Tag Archives: IDMC

Week in links – week 12/2011

The current march of historic events continues apace with the aftermath of the Sendai quake still causing headlines and a new chapter in the annals of R2P being written in the skies over Libya. Quite a few bits of less dramatic but very interesting HLP-related news as well, many detailed below.

Some interesting things coming up on TN as well – in addition to a number of individual guest-postings currently in the works, I am very excited to announce that Landesa has offered to periodically cross-post pieces from their excellent Field Focus blog. Look out for a debut piece early this week.

Turning to the news, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) just released their global overview for 2010. The conclusions are sobering, with a new rise in overall conflict-related internal displacement and the consolidation of a number of negative trends such as protracted displacement situations and displacement due to generalized violence (e.g. criminal activities as opposed to ordinary armed conflict).

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, recently submitted his annual report, this year with a plug for ‘agroecology’ – a cultivation technique identified by Mr. De Schutter after an “extensive review of the scientific literature” as most likely to help states “achieve a reorientation of their agricultural systems towards modes of production that are highly productive, highly sustainable and that contribute to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate food.” Kudos to Mr. De Schutter for sparing the rest of us the scientific literature and moving the debate over global agriculture in an interesting new direction.

In the wake of the triple catastrophe in Japan, the New York Times reports on how much of the affected coast was inhabited by elderly persons unlikely to rebuild. In the clinical terminology of climate change, the obvious question is whether the abandonment of many of these obliterated towns and villages will ultimately come to be seen as a form of adaptation to be replicated in other parts of the world. As the Times notes, it is hardly the first time the question has come up:

“We faced exactly the same question after Katrina,” said John Campbell, [a] visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo. “There was a big discussion about whether we should rebuild the Ninth Ward, since it was below sea level, and so on. In terms of economic rationality, it didn’t make any sense, really. But on the other hand, it’s where these people lived, and there were emotional reasons to do it.

Meanwhile the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) released its mid-term review, halfway through the ten year period envisioned for implementation of the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action. In an almost morbid quirk of timing, the document was released two days before the catastrophe in Japan, rendering its calls for greater attention to disaster risk eerily antiquated: “…the Hyogo Framework for Action is the world’s only blueprint for staving off losses caused by natural hazards, often overshadowed by news on losses from war, unemployment or inflation.” With all due respect to Col. Ghadafi’s current bout of attention-seeking, this shouldn’t be an issue now.

After quite a lot of coverage earlier this year, the renewed efforts to achieve land restitution in Colombia fell off TN’s radar somewhat. However, things seem to be moving forward – here, NPR reports on how some land has already been returned to displaced owners (it is unclear on what basis this has occurred) as well as on how restitution remains tied to broader agricultural reform goals.

Finally, having cited EurasiaNet earlier on the lengths gone to by Azerbaijan’s IDPs to avoid locally integrating in order to maintain their prospects for return, I have now found a companion piece on Transitions OnLine on how far Armenians in contested territories will go in order to maintain their competing claims:

The people here acknowledge that life in villages is difficult and boring, especially when there is no electricity. But they persevere. “This land needs to be tended,” Khachatryan says. “My children have to plant trees, harvest crops, and have children here to understand this is the homeland and it needs to be kept,” Khachatryan says, lighting the oil lamp with care.

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Choosing in the absence of choice: Protracted displacement and integration

by Rhodri C. Williams

This week, my blogging is likely to suffer a bit as a result of my participation in a timely and interesting meeting on protracted displacement. The conference – or more accurately, the “Second Expert Seminar on Protracted Internal Displacement” – is supported by a dedicated webpage at IDMC with a good overview of what will be discussed and a useful selection of background documents.

The prior ‘first expert seminar’ in 2007 addressed the problem of protracted internal displacement quite broadly and provided an important service by simply defining it. The definition selected departed somewhat from those proposed in the past for for protracted refugee situations in that it dispensed with minimum durations of displacement or numbers of people affected in favor of focusing on the obstacles posed to internally displaced persons’ (IDPs’) rights and dignity by the sheer fact that prospects for voluntary durable solutions remain indefinitely remote.

The current seminar focuses on local integration as a solution to displacement. As described in my background paper on Serbia, as well as the five other highly informative case-studies commissioned for this meeting, local integration may often be inevitable but is rarely a popular political choice. For instance, in conflict-related displacement situations, integration may be seen by the authorities and even IDPs themselves as undermining policies meant to ensure the reintegration of breakaway regions through mass return.

