by Sharmala Naidoo and Szilard Fricska
Sharmala Naidoo is an Advisor for the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining’s (GICHD) Mine Action, Security and Development Programme. Szilard Fricska is Senior Humanitarian Coordinator with UN-HABITAT in Geneva.
Back in 2010, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) commissioned research on the links between mine action (demining, etc) and land rights, which Jon Unruh discussed on this blog. The research findings indicated that mine action organisations encounter land-related issues during the course of their operations, but that many refrain from addressing them based on the view that land issues are not part of their mandate, are too complex or because they simply weren’t sure how to. Some organisations explained that they were concerned that discussing land issues might compromise their “neutrality”.
However, clearing land that is contaminated by mines and other Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and making it available is not neutral. Ignoring land issues can result in several land-related risks for mine action organisations, which include creating new or exacerbating existing conflicts; land grabbing; putting mine action staff or communities at risk; delays to clearance operations while land “ownership” is clarified; and intentional damage to expensive demining equipment.
In response, GICHD partnered with UN-HABITAT to provide mine action organisations with practical guidance on how to ensure their operations take land issues into account, and at a minimum, ensure a “do no harm” approach. We recently published a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on land rights and mine action aimed at mine action organisations, which outlines some practical recommendations on how mine action organisations can mainstream land issues. Some of the main recommendations covered: Continue reading
by Jon Unruh
Recently the Geneva Centre for International Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) explored new ground in linking land rights to ‘mine action’. Mine action is essentially all the activities related to demining efforts–certainly taking mines out of the ground but also the related activities of survey, record keeping, education, advocacy, turning cleared land over to government, dealing with local communities, etc. The Centre commissioned seven studies on the relationship between landmines and land rights (Afghanistan, Yemen, Angola, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, South Sudan, and Bosnia) and then held a workshop in Cambodia on the topic designed to chart a way forward for policymakers.
Coming at the topic from a land tenure perspective I found it all quite intriguing. The studies revealed a lot more connections than I had realized. The spatial aspect of both land tenure and landmines certainly bring the two together in a variety of ways, but so does sequencing of areas to be cleared, strategies of mine laying and clearing, different approaches to dealing with local communities, government demining and legal capacity, and the different ways of operating for domestic and international private, humanitarian and government organizations that engage in a variety of types of demining.
Two of the more problematic linkages are land grabbing that occurs on the heels of demining, and lack of awareness on the part of demining organizations. The first occurs in a variety of ways and to such a degree that some communities do not want their land to be demined because they fear it will be seized, while others purposefully plant mines to deter seizure, demarcate, or otherwise provide for fairly strange forms of tenure security in wartime settings. The second is related to the first in that most demining organizations are very unaware of the land problems they can leave in their wake. With very little capacity to deal with land issues, or even enough awareness to avoid land conflicts that they contribute to or cause, most demining organizations seek safety in their stated and much valued notions of ‘neutrality’.
The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) just released a new Policy Brief on “Landmines and Land Rights in Conflict Affected Countries”. The Brief is based on case studies undertaken in Angola, Cambodia, Bosnia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Yemen (also available for download with the Angola and Cambodia reports to be posted by the end of January).
The report admonishes de-mining agencies for past failures to understand the local implications of their work, and encourages them to actively coordinate with humanitarian and development actors working with displaced populations and land issues:
Mine action organisations are not neutral when it comes to land rights. Releasing land which was previously contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) and making it accessible changes its status. This inevitably involves land rights issues, even if the intent is to avoid them.
The report is a timely attempt to apply the type of conflict-sensitive, do no harm approach now commonplace to other humanitarian aid sectors in the heretofore somewhat distinct area of demining. I am therefore very happy to announce that its primary author, Jon Unruh, will be guest-posting on some of the report’s key findings in the coming days. Stay tuned!