Tag Archives: expropriation

Week in links – week 42/2011: land disputes in Bolivia, India, Kyrgyzstan and the UK

This week, we have a few updates on recent stories covered in TN:

First, the indigenous protesters marching against the construction of a road through the Tipnis national park in Bolivia have reached the capital La Paz and are settling in to force the Government to negotiate on the issue. Nicholas Fromherz of Foreign Affairs provides an analysis of the tremendous damage the mishandling of this issue has done to President Evo Morales’ credibility.

Having recently taken China to task for its stereotypically stilted response to public outrage over crooked land takings, as well as its stereotypically draconian response to community resistance to being evicted, I am now presented with the classic counter-stereotype in India, where public acquisition of rural land to facilitate large-scale investment is also a pressing issue. Having adopted a new ‘light footprint’ policy on facilitating purchases of land for industrial use after protests last spring and summer, the government of the Uttar Pradesh province now faces a court decision ordering the return of previously acquired land and compensation for parcels investors already built on. Without taking a position on the actual case, it is a classic instance of the great BRIC dichotomy, with India a trickier business environment than China, but frequently for the right reasons.

More dispiriting follow-up to the ethnic mayhem in Kyrgyzstan last year, this time in OpenDemocracy. First, Bruno de Cordier gives a bleak overview of structural violence in Central Asia in the form of rentier politics and patronage societies. Then Elmira Satybaldieva portrays how these patterns are reflected in the fragmented and untransparent politicking in the leadup to Kyrgyzstan’s 30 October elections. With the land disputes and other grievances underlying last year’s violence still unresolved, the prognosis is worrisome.

FAO has described how Sweden, notwithstanding its past ambiguity on the right to water, is funding a highly innovative scheme to help farmers in eastern Kenya develop greater resilience in the face of climate instability, in part through better water management techniques. IRIN, for its part, reports on how poorly Kenya fares in general in advance mitigation of disasters, whether of the natural variety or man-made examples such as last month’s appalling pipeline fire.

And just to recall that housing and land issues remain relevant in the Global North, the New York Times reports on the messy beginnings of the eviction of a traveler community from the Dale Farm encampment they have occupied for years in Essex, UK – while the Guardian documents the surprisingly peaceful end of the process. On OpenDemocracy, Justin Baidoo-Hackman explores the issue of whether the evictions qualify as ethnic cleansing (my take: forced evictions are already plenty bad).

Week in links – Week 18/2011

Its been a busy Spring and is likely to go on that way, so I’m hoping to just keep up with current HLP events with a steady – but temporarily less prolific – stream of postings in the immediate future. There continues to be quite a lot going on in the area, ranging from developing understandings of what the ‘global land rush‘ is all about to recently blogged on confirmations that acts of property destruction and confiscation are deemed crimes against humanity in settings such as Croatia and Kyrgyzstan.

I also look forward to introducing a few new reports and publications I’ve contributed to in the course of my work in recent months. These have tended to focus on issues emerging from protracted displacement, in which the blurring of lines that have traditionally divided supposed dichotomies such as relief vs development; migration vs displacement; and integration vs return has become impossible to ignore.

Finally, I’m very happy to say that my cross-posting arrangement with the Landesa blog continues. Landesa recently produced a pair of postings on women’s land rights in China and India that together touch on the numerous challenges facing efforts to foster meaningful gender equality in land and property relations. Last week’s posting features a survey on the effect on women of expropriation of rural land in China and its conversion to urban use. Tomorrow, TN will host a companion piece on the benefits – and the inherent limitations – of land purchase programs for women in India.

Meanwhile, in the HLP news last week:

-Nice to lead with a local story for once; here is The Local on a Swedish High Court decision upholding the grazing rights of Sami reindeer herders in Northern Sweden. Now that the Court has done some heavy lifting for the Government, one wonders if they will find the gumption to finally fulfill their longstanding pledge to ratify ILO Convention No. 169.

– Advocacy on behalf of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has begun a new chapter with the formal announcement that the traditional relationship between the Brookings Institution and the UN mechanism on internal displacement will continue. The name of the firm will change somewhat, with the Brookings-Bern nameplates coming down and new ‘Brookings-LSE’ ones going up in reference to the institutional home of the new UN Special Rapporteur on IDPs, Chaloka Beyani.

– The International Alliance of Inhabitants published a new report on “the practical strategies and experiences of communities who have directly struggled against forced evictions.”

– The BBC reports on Shell’s recent judicial setback in its attempt to assert ownership over oil terminal land in Nigeria claimed by the local community.

– And, finally, Bosnia commentator Matthew Parish has some fairly tart things to say about the ICTJ Gotovina decision (posted on here in TN) in an editorial in Balkan Insight.

Note on the UN Register of Damage for the Occupied Palestinian Territory

by Rhodri C. Williams

I recently wrote an introductory note for publication in International Legal Materials related to a set of rules of procedure adopted last year by the UN Register of Damage (UNRoD). The Register was set up in order to develop a record of all damages resulting from the construction of Israel’s “security fence”, referred to by the UN General Assembly as the “Wall”, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. As such, it represents an interesting development both in the attempt to resolve the Middle East conflict and in the evolution of institutional responses to mass claims for reparations.

The proper name of the final version of this article is “Introductory Note to the United Nations Register of Damage (UNRoD) Rules and Regulations Governing the Registration of Claims” and it was published in its final version in the Volume 49 No. 2 issue of International Legal Materials. The version reproduced below is an edited draft.

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Introduction

On June 16, 2009, the Board of the United Nations Register of Damage (UNRoD) issued a set of “Rules and Regulations Governing the Registration of Claims” (Rules). The Office of the UNRoD is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly operating under the administrative authority of the Secretary General, with a mandate to develop “a record, in documentary form, of the damage caused to all natural and legal persons concerned as a result of the construction of the wall by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem.”[i]

The issuance of the Rules comes over two years after the January 2007 establishment of the Office of the UNRoD by UN General Assembly Resolution ES-10/17[ii] and the subsequent May 2007 appointment by the Secretary General of the Office’s Board.[iii] The length of time it has taken to issue the Rules, combined with the fact that they do not fully resolve a number of open questions surrounding the scope and nature of the registration process, is likely to fuel concerns about the effectiveness of the Office. On the other hand, the fact that the Rules have been issued at all confirms that the UNRoD is evolving from a recommendation into a real institution. This development will inevitably influence not only the ongoing efforts to resolve the conflict in the Middle East, but also broader debates related to the role of reparations for individual victims of international law violations in the context of protracted peace negotiations.

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IOM on Haiti – relocation of vulnerable community thwarted by land dispute

Many thanks to Peter van der Auweraert at IOM for bringing the below IOM Press Note, dated 02 July 2010, to my attention. It provides a rather vivid depiction of the less than constructive role of Port au Prince’s large landowners in the effort to provide transitional shelter to victims of the January earthquake (as alluded to yesterday in my post here).

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When armed thugs allegedly hired by landowners threatened violence on IOM staff and support workers earlier this week, a sensitive operation to rescue families from a desperate situation came grinding to a halt.

Some 263 families cling precariously to life in Parc Fleurieux; their sad tents hug the bank of a football field that’s flooded with stagnant water contaminated by a nearby open sewer. Women wash their clothes in a muddy creek using water that emerges from the grime of Port-au-Prince . Naked children wander through the camp scratching at skin infections, while residents suffering from malaria and other illnesses sit bleary-eyed in their tents.

The Haitian Government, IOM, international and non-governmental actors agreed that the health situation of the group was critical and that urgent action was required to prevent a public health crisis. After discussion with the local mayor, a location was found on an informal space with room for extra families and work on preparing the site with gravel and drains began.

Once force was threatened during the voluntary relocation, the whole operation was called off pending negotiations with the landowner’s representatives. It was left to Renald, the 29-year old elected site representative to break the disappointing news to his fellow residents. An eloquent man who speaks fluent English and French and Creole, he says he has been both homeless and unemployed since the 12 January earthquake.

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Haiti reconstruction stalled by land disputes

by Rhodri C. Williams

Haiti’s summer rains, long described as looming, threatening and impending are apparently now simply falling. And in the meantime, the reconstruction of affected areas – and particularly the efforts to move thousands out of exposed camps and into planned transitional shelter areas – appear to have stalled entirely. According to a recent AP story, a report prepared for the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee painted a grim picture:

Millions displaced from their homes, rubble and collapsed buildings still dominating the landscape. Three weeks into hurricane season, with tropical rains lashing the capital daily, construction is being held up by land disputes and customs delays while plans for moving people out of tent-and-tarp settlements remain in “early draft form[.]”

The report notes that while basic humanitarian assistance is being provided, the reconstruction effort has stalled, and attributes much of the blame to both the government of Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Along with former US President Bill Clinton, Mr. Bellerive co-chairs the newly constituted reconstruction commission proposed in the UN donor conference for Haiti in March.

In an interview with AP, Mr. Bellerive acknowledged criticism of the failure to provide transitional shelter to quake victims but claimed that “officials are working hard behind the scenes to ensure reconstruction does not simply mean the rebuilding of barely livable slums.” However, international officials appear to be growing impatient with the government’s inability to deliver land for shelter purposes; indeed, the government’s expressed scruples about not recreating slums seem a bit far-fetched given the conditions under which quake survivors are currently living.

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Surveyors of the world unite – around a rights-based approach

by Rhodri C. Williams

Many thanks to Erik Petersson at Swede Survey for pointing out some new publications by the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) that can be downloaded on their reports page. The page itself makes for an interesting browse.

