Tag Archives: Cote d’Ivoire

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).

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What’s in a border?

by Rhodri C. Williams

The headlines these days still have me scratching my head and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. For example, this morning I learn that the Government of Syria, having solemnly declared that an armed insurgency threatens the life of the nation yesterday, duly responded  by lifting a thirty year state of emergency today.  I guess they figured there wasn’t much point closing the barn doors once the constituency had bolted.

It all seems a bit comical at times, but of course it is deadly serious and symptomatic of the way in which the ructions we are currently witnessing are straining the normal responses states would employ against civil unrest precisely because the neighborhoods involved are not inhabited by ‘normal’ states. Instead, places like Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Nigeria and Syria tend to be recent confections, with a territory defined by borders drawn to the convenience of some other country, a population composed of whoever happened to be living within those bounds at the time and effective control now exercised by those who managed to scramble to the top of the heap or be successfully implanted and hang on. Much of the Middle-East is still a good decade short of a century of sovereignty and I’m older than a few independent states in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Its easy to forget much of this when things are going well. Somehow, describing a country as a state and giving it a little stenciled name tag at the UN General Assembly creates all of these reassuring associations that may or may not apply. Certainly, institutions might not be perfectly democratic and economies may be shaky, but statehood implies a totality that is greater than the sum of the parts, bound up in some kind of national identity that can accommodate and eventually subsume local ethnic, sectarian and tribal loyalties. As previously noted with regard to Sudan, however, the elites that inherited these foundling post-colonial states well understood their fragility and embraced the lesser risks entailed by retaining colonial borders over the greater ones that could be triggered should the question of borders be re-opened.

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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.

Land in Liberia

by Rhodri C. Williams

I’ve had the privilege of working in Liberia over the last week with colleagues at the Norwegian Refugee Council’s legal advice and information program on post-conflict land and property issues, which, simply put, are legion. Fortunately, the national Land Commission set up to provide advice and chart out policy is both competent and committed, and some real political space exists for tackling the issues.

Problems related to displacement and return still exist. Although a return program for internally displaced persons run by a separate Commission has largely been completed, life outside the Capital is still heavily affected by land disputes that both predate and result from the conflict. In response, NRC’s country program has developed a mediation program meant to provide sustainable resolutions.

NRC has also sponsored a number of reports analyzing these programs and the context they operate in (bottom right on the country page), including Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque’s piece on land encroachment, launched last year on TN. More recently, a reporter sponsored by the International Reporting Project was assisted by NRC in developing an article providing an overview of the topic. Attention has also begun to refocus on land issues in the countryside in light of the new wave of refugees in northern Liberia fleeing conflict in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.

Lurking behind these issues is the question of durable solutions for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the past conflict in Monrovia who have been unable or unwilling to return. As I discussed in a previous post, some observers have called for greater return to the land in order to unlock the enormous untapped potential for commercial agriculture in the countryside. These calls reinforce a post-conflict emphasis on ‘decentralization’ of the country currently under discussion by the national Governance Commission (they also echo the post-quake strategy of investing in provincial towns in Haiti rather encouraging greater expansion of the capital).

By contrast, the main focus of my current work in Liberia has been to look at the question of how displaced persons now living in Monrovia’s many informal settlements can be assisted in achieving durable solutions in the form of local integration. In this sense, it involves a very practical application of some of the principles now emerging in the ongoing humanitarian discussion about protracted displacement. Most important in the context of Monrovia are questions related to security of tenure and the extent to which the decreasing humanitarian effort and the well-established development actors (national and international) can build on each others’ work.

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.

Côte d’Ivoire: land reform as a substitute mechanism for restitution to displaced persons

by Barbara McCallin

Côte d’Ivoire is currently experiencing a renewed political crisis that has overshadowed many of the issues faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs), and in particular land disputes. On 12 February, Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo dismissed both the Electoral Commission and the Coalition Government, thereby delaying the election process for the sixth time since 2005 when they were first scheduled to take place. Meanwhile, the mandate of the Ministry of Solidarity and War Victims to act as a national IDP focal point has been discontinued. The Ministry had set up an inter-ministerial committee on IDPs and was working on draft legislation on compensation and restitution issues. It is unclear whether its responsibilities will be taken up by another branch of the executive. A new government was announced on 23 February but, as of the beginning of March, the eleven remaining vacant ministerial posts (out of a total of 27) included the Ministry for Agriculture, which is in charge of implementing important land reform legislation.

