Tag Archives: protection

Addressing injustice and managing expectations: Displacement and transitional justice discourses in Northern Uganda

by Rhodri C. Williams

Last week, I announced the publication of a new book on Displacement and Transitional Justice and provided an overview of some of the main themes touched on in my chapter on restitution in humanitarian and transitional justice contexts. My basic conclusions were twofold: First, that restitution has come to the fore in humanitarian practice not only due to its practical utility as a means of facilitating durable solutions to displacement, but also as part of the adoption of rights-based approaches by humanitarian actors. And, second, that restitution may actually be a more comfortable fit in transitional justice practice, given both the latter’s more direct concern with redressing violations (as opposed to ameliorating resulting vulnerability) and its political emphasis on sustainably transforming societies.

I wanted to return to these themes because I believe it is crucial to acknowledge the difficulty of drawing any tidy conclusions in any of these areas or even assuming that well-intentioned international forays into their post-conflict application are always effective. In fact, both transitional justice and humanitarian responses to displacement remain contested terrain, and one of the challenges in writing on restitution in this context was the need to deal with challenges to the legitimacy and effectiveness of both fields while describing a tactic for addressing past displacement – restitution – that has also become mired in controversy.

The whipsaw nature of these debates is exemplified by comparing recent commentaries on their fallout in Africa, and specifically Uganda. First, in a 2009 press release, the Refugee Law Project of Uganda’s Makerere University welcomes the recently adopted African Union ‘Kampala Convention‘ on internal displacement as “an important step towards clearly recognising the role of transitional justice in resolving forced migration situations”. The drafters of the press release made this connection in light of the Convention’s inclusion of reparatory measures meant to “take stock of the causes of and redress the violence of displacement.”

However, two years later, Makerere University visiting scholar Adam Branch wrote in Pambazuka to excoriate both concepts. While the earlier Makerere University press release and Branch’s later critique represent diametrically opposed viewpoints on the potential for international discourses to address local atrocities, I believe that they are also intimately linked. In essence, the Makerere statement represents the type of expectations – both realistic and unrealistic – that humanitarian responses to displacement as well as transitional justice measures tend to be burdened with. Branch’s article, by contrast, represents the tendency to dismiss both categories of measures when these expectations fail to be fully met.

This dichotomy of responses raises a number of familiar dilemmas. At a broad level, it invokes the risk that any international engagement always bears, namely that attention may be diverted from the primary responsibility of domestic actors to guarantee respect for human rights. Assuming that international engagement is unlikely to grind to a halt tomorrow over this moral hazard, a more practical dilemma involves how international actors and standards can make a positive difference without raising expectations that exceed their capacities, mandates and resources. In analyzing this question, it may be helpful to undertake a closer reading of Branch’s critique.

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Protection in the past tense: New book on displacement and transitional justice explores the role of restitution

by Rhodri C. Williams

This summer, the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) published a new edited volume on Transitional Justice and Displacement (click here for the free PDF version) together with the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. The book was based on an initial round of research papers and has been accompanied by a much shorter policy brief. All of these resources have been prominently featured on dedicated pages at both the ICTJ website and at Brookings. The volume forms part of a broader series on Advancing Transitional Justice and was edited by Roger Duthie, a senior associate at the ICTJ and a patient and thoughtful collaborator – qualities I appreciated greatly in drafting the third chapter of the book on housing, land and property (HLP) restitution.

The book’s authors chart the relationship between humanitarian responses to displacement and the traditional components of transitional justice (prosecution, truth-telling, institutