Tag Archives: georgia

From shelter to housing: New NRC report on tenure security and displacement

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) just released a substantial study I wrote for them on the right to security of tenure and how it relates to interim shelter needs and long-term durable solutions for both refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is a long read, but I would recommend it to those interested in these topics as my most comprehensive attempt to date to articulate the legal and policy dynamics of this important emerging area of humanitarian practice.

The background analysis in the study picks up on themes I developed earlier with regard to Liberia (also for the NRC), as well as Serbia (for the Brookings Institution) and Iraq (for the US Institute of Peace). These include the need for humanitarian actors to continue their engagement with both human rights and development discourses related to access to housing and security of tenure. The nexus with human rights emerges clearly from the moment of displacement, given the increasing trend (as reflected in the Sphere Standards) toward aligning humanitarian shelter provision with the human right to adequate housing. In accordance with commonly accepted understandings of this right, this means that even transitional shelter should meet basic standards of adequacy and be provided in a manner that ensures an appropriate level of tenure security to its occupants.

Meanwhile, the nexus with development standards relates to the insight that an increasing number of both refugees and IDPs find themselves in situations of protracted displacement. As a result (and as described in my earlier study on Serbia), measures to provide interim shelter solutions for displaced persons may quickly take on a de facto permanent character, and should often be planned with this eventuality in mind. This implies that pro-poor urban development standards (such as those developed by UN-HABITAT) should be applied wherever possible to allow the community-driven upgrading of IDP and refugee settlements. It also implies that development standards regarding involuntary resettlement should complement human rights standards in guaranteeing legal security of tenure for the displaced.

In the current NRC study, the case studies chosen related to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as well as IDPs in Georgia. Application of the relevant standards on tenure security is difficult in both cases, but for entirely different reasons. In the case of Lebanon, refugees do not (unlike IDPs) enjoy a right to seek local integration as a durable solution. However, the particular political sensitivities in Lebanon have led to a situation in which efforts to prevent local integration have led to restrictions in areas such as access to housing that cannot easily be reconciled with the country’s international obligations.

In the case of Georgian IDPs, there has been a determined and ambitious effort to facilitate integration in a manner that does not foreclose the eventual possibility of property restitution and return. However, significant complications have arisen in part because this program has been aligned with a broader attempt to privatize state-owned property. This has led to some some difficulties in a program to allow IDPs to buy the shelter allotted to them in buildings subject to privatization as well as questions regarding what can be done for the large proportion of IDPs still sheltered in private accommodation.

It is important to recognize the initiative of the NRC, and particularly its Information, Counseling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) program, in driving these issues forward. The ICLA program has in many respects led the way in terms of seeking effective property remedies for the displaced in the field, and have now pivoted quickly to address new concerns related to tenure security where such remedies are not forthcoming. As always, I benefited a great deal from the insights and hospitality of my NRC colleagues while preparing this report, and it is my fond hope that some of them will guest-post on TN soon with both updates on the specific case-studies covered in the report and comments about their other ongoing initiatives in the area of housing, land and property rights.

From National Responsibility to Response – Part II: IDPs’ Housing, Land and Property Rights

by Elizabeth Ferris, Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark

This post continues our discussion of the study entitled “From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Response to Internal Displacement” recently released by the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement.

Addressing housing, land, and property (HLP) issues is a key component of national responsibility. Principle 29 of the non-binding but widely accepted Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement emphasizes that competent authorities have a duty to assist IDPs to recover their property and possessions or, when recovery is not possible, to obtain appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation.

The 2005 Framework for National Responsibility – which set the benchmarks we applied in our current study – reaffirms this responsibility (in Benchmark 10, “support durable solutions”) and flags a number of the challenges that often arise, such as IDPs’ lack of formal title or other documentary evidence of land and property ownership; the destruction of any such records due to conflict or natural disaster; and discrimination against women in laws and customs regulating property ownership and inheritance.  The Framework for National Responsibility stresses that, “Government authorities should anticipate these problems and address them in line with international human rights standards and in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner.”

The extent to which a government has safeguarded HLP rights, including by assisting IDPs to recover their housing, land, and property thus was among the indicators by which we evaluated the efforts of each of the 15 governments examined in our study. Our findings emphasized the importance of both an adequate legal and policy framework for addressing displacement related HLP issues and the role that bodies charged with adjudication and monitoring can play in ensuring implementation.

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Housing, land and property issues obstruct integration of IDPs in protracted displacement

by Nadine Walicki

Nadine Walicki is a country analyst and advisor on protracted internal displacement at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). As previously reported on TN, the reports referred to below as well as other key relevant documents are available on the IDMC durable solutions web page.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in protracted displacement in some 40 countries. These are situations where solutions to displacement are absent or inadequate and IDPs cannot fully enjoy their rights as a result. Housing, land and property issues are usually central to the resolution of protracted displacement. This applies to the homes IDPs leave behind and the new ones they build after fleeing. Many IDPs have yet to receive a remedy for property lost or destroyed at their place of origin, while they live in substandard housing and struggle to access land in their area of displacement.

In early 2011, displacement experts gathered at an international seminar to discuss the potential of local integration as a solution to protracted displacement. Case studies on local integration of IDPs in Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Serbia, Sudan (southern) and Uganda were prepared to serve as the basis for the discussion. The result was a Statement of Principles and a compilation of good practices and recommendations, which were recently published in the seminar report. Among other key issues, seminar participants outlined several housing, land and property challenges that obstruct local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement. These include tenure insecurity, lack of effective mechanisms to restore property rights, limited access to land, inadequate housing, as well as lack of legal frameworks and access to justice.

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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.

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.

Bridging the scholar-practitioner gap with dialogue: Megan J. Ballard responds to Massimo Moratti

by Megan J. Ballard

NB: This posting is written as a response to a piece by Massimo Moratti, entitled “Evictions and cookie-cutter approaches to restitution: a response to Megan J. Ballard”, published in TN on February 9, 2011.

Part of the job of a legal academic is to write law review articles. Many practicing lawyers suggest that these articles – often lengthy and theoretical — are rarely read by anyone other than fellow legal academics. It is, then, a pleasant surprise when someone outside the legal academy actually reads and comments on our work. And it is even more satisfying when the commentary comes from someone with practical experience in the subject matter of the article. This is true, in part, because the tensions and conflict inherent in practice cannot always be captured by scholarly writing, as Mr. Moratti points out. Accordingly, I am grateful for this dialogue.

While Mr. Moratti is critical of parts of my article, he does not seem to assail my primary claims: 1) the legal foundations on which property restitution rests are not entirely on solid ground (a claim acknowledged in our blog author’s November 18 discussion about stretching the existing rules of international law); and 2) many of the theoretical justifications for the Pinheiro Principles may not bear out in the long run, particularly if we fail to heed lessons learned by earlier “law and development” efforts.

Mr. Moratti does, however, take issue with at least two elements of what he calls my “debatable perception” of the restitution process in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the record, I have no “perception” of that process. As the 26 footnotes to my three-page description illustrate, I relied on published articles and reports for my data — including seven citations to Charles Philpott, the author Mr. Moratti notes, and 12 citations to our blog author, Rhodri Williams.

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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 …