Tag Archives: humanitarian response

Syria is hemmorrhaging

As the Syria crisis reaches yet another crescendo, the UNHCR comes out with a really quite astonishing tweet:

Whether born of calculation or desperate spontaneity, the composition of the thing effectively conveys a seasoned humanitarian agency that is on its knees in the face of unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. It will be a hard act to follow. Lets hope it never needs to be.

For a glimpse of the pressure cooker life in a camp in Hatay province, Turkey, see Robin Yassin Kassab’s latest in Foreign Policy. The manner in which camp life produces hyper-compressed vignettes of the windy discourses we are all so familiar with now is striking – and worth quoting at length:

Part of the problem is Western fear of the opposition’s greatly exaggerated Islamist-extremist element. The irony is that the longer the tragedy lasts, the greater the empowerment of once minor and irrelevant jihadi forces.

Atmeh village, on a hill behind the camp, has been turned into a barracks for the foreign Islamist fighters of Hizb ut-Tahrir. These men are not, apparently, fighting the regime, but waiting for “the next stage” — in other words, the coming struggle between moderates and Islamist extremists after the fall of the regime. Syrians, including democratic Islamists, refer to them derisively as “the spicy crew” and shrug off the risk they represent. One assured me it would take “two minutes” to expel them once the regime falls.

But sectarian hatreds — stoked by the regime’s propaganda, its Alawite death squads, and assaults on Sunni heritage — are certainly rising. I met a man whose wife and 11 children were killed in an airstrike and who plans to marry again and produce 11 more children, “just so I can teach them to kill Alawites.” There’s a teenager who boasted, “Afterwards, we won’t leave a single Alawite alive.”

This deliberate attack on the social fabric is perhaps the regime’s greatest crime. When tyrants light the fuse of sectarian war, they are unleashing passions that extend beyond politics. They are killing people who have not yet been born.

Yassin-Kassab’s account is included in a recent list of articles on Syria recommended by Syrian activists. See also the Guardian here for a description of the effect of the conflict in neighbouring Syria – as well as dubious sectarian populism by the Turkish government – on the  mixed but traditionally tolerant population of Hatay province.

Meanwhile, for a refreshingly clear explanation of the dynamics behind the latest, mysterious wave of Syrian Kurd refugees that broke over Iraq two weeks ago (and which for UNHCR must have been the final straw), see Hugh Eakin in the NYRB blog.

And finally, a new Oxfam report, written together with the ABAAD-Resource Center for Gender Equality, shows that women refugees are both disproportionately represented in and impacted by displacement, going hungry to feed their families and facing heightened domestic violence.

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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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Announcing a new book and guest posts on post-conflict land management and peacebuilding

PCNRM cover 9781849712316I’m very happy to announce the forthcoming publication of a volume on Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding that I co-edited with Mc Gill Geography professor and land tenure guru Jon Unruh. The volume is the third of six volumes in a series on natural resource management and post-conflict peace building. The books are the fruit of a project initiated by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the University of Tokyo, and McGill University with a view to analyzing experiences and documenting good practice in post-conflict peacebuilding and natural resource management.

As with all the volumes, Jon and mine on land tenure issues is meant to be available exclusively for sale at first, but the chapters will be available for free download on the Environmental Peacebuilding website six months after the official announcement of the book’s publication. For instance, the first volume on high-value natural resources (also announced here on TN) is now available in full here, and the second volume on post-conflict restoration of the natural resource base should be available early next month.

As part of the launch several of the authors in the land volume have kindly agreed to provide guest-postings on TerraNullius updating or elaborating on their chapters. These will included the following:

First out is Douglas Batson, who wrote on the need for a cadastral system that records the array of relationships between people and land in Afghanistan. The chapter discusses the relevance of Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) to record customary land tenures, a theme which he will elaborate on in his guest post.

A second post by Paula Defensor Knack will elaborate on her chapter on “Legal Frameworks and Land Issues in Muslim Mindanao” by describing how the subsequent peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has exacerbated some of the conflict dynamics she describes. Finally, a third post by Arthur “Gill” Green will update his chapter on land tenure and peace-building in Aceh, Indonesia.

I’m very pleased to be able to host these guest postings and hope that some of the other authors may yet be moved to update their excellent chapters. I should probably also do a plug for my own chapters as well – one of which, on Cambodia, will be old hat to readers of this blog, but the other of which, on Bosnia, might provide more novelty.

In the latter chapter, I build on astute analysis by both ESI and Gerard Toal in describing an extraordinarily ambitious, mercifully brief and ultimately shambolic attempt by international officials in Bosnia to control all property transactions in the entire country. A footnote in the history of peace-building, one hopes, although great ambitions never seem to entirely run dry.