Some of the listed texts are somewhat introspective documents that one imagines would fire the imagination of only a few select initiates outside the circle of licensed surveyors (“Hydrography in Ports and Harbours” anyone?). However, FIG began engaging with sustainable development issues as early as 1991 and has gone on to cover topics as various and broadly relevant as women’s access to land (2001), disaster risk ‘management’ (2006), informal settlement upgrading (2008), and land governance in support of the MDGs (2009).

This year has already seen a raft of new reports including ones on mega-cities, the history of surveying (sounds tame until one considers the motivations people might have to go off and measure other people’s land), the ‘Social Tenure Domain Model’ (a pro-poor land tool), and, perhaps most notably, the ‘Hanoi Declaration’ on land acquisition in developing countries.

The Hanoi Declaration is a very interesting document that sprang from the seventh FIG regional conference last October in the Vietnamese capital. At this meeting, it was noted that states in the region “require urgent action especially in terms of reinforcing methods for land acquisition in fast growing urban areas in developing economies.” As previously indicated in this blog, Cambodia represents one such case, with urban forced evictions now so endemic and politicized that when the World Bank pushed to extend its Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) to urban areas, the Cambodian government withdrew its support. As the Bank rather diplomatically put it in a September 2009 press release:

[A previously undertaken] review found that LMAP’s successes in land titling in rural areas have not been matched in urban areas where land disputes are on the rise. This was due in part to delays or lack of implementation of some project activities. While originally designed as a multi-pronged approach to addressing a range of land issues, LMAP focused on areas where it could be most successful: titling rural land and building the capacity of the land administration to register and title land and implement policy.

We have shared the findings of the review with the Government but could not come to agreement on whether LMAP’s social and environmental safeguards should apply in some of the disputed urban areas. For the World Bank, the implementation of these safeguard policies is critical. However, we are encouraged by the Government’s statement of its commitment to continuing reforms in the land sector and working towards an improved policy and legal framework for resettlement that reflects their commitment to international treaties.

The result was the termination of an otherwise well-seen and well-established program that had provided title to over a million rural properties. I am hoping to encourage colleagues who have worked recently in Cambodia to guest blog on this incident and the ensuing World Bank Inspection Panel proceedings related to the LMAP in the coming weeks. However, one of the lessons that appears most obvious is the need to promote urban land acquisition policies and practices that are not only in need with the Bank’s own resettlement guidelines but also applicable human rights standards. As indicated in a recent report by COHRE and a number of partner organizations, both Cambodian practice and the World Bank response had fallen short in a number of regards.

It is therefore reassuring to see that the FIG’s Hanoi Declaration breaks with the tendency in South-East Asia (and beyond) to perpetuate a questionable dichotomy between pro-poor development standards and human rights. Both the text and the report are in refreshingly straightforward contrast to the World Bank statement cited above, which makes labored indirect reference to human rights standards (surely the reference to “commitment to international treaties” are not meant to invoke widget standardization or postal union), but cannot bring itself to utter the words. By contrast, the FIG gives human rights their due:

The publication should be seen as an a tool to support politicians, executive managers, decision makers and professional organisations in their efforts to deal with land acquisition in a fair way, based on legal standards, full compensation, and acknowledgement of human rights. Land acquisition should secure that adequate development opportunities are available while land rights and social sustainability are fully protected throughout the process.

The Declaration itself is sufficiently concise to be reprinted in full and not only incorporates many safeguards supported in both human rights and development standards (e.g. related to process and compensation) but also directly invokes human rights and highlights the problem of informality and the needs of vulnerable groups. Specifically the FIG asks that states:

– Provide consistent, transparent and efficient legislation and procedures for acquisition through both voluntary and compulsory means and at low transaction costs.
– Provide clear and transparent rules for inclusion of the parties involved and for determination of adequate compensation which ensures that those displaced are able to re-establish their lives and livelihoods in a proper manner.
– Ensure that good governance principles are applied for conducting the processes of land acquisition whether they are based on compulsory means or voluntary agreements. Processes must be efficient, fair and legitimate.
– Ensure that all rights are addressed including informal rights and human rights especially the rights of the poor and vulnerable.

The report on the Declaration goes on to separately discuss human rights standards in the area of compulsory land acquisition, noting that they are “still under construction” but setting out some key principles (pages 8-9). This section is a bit thin and some of the principles disputable. For instance, while the report asserts that human rights standards tend to require compensation at ‘full replacement cost’, this would not always be borne out, for instance in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights which tends to only require a reasonable relationship between compensation levels and market value. The section does not refer to specific rules or standards and although the Kothari principles on development-based evictions are referenced later in the text, one is left with the impression that reference to human rights in the report – while significant in principle – remained something of an afterthought in practice.

This said, I should not cavil. The Hanoi Declaration itself adds to the growing list of sensible, pro-poor and, crucially, rights-based standards meant to protect those with high dependence on and low recognized tenure to their homes. The surveyors of FIG have broken new ground (and arguably both some regional and professional taboos) by introducing human rights in a development meeting in South-East Asia. If meaningful change is to be achieved, it is now incumbent on human rights advocates to meet their efforts halfway.