other articles in the same edition cover the plight of the Sahrawi people in Morocco and provide an assessment of development-induced displacement in the Narmada Valley in India.

A bit of follow-up in the meantime on some stories TN has been following:

– First, the latest Economist (Aug. 13) gives some insights into just how bad things have gotten for the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan since the appalling violence last summer that killed hundreds. According to the article (“Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbeks: Weak fences, bad neighbours”), all signs of moderation are now gone.

At the national level, Kyrgyz nationalism is “surging” in advance of October’s presidential elections and the head of the International Commission of Inquiry that found evidence of crimes against humanity undertaken during the pogrom (see TN post here) has been PNG’ed by Parliament.

However, events in Osh, the epicenter of last summer’s violence, are most disturbing. As discussed previously in TN, the Kyrgyz major still appears to have no qualms about using an antiquated master plan as the device for cleansing Uzbek survivors of the violence from their homes and communities in the center of the city: Continue reading