Guest posts:

– Paula Defensor Knack, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Peace Deal for Mindanao and its lessons for practitioners of environmental peacebuilding (10 April 2014)

– Dan E. Stigall, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The durability of Middle Eastern Civil Codes and durable solutions to displacement (26 September 2013)

– Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Customary governance, property rights, and state building in Afghanistan (08 May 2013)

– Douglas Batson, Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: A new global standard for land administration (25 April 2013)

Politics as land disputes by other means? Kenya braces itself for elections (updated)

by Rhodri C. Williams

Kenyans go to the polls next Monday in the culmination of an entire political season spent building institutional guarantees against a repeat of the appalling ethnic violence and mass-displacement that followed the country’s last elections in 2007. Prevention measures ranging from a new 2010 Constitution to a 2012 law criminalizing internal displacement have been earnestly discussed and adopted in the intervening years.

However, the breathtaking fact remains that some of the leading candidates in the current election may be responsible for the violence of the last round – and that their eventual election may be used as a pretext to effectively shield them from accountability for these crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The resulting ‘bizarre’ nature of the first debate between Kenya’s presidential candidates was captured by Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict, who also reflected recently on the underlying question the ICC-Kenya brouhaha raises – namely whether transformative political change has supplanted individual criminal responsibility as at least the implicit primary aim of international justice.

There is certainly a case for such an approach, which arguably only transposes the consequences of the individual criminal behaviour of political leaders into the novel but expanding terrain of the state responsibility to protect (see Mark Kersten again, here). If the results of an individual leader’s acts are now recognized as giving rise to a threat to international peace and security, in other words, why should the rest of the international community sit around and twiddle its thumbs?

On the other hand, principled arguments against such an expansive view of the aims of international justice include the risk of politicization of the ICC through selective support of regime change by gatekeeper institutions such as the UN Security Council. However, beyond this concern about the tail wagging the dog, Kenya may now have usefully exposed a major practical limitation on politically transformative international justice. For example, in an otherwise highly cogent piece on the upcoming elections in Kenya on OpenDemocracy, Clare Castillejo argues for what some may view as closing the barn doors after the horses have bolted:

So what can the international community do in these final days before the polls? Firstly it must send strong signals that politicians who incite violence will face international sanctions such as asset freezing, travel bans and – where possible – prosecution. Kenya’s international partners (particularly the US, UK and the EU) and its East African Community neighbours must be prepared to speak out forcefully at the first signs of electoral fraud or organised political violence.

Got that? Politicians now hoping to elude international accountability for past electoral violence by running for elected office are to be prevented from resorting to further violence by threatening them with accountability for such acts. Is that entirely convincing? I do not mean to be facetious, and I am very concerned for Kenya, but is doubling down on a concept of accountability that has proven elusive in practice likely to be effective as a means of protection? Perhaps it will, if applied as part of a unified campaign of international condemnation. But if it does not, the result may further undermine the effectiveness of accountability as a check on such crimes.

Humanitarians are also talking prevention, but in a slightly more nuanced (some might say ambiguous) way. Continue reading

Kyrgyzstan property issues update, part 2 – Unen-durable Solutions

by Kaigyluu

‘Kaigyluu’ is the pseudonym of a longtime TerraNullius reader with broad experience working on housing, land and property (HLP) and legal reform issues in many countries post-socialist, post-conflict or both. Having provided an earlier briefing last year on the aftermath of the 2010 ethnic riots, Kaigyluu yesterday updated TN readers on the local and regional politics of rebuilding Osh, and today addresses the policy choices of international actors involved in humanitarian response and reconstruction.

While housing, land and property (HLP) rights were put on the agenda in the immediate aftermath of the June 2010 inter-ethnic violence in South Kyrgyzstan, the HLP process was complicated (a) by a lack of clear rationale or objective and (b) strategic choices made at the outset.

With respect to the first point, based upon an initial assessment by the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) conducted in the wake of the June events, UNHCR focused first on the construction of shelter and then on legal assistance to restore HLP documents lost or destroyed. The assumption upon which provision of such legal aid was based proved faulty, in that it was soon discovered that over 80% of affected households had never had proper documentation. And so the HLP project concentrated on obtaining documentation for those whose homes were destroyed, as well as registering the newly constructed replacement shelters.

Nevertheless, the justification for securing documentation only for those whose homes were destroyed, whereas the majority of the affected population – and, indeed, the population at large – also lacked such documentation, was undermined. The project might have been realigned – and was, ad hoc, to provide documents to those whose homes were threatened with expropriation – but the follow-up scoping mission recommended by the GPC to conduct a full situational assessment was never carried out.

This leads into point (b) on strategic choices, namely that the international community chose to channel their support through the State Directorate for Reconstruction and Development for Osh and Jalal-Abad Cities (‘SDRD’ – previously, the State Directorate for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction or ‘SDRR’) set up by the central government, and headed by current Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev. The international community decided to bypass the Osh mayor, Melis Myrzakmatov – understandable, given his nationalist (and often erratic) rhetoric.

Myrzakmatov was opposed to anything directed by Bishkek: an opposition entrenched when he successfully resisted the attempt of the interim government to remove him. Unfortunately, in the case of reconstructed (and, indeed, all) housing, the issuance of building permits was controlled at the municipal level. Therefore, in Osh, construction permission was never granted. And so, the majority of the shelters constructed there remain unregistered; whereas, in Jalal-Abad, where the mayor was successfully replaced (twice) by Bishkek, authorities were more cooperative, building permission was issued, and registration proved relatively simple.

More broadly, apart from reliance on the SDRD, there a choice by the international community – perhaps by default – to opt for a ‘rule of law’ approach, as opposed to one driven by the need for a recognition of rights. That is, the reconstruction and HLP process was channelled through the existing domestic land and housing regime. As such, it became vulnerable to the inefficiencies or gaps in the system, as well as any political or personal manipulation of it.

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Kyrgyzstan property issues update, part 1 – Who’s afraid of the big bad master plan? Rebuilding Osh’s mahallahs in brick

by Kaigyluu

‘Kaigyluu’ is the pseudonym of a longtime TerraNullius reader with broad experience working on housing, land and property (HLP) and legal reform issues in many countries post-socialist, post-conflict or both. Having provided an earlier briefing on the politics of property in southern Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 ethnic riots, he, she or it now follows up with an update in two parts. Part one focuses on the local and regional politics of rebuilding Osh, while part two, tomorrow, addresses the policy choices of international actors involved in humanitarian response and reconstruction.

International attention on Kyrgyzstan, limited as it was during the Tulip Revolution (Redux) of April 2010 and inter-ethnic riots that followed two months later in the south of the country’s geologically and politically unstable Ferghana Valley, has long since waned and turned elsewhere. Indeed, with the Western military drawdown in Afghanistan, the importance of Central Asia – exemplified by the bidding-war between the US and Russia over the Manas airbase outside of Bishkek – has diminished correspondingly, while the problems in the region continue to fester and grow.

At least in terms of rebuilding and reconciliation (including international reconstruction assistance) in the aftermath of the June 2010 clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the ‘southern capital’ of Osh, as well as the nearby city of Jalal-Abad, progress would seem to be consolidating. The latest government shuffle, following the collapse of the yet another parliamentary coalition, saw the appointment of Jantoro Satybaldiev as Prime Minister. Satybaldiev, a former Head of the Osh Administration, led the central government’s reconstruction effort following the June 2010 clashes. He was a key partner of UNHCR, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and other international actors in this, and seen as a counterweight to perceived hard-line nationalists in the south, such as Osh’s current mayor, Melis Myrzakmatov.

Not only can Satybaldiev’s ‘promotion’ be construed as a reward for his work in the South, it is also hoped that his elevation will give him the authority to overcome the last hurdles to secure the housing, land, and property (HLP) rights of those displaced by the June 2010 events.

A ‘friend’ of the post-2010 reconstruction effort is sorely needed in high office. This past summer, the City of Osh began long-threatened expropriation of land and the demolition of at least two dozen houses, as well as several business premises, in order to widen roads: this, despite ‘iron-clad’ assurances to donors that reconstructed houses would be not be touched. It is feared that this is but the precursor for implementation of a new urban plan: one that is rumoured to include the replacement of the traditional Uzbek enclaves with ‘modern’ apartment blocks and, amongst the conspiracy-minded, one that is said to mirror – or even predate and predict – the patterns of supposedly spontaneous destruction that occurred from 11 to 14 June 2010.

The international community funded the reconstruction of almost 2,000 homes damaged or destroyed during clashes. UNHCR and ICRC led the emergency response, providing two-room (28 m2) shelters for affected households before the onset of winter in 2010. The ADB provided an additional $24 million to expand (up to 100 m2) and complete 1,500 of those shelters in a second phase of reconstruction in 2011-12.

However, optimism over Mr. Satybaldiev’s elevation may be misplaced. It is debatable whether the new Prime Minister will wish to expend precious political capital to protect those affected persons, the overwhelmingly majority of whom are from the minority (but substantial) Uzbek community. He seems still to accept, if not actively encourage, the inevitable replacement of the mahallahs – the traditional neighbourhoods composed of walled family compounds favoured by the Uzbeks in the centre of Osh – with high-rise apartment blocks. Off the record, even Mr Satybaldiev’s patron, President Almazbek Atambayev is said to have expressed puzzlement and mild exasperation at the international community’s obsession with preserving and reconstructing the mahallahs, in the face of the inexorable march of modernisation and progress.

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Why land matters for mine action

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