Tag Archives: land records

Cleaning up the maps? Portents of unilateral partition in Syria

by Rhodri C. Williams

One of the chilling by-products of the wars in the former Yugoslavia two decades ago was the development of antiseptic terminology like ‘ethnic cleansing’, a neologism that managed to obscure the most visceral and intimate fratricide Europe had seen in decades behind a whiff of wiper fluid. Personally, I was always most disturbed by the related idea of ‘cleaning up the maps’, a notion that departed entirely from any notion of humanity (at least the cleansing was admittedly ‘ethnic’) and equated living communities with any other natural barriers that might impede the march of progress.

Map-cleaning emerged as a term of art at the time of the fall of Srebrenica, one of a number of embattled enclaves in Bosnia that presented both logistically and strategically challenging anomalies in the territorial carve-up then viewed as an essentially inevitable outcome of the war. Get everybody on the right side of defensible lines, so the theory, and the map becomes a blueprint for a durable peace. The problem, as demonstrated in Srebrenica in July 1995, is that the tidying can take the form of flight, or forced removal, or mass murder, depending on the circumstances. Whatever capacity maps may have to be tidy, wars rarely are.

For some time now, the specter of partition has hung over Syria, albeit in a context in which it was not seen as a desired option for any of the parties to the conflict. Rather, as described by Jim Muir at the BBC, de facto partition of the country is likely to result as an inevitable status quo from a situation in which no side is likely to be able to achieve a complete victory over any other. Meanwhile, commentators such as Robin Yassin-Kassab (here) and Marwa Daoudy (in Open Democracy) remain at pains to point out that the Syria conflict is only sectarian to the extent that the Assad regime has made it so in a bid to consolidate and militarize its most reliable constituencies and demonize peaceful protesters.

As described by Daoudy, this tactic may have taken on a dynamic that the regime may now no longer be able or willing to control: Continue reading

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Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: A new global standard for land administration

by Douglas Batson

Douglas Batson joined the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) as a political geographer in 2004. He previously worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Justice, and is now retired from the U.S. Army Reserve. Batson wrote on “Snow Leopards and Cadastres: Rare Sightings in Post-conflict Afghanistan” in Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, and provides an update in this guest-posting.

My chapter in Part 3 of Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding begins with an overview of the challenges faced by U.S. and coalition forces in rebuilding Afghanistan during the 2000s, and specifically the need for a cadastral system that records the array of relationships between people and land. It also discusses the problems of refugee resettlement in the context of the post-war population explosion and the environmental destruction from decades of conflict. The discussion of secure tenure to land describes local initiatives including dispute resolution and management of land resources. It concludes by underscoring the potential of the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) to record heretofore undocumentable, orally defined forms of customary land tenure.

Shortly after the completion of my chapter, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) took up the LADM as a draft standard. I had the opportunity to advocate full adoption of the LADM as an ISO standard to the U.S. Federal Geographic Data Committee. This effort included addressing concerns about the cost of conforming 3,100 disparate U.S. county-level Land Administration Systems (LAS) to a new global standard. The LADM’s value, I argued, lies less in its utility for the U.S. homeland, than in its relevance for U.S. security, diplomacy, and development goals, in a context in which 75% of the world’s people-to-land relationships, or 4.5 billion cases worldwide, are not documented. This situation clearly invites land disputes, land grabbing, and violent conflict.

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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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Dye mon, gen mon – Land and shelter issues remain critical in post-quake Haiti

by Rhodri C. Williams

After blogging quite a lot on Haiti up till the New York donors’ conference back in March, my attention wandered a bit to other issues and regions. However, its been impossible to avoid noticing a steady drumbeat of reports over the last weeks indicating that a number of key pillars of the shelter and durable solutions strategies endorsed in New York seem to be faltering just as the new rainy season closes in on the beleaguered country.

Rebuilding after a disaster of the magnitude of Haiti’s quake will inevitably be a fraught process, subject to setbacks and delays. Even in relatively better off and better prepared Chile, IFRC reports that shelter and health issues remain a serious concern for those affected by the February quake there. But what is painful about the current impasse in Haiti is how quickly the cautious optimism generated in the run-up to the donor conference seems to be bogging down in a slurry of indecisiveness. Reading about it, I keep recalling a rather sad little Haitian proverb a colleague kept quoting in my grad school days of yore – back in the 90s when pre-quake Haiti was already seen as a basket case. “Dye mon, gen mon” went the title of her thesis: beyond the mountains, more mountains.

I began refocusing on Haiti after coming across an IHT editorial in mid-May that noted that the 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the quake remain, by and large, displaced. According to the editorial, only 7,500 people had been moved out of dangerous and overcrowded tent cities in the capital to planned transitional shelter areas due to the failure of the government to acquire appropriate sites, as well as the destruction of property records and growing neighborhood resistance to letting indigent newcomers put down roots. Meanwhile, the failure of humanitarian agencies to shift their operations beyond the capital was undermining the great decentralization plan, as urban IDPs began trickling back from the rural areas where they had found shelter in order to access aid.

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