Background

The political crisis and the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire are closely linked to the issue of migrants’ citizenship and land rights. One of the underlying causes of the original 2002 conflict was resentment against the very migrants’ whose massive immigration to the Western Forest area of the country had been encouraged during the 1960s and the 70s through facilitated access to land and voting rights. The exploitation of region’s fertile lands contributed to increased exports of agricultural products that benefited the whole country. However, resentment against migrants from other regions of Côte d’Ivoire as well as foreigners was exacerbated by the economic crisis that affected the country in the 1980s and the 90s, resulting in growing calls by ‘indigenous’ Ivoirians to revoke the land and voting rights granted to migrant workers during previous decades.

These tensions resulted in an armed conflict which broke out in 2002, causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands people. Since the 2007 Peace Agreement was signed, the number of displaced has dropped to approximately 600,000. However, as there are no comprehensive records of return movements, the total number for IDPs in 2009 cannot be precisely determined except for the Moyen-Cavally region where some 80,000 people remain displaced.

A November 2009 report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) examines land disputes in the Moyen Cavally and 18 Montagnes regions which are situated in the Western Forest area of Côte d’Ivoire. This area was one of the main arrival points for migrants and has been most affected by displacement and return movements. Longstanding land disputes in these regions have been exacerbated by the armed conflict, the resulting displacement and the subsequent return of IDPs. As in many other post-conflict situations, many IDPs and returnees have found their plots sold or leased by others, depriving of the means to independent subsistence and sustainable return.

The IDMC report analyses the nature of land disputes and the existing customary and statutory mechanisms to address them, focusing on the specific difficulties faced by displaced persons and returnees in resolving their land claims by these means. As Côte d’Ivoire has not developed an IDP-specific system of restitution or compensation for properties abandoned due to the conflict, these pre-existing mechanisms represent the only hope of redress, despite not being adapted to IDPs’ specific circumstances.

Reliance on the Rural Land Law

The Government’s intention is to settle both pre-war and post-war land disputes through its 1998 Rural Land Law, which aims to recognise and formalise customary land rights by setting out procedures and conditions for them to be transformed into title deeds. However, the law reflects the tensions between native Ivoirians and migrants in that only Ivorian citizens are to be granted ownership title, while others will be entitled to a long-term lease. Although this formulation at least allows Ivorian migrants from other regions of the country the possibility of obtaining title, the resentment of ‘autochtones’, or original inhabitants of the region, against all migrants, domestic or foreign, means that careful monitoring of the process will be necessary to avoid discrimination. The implementation of the law is likely to raise all of the social, economic, institutional and political challenges inherent in ordinary titling programs exacerbated by tensions related to the conflict and resulting displacement.

In a country where only two per cent of rural land is registered, and nearly all land transfers are informal, the reform represents a radical change. Populations used to customary management of land may be wary of a system that imposes a complex procedures and a new land tax without providing clear new benefits. Migrants, whose land rights have been challenged, may appreciate the new possibility to secure their land rights, even if this is limited to a long-term lease for non-Ivorians. From an institutional point of view, the formalisation program will require considerable administrative, financial and human capacity over the short and long term. To put this in perspective, in 2009 Côte d’Ivoire had only 23 surveyors available to demarcate the over twenty million hectares of rural land covered by the Land Law.

Little impact, high tensions

Although the aim of the Land Law is to reduce tensions resulting from the uncertainty of customary transactions, implementing it in the context of ongoing displacement may raise new tensions, as its provisions now represent IDPs’ only legal recourse to repossess their property. The IDMC report identifies several rules in the Law that may discriminate against IDPs and makes corresponding recommendations. For instance, in the absence of a formal instruction clarifying that absence due to the conflict should not be taken into account, there is a risk that the Land Committees implementing the law may interpret the requirement of “a certified statement of the continuous and peaceful existence of customary rights” to the detriment of absent IDPs. Similarly, the requirement that requests for formalisation must be made in the place of origin penalises IDPs. Finally, IDPs also need to be informed that requests may be submitted on their plot of land without their knowledge, so that they can make inquiries and defend their interests.

While the various elements of the Law have hardly begun to be applied, a recent announcement by the Ministry of Agriculture on accelerated implementation has raised tensions in the Western Forest area. It is therefore imperative to inform the population about the actual content of the law while at the same time advocating with the authorities to correct the problems identified.

The Rural Land Law has had a limited impact so far. As of November 2009, not a single title deed had been issued based on the Law. This means that IDPs and others affected by land disputes have to seek other mechanisms to address their problems. Unfortunately, the crisis has also rendered existing customary, administrative and judicial mechanisms for managing land disputes less effective. The legitimacy of customary institutions has been weakened by the younger generation’s rejection of land sales concluded with migrants by the elders. Conflict also stems from confusion over the nature of land sales: migrants believed they bought the land permanently while native villagers pretend they merely sold a temporary right of use. The displacement of many customary chiefs has kept them from performing their roles and led others assert contested claims to their office. Finally, local authorities, NGOs and private individuals have initiated ad hoc dispute resolution mechanisms in some areas, adding further confusion and promoting inconsistent adjudication processes.

Adjudicating rights in forestland

The Rural Land Law does not cover disputes over land located in protected forests, where many IDPs had plantations, and there is at present no mechanism to address such disputes. Land transactions in protected forests are prohibited by the forest code and the administration of the forest is delegated to a public institution (‘Sodefor’), which may contract with private companies to undertake regulated exploitation of forest resources. In practice, many transactions between native Ivorians and migrants have taken place. Such transactions being illegal, there is currently no possibility either for IDPs to repossess their land or for migrants to formalise rights they acquired. The ad hoc solutions that have been proposed so far reflect political calculations than a rights-based approach. Further research on ways to address land disputes in protected forests would be useful, and I would welcome examples of good practice from other countries readers may be familiar with.

On the occasion of the report’s launch by the Norwegian Refugee Council in Abidjan last November, the participants agreed to create working groups on land issues in Abidjan and in the Prefectures (regional level) that would include the Ministry of Agriculture, Sodefor and UN agencies. However, in view of the current political tensions, only two local land working groups have begun work in the Western Forest area.

Guest blogger Barbara McCallin on land disputes in Côte d’Ivoire

I’m very happy to announce that Barbara McCallin, who monitors land, housing and property issues for the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva, will join us with a guest posting this week. Barbara will discuss the link between internal displacement and property disputes based on her and her colleagues’ research on the western forest area of Côte d’Ivoire, as documented in a November 2009 IDMC report, available in French and English here. The online summary of the report reads as follows:

Armed conflict broke out in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002, which caused the country to be divided in two: the north under the control of the Forces Nouvelles rebels and the south in the hands of the government. It also caused the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. In the west of the country, and in particular in the two regions of Moyen Cavally and Dix-Huit Montagnes, the crisis provoked a series of successive displacements involving population groups with competing claims over land.

These tensions in the west were among the consequences of a national policy on forest development, which led to significant migration flows in the two regions, particularly from the 1960s and 1970s. Ongoing land disputes in these areas have been exacerbated by the armed conflict, the resulting displacement, and now the return of internally displaced people (IDPs). While people were displaced, many of the plots they they had planted were sold or leased by others, so depriving IDPs of their principal means of subsistence on their return and fuelling inter-community tensions. It is feared that the land disputes will multiply as more IDPs return.

In addition to Barbara’s post, there have been a number of other interesting recent developments that I am planning to post on soon. Perhaps most notably, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently issued a pivotal ruling – Demopoulos v. Turkey and seven other cases – clarifying that Greek Cypriot claimants to properties located in Turkish-controlled areas in northern Cyprus were required to exhaust available remedies – in the form of local compensation mechanisms – before they could apply to the Court. Antoine Buyse at the ECHR Blog summarizes the implications of the decision in the following terms (in a post available here):

The decision is the latest in the series of cases on contested Greek-Cypriot property in the northern, Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus. In the Pilot Judgment Procedure of Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey (2005-2006) a chamber of the Court had indicated that Turkey should enact changes in the existing compensation mechanism, which it subsequently did. In the decision of last week, the Grand Chamber declared a number of applications inadmissible, indicating that the existing remedies in Northern Cyprus should first be exhausted. In this way, the Grand Chamber seemed to take a practical and pragmatic approach. It emphasized that it does not force people to use these remedies – they may also await a broader political solution. But if they do, they cannot yet apply to Strasbourg. This could be seen as a new example of renewed Strasbourgian assertiveness in the light of the large quantity of applications it still faces.

On a final, entirely non-property related point, I would like to express my relief that the health care reform bill seems to have finally gone through in the US. Not to say that a bit of healthy skepticism of big government is a bad thing, but a change that emphasizes accountability to voters (I believe that this still applies to bureaucracies) over accountability to insurance company shareholders in a matter as fundamental as health care really can’t be a bad thing. For a more pointed comment on the purely negative arguments against reform that failed to prevail, see Paul Krugman in the NY Times, here.