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IDMC report: Colombia restitution bill represents significant progress but concerns remain

by Sebastián Albuja

IDMC has just published a report on land restitution for IDPs in Colombia, entitled ‘Building momentum for land restoration: Towards property restitution for IDPs in Colombia.’ The report examines progress towards property restitution for IDPs in Colombia, placing a restitution bill recently introduced by the Government in the context of previous initiatives, analyzing its contents and potential obstacles, and offering recommendations to guarantee victims’ rights in the process. We are glad to introduce the report here and we invite TN readers to download it at our website.

Protracted internal armed conflict and massive human rights abuses by illegal armed groups in Colombia have resulted in extensive loss of land by internally displaced people (IDPs) over the last decades. The number of IDPs is estimated to be between 3.3 and 4.9 million, most of them peasants, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians. Roughly half of all internally displaced families owned or occupied land before their displacement, and virtually all of them have lost it as a result.

Displacement and land loss have also meant loss of livelihoods—around half of Colombia’s IDPs were above the poverty threshold before displacement, compared with only three per cent afterwards.  Giving IDPs back their land is therefore an urgent task as it is a hugely complex one.

There have been several attempts to start a restitution process in the last five years, but none of them have been successful, mostly because the government’s will to return land to IDPs has been shown lacking. The Constitutional Court has taken steps to encourage restitution.  In January 2009, it ordered the government to take comprehensive steps to redress the land rights of IDPs and to put in place mechanisms to prevent future violations.

The newly-installed Santos administration pledged during the election campaign to restitute land to Colombia’s IDPs and has now taken steps to fulfill its promise by bringing a bill for land restitution to Congress in September 2010. The bill offers a realistic opportunity to provide restitution, based on government support that previous attempts lacked.

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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.

Iraq’s next Parliament to inherit unresolved displacement and housing crises

by Rhodri C. Williams

Parliamentary polls in Iraq have gotten off to a bloody start and pre-election controversies over attempts to bar former Baathists from running – as well as ongoing tensions along the boundary with the Kurdish region in the north – do not bode well for stability in the post-election period. However, in its latest overview of internal displacement in Iraq, IDMC issued a timely reminder yesterday that the human consequences of earlier rounds of violence remain unresolved.

For starters, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis remained displaced within Iraq and in neighboring countries as a result of the sectarian violence that exploded after the 2006 bombing of the Al-Askari shrine in Samarra, and one of the main obstacles to durable solutions remains occupation of their homes:

There are significant numbers of unresolved property issues for pre- and post-2006 IDPs. The current extent of secondary displacement is not known, though an estimated 15 per cent of returned IDPs and 56 per cent of repatriated refugees were in 2009 reportedly unable to access their property (UNHCR, December 2009). In September 2008, MoDM reported that almost 3,500 properties were illegally occupied, including houses, flats, other buildings and land, though anecdotal evidence suggests higher rates of secondary occupation. Nearly 36 per cent of IDPs report their property has been destroyed or damaged and 18 per cent that it is being occupied illegally by militias, local residents or other IDPs; many fear harassment should they attempt to reclaim property (UNHCR, December 2009).

Meanwhile, the background to this displacement crisis is a housing crisis of monumental proportions, with some 1.3 million housing units – or just under one-third more than the current nationwide total of 2.8 million – needed in order to meet demand. The NY Times recently reported on the effects of the shortfall in housing, a daily round of “bathroom crises” that loom larger in the lives of many ordinary Iraqis than lustration of Baathists or distribution of oil revenues:

Beneath the grand issues hanging over Iraq, like the coming national elections or the continuing violence, the day-to-day lives of most Iraqis turn on more quotidian concerns: the lack of electricity; the pervasive corruption; and a housing shortage that forces two, three, even four families to live under the same roof.

Finally, an ongoing process of returning property wrongfully confiscated by the Baathist regime before 2003 is likely to constitute a headache not only for the next round of Parliamentarians but the next…and the next…and the next. A statement by Peter van der Auweraert of IOM at a conference on Iraqi displacement last November indicated that even this fairly well-established restitution program will take two decades to complete at current rates of processing.

As Mr. van der Auweraert and other observers have noted, relatively simple reforms could drastically speed both the pre-2003 and post-2006 restitution processes. Moreover, implementation of a National Housing Plan currently under development with input from UN HABITAT could both facilitate restitution in the short term and put paid to the thousands of bathroom crises over the longer view. A pretty tall order for a new Parliament, but a crucial one.