Tag Archives: climate change

Coping with the realities of climate displacement: The Peninsular Principles

by Khaled Hassine

Dr. Khaled Hassine is an international laywer specialized in property restitution and mass claims procedures, who was part of the Peninsula Principles drafting team.

Though the linkages between climate change and displacement are complex and cannot entirely be predicted, the enduring debate about causality and path dependency seems somewhat derisive in light of the reality faced by many people around the world who are losing their homes and livelihoods as a result of climatic changes and their effects 

Climate displacement already is and will increasingly be one of the many ways in which affected populations adapt to their changed environment. Eventually, albeit belatedly, this actual fact was acknowledged in 2010 by the Cancún Adaptation Framework, which recognized migration, displacement and planned relocation as forms of adaptation to climate change.

The Peninsular Principles on Climate Displacement Within States are born out of a necessity to cope with this reality. The process was driven by people and communities claiming the protection of their rights in the wake of both large and small-scale threats from an increasingly hostile environment.

It is they themselves who felt that there was a pressing need to develop a normative, institutional and implementation framework. Displacement Solutions as an international non-governmental organization merely took on this grass root quest for guidance and solutions, and helped to facilitate and steer a process geared towards addressing the pivotal questions of climate displacement that concern people everywhere.

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That 1990s feeling, or how conflict-related internal displacement never really went away

by Rhodri C. Williams

As we enter a series of twenty year milestones from the meltdown of the former Yugoslavia, it has been a bit too easy for many of us who came of age back then to reflect on internal conflicts – the crucible in which the internal displacement advocacy movement was forged – as a phase we were all moving beyond. Until recently.

Until recently, it was possible to think of conflict displacement as a ‘first wave’, still problematic in the sense that frozen conflicts from the 1990s had entrenched patterns of protracted internal displacement, but no longer of primary concern. With some of the initial nationalist spasms of the post-Cold War thaw exhausted and a practiced UN-led peace-building and mediation response at the ready, it has been easy enough to be lulled by the overall statistics on declining numbers of active internal conflicts.

Moreover, in the wake of the 2004 tsunami and dawning awareness of the effects of climate change, an effective advocacy campaign by then-Rapporteur on Internal Displacement Walter Kälin shifted attention firmly to rights-based responses to a ‘second wave’ of internal displacement, that caused by natural disasters. As reflected in the UN Human Rights Council’s recent undertaking to address internal displacement , the focus on disasters has come to define much of the advocacy in the field, to some degree eclipsing conflict concerns. Meanwhile, a third wave looms as pressure on land and natural resources gives a sharp new edge to the issue of development-induced displacement.

Reading all this, one would be tempted to take some relief in the fact that each new impending crisis appears to be accompanied by changed conditions or improved responses that help to ameliorate the last. If only it were so tidy. While the peaking of sectarian violence in Iraq after 2006 was a wake-up call to the persistence of internal conflict and displacement, it had begun to look like an isolated incident again until recently. However, with Syria now presenting a full-blown ‘human catastrophe’ and Burma accused of  crimes against humanity in Rakhine state, conflict displacement is once again center stage in all its awful glory.

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What Rights? Comparing developing countries’ national legislation on community forest tenure rights

by Fernanda Almeida

Fernanda Almeida is the lead author of RRI’s “What Rights?” report and works as an international legal consultant on comparative legal, regulatory and policy research and analysis.

Indigenous Peoples and forest communities have long-established customary land rights to a large proportion of the world’s forests. The recognition of these rights by governments and international law and jurisprudence, has proven to be one of the few success stories in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Where these rights are recognized, Indigenous Peoples and other communities are not only able to enjoy their most fundamental human rights, but also to develop themselves sustainably.

For example, in the case of Amazonian traditional populations in the Extractive Reserve of Marajoí (Brazil), the açaí palm had virtually disappeared due to previous over-harvesting caused, at least in part, by unclear tenure. Once land tenure issues were resolved, traditional populations invested their resources in managing the açai area as a way to bring back wildlife, fish, and the açai palm itself. As a result, biodiversity was restored and the population had secured its means of subsistence.[1]

In spite of the importance of such rights to the promotion of a sustainable development agenda, very little was known about the extent to which governments around the world had recognized them and how. The What Rights? report by the Rights and Resources Initiative begins to fill this gap. It analyzes national laws that relate to the forest tenure rights of indigenous peoples and communities in 27 developing countries, home to 2.2 billion rural people, that collectively contain about 75 percent of the forested land in all developing countries.[2]

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The Arab Spring – updated challenges and outdated responses

by Rhodri C. Williams

Just a quick Sunday morning posting inspired by two commentaries plucked out of the Swedish foreign ministry’s list of current readings. Taken together, they arguably reflect two fundamental factors at risk of being obscured by the frenetic flow of images and information constantly pumping out of the contemporary Middle East – namely the unprecedented nature of some of the underlying changes driving the unrest and the antediluvian inability of human governance institutions to react effectively.

First out is Thomas Friedman, with an NYT commentary on how the Arab Spring is driven “not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well.” Friedman goes beyond my (and others’) observations last year that the Arab Spring was partly motivated by distributional inequalities related to land rights to observe that the productivity of land in the Middle East and North Africa is fundamentally threatened by climate change. For instance, a UN report found that persistent winter droughts wiped out 800,000 Syrian farmers in the five years leading up to the current revolt, and such trends appear to be the new rule rather than the exception.

Friedman extensively cites a report by Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of the Center for Climate and Security in Washington recommending a broader vision for responding to the environmental as well as the political risk factors in the Middle East:

“If climate projections stay on their current path, the drought situation in North Africa and the Middle East is going to get progressively worse, and you will end up witnessing cycle after cycle of instability that may be the impetus for future authoritarian responses,” argues Femia. “There are a few ways that the U.S. can be on the right side of history in the Arab world. One is to enthusiastically and robustly support democratic movements.” The other is to invest in climate-adaptive infrastructure and improvements in water management — to make these countries more resilient in an age of disruptive climate change.

However, a second commentary by Timothy Garton Ash demonstrates how difficult engineering such a response may be. Garton Ash alleges that Syria is being left to an “Ottoman fate” – one that is almost entirely subject to local and regional calculations of power and interest that have have little time for the suffering of ordinary civilians caught up in the violence. Garton alleges that the reason that Europe, in particular, has failed to recognize its interest in seeking a just resolution of the issue is related to its dithering over Turkey’s candidacy to the EU:

The balance of forces around Syria would be different if the historically new, shared sovereignty model of the EU had reached out to embrace Turkey, as it has been promising to do – incredibly, in both senses of the word – for nearly 50 years, since the association agreement of 1963. But it has not. Europe, as Europe, is inaudible on Syria as on so many other issues. And so the fate of that country’s brave resisters and suffering civilians depends on the old-fashioned regional competition of diverse sovereign powers.

 Garton Ash’s implication that a humanitarian intervention should be sought in Syria will be controversial, in the context of a much broader debate raging over this issue. However, his other implication – that Europe has still not learned that failure to positively engage with its periphery will ultimately bring negative consequences – is harder to dispute. This finding is particularly poignant on the 20th anniversary of Europe’s dithering over the breakup of the former Yugoslavia – and particularly worrisome in light of the new climate change-related challenges to regional and global governance that we were so blissfully unaware of back then.

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 30/2011

Discerning TN readers will have noted that the blog has now clearly gone into summer mode (even if its slightly workaholic administrator has, regrettably, not entirely managed the same trick). In any case, I’ve tried to keep track of a few interesting items, below, for what should now properly be called the ‘month in links’.

It’s also my pleasure to announce an upcoming guest-posting by Veronica P. Fynn, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Internal Displacement. Veronica will introduce the journal and highlight some of the property issues covered in its first edition (full disclosure: my recent NRC report on Liberia is under consideration for reprinting in a forthcoming edition).

And now, some HLP highlights from July 2011:

– Beginning with UN Special Mechanisms, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter has published an article in the Harvard International Law Journal on “The Green Rush: The Global Race for Farmland and the Rights of Land Users“.  Mr. De Schutter introduces the piece with a nice summary in Opinio Juris, in which he suggests the need to move beyond decrying the global land rush phenomenon to seeking ways to minimize its negative impact on local communities. However, Katharina Pistor’s response in OJ highlights significant obstacles to such approaches, both at the level of politics and of theory.

– Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik recently followed up on her report on the right to housing in the wake of conflict and disasters (posted on here) with a trip to Haiti in which she appealed for an end to forced evictions and endorsed a proposal by UN-HABITAT for a “comprehensive strategy for reconstruction and return”. A further report on post-disaster housing issues is said to be shortly forthcoming.

– UNHCR recently called for the creation of “new tools” to address the effect of climate change-induced displacement. The agency also released a report noting the 80% of the world’s refugees now find themselves in developing countries and that protracted displacement is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

– Although the most recent coverage of Kyrgyzstan on TN related to the defensive and unconstructive reaction of the national government to a critical report by an international Commission of Inquiry on last summer’s violence in the country’s south, the local response apparently continues to deteriorate as well. EurasiaNet now reports that the authorities of the city of Osh, where the violence against ethnic Uzbeks reached its peak, have rediscovered their infatuation with an urban master plan from 1978. The failure of the authorities to stop a heavily armed mob from demolishing centrally located Uzbek neighborhoods, while regrettable, now presents an opportunity to build  high-rise housing, and reconstruction – even with the prospect of Asian Development Bank funding – is not on the agenda.

– Keeping on the theme of bad behavior, Israel gets the latest award for innovations in forced evictions (previous honors went to Cambodia for the use of dredging machines). BBC reports that Bedouins in the Negev Desert now not only face regular demolition of their homes but will also be expected to foot the bill for this important public service.

– On a more positive note, BBC has also reported on a recent decision by the Cuban government to allow open sales of homes and cars in Cuba. In a follow-up piece, the BBC described the pressing need for such reforms in a setting where the previous system of exchanges with government approval and without money changing hands fostered informality and corruption. As noted previously on TN, BBC coverage has not addressed the issue of historical claims by exile Cubans that may exist against some of the properties involved. Thus, it is only possible to speculate on whether Cuban privatization now may serve a similar dual purpose to Cambodian privatization in the late 198os, where investing current users with greater rights also served to dilute the claims of exiled historical owners.

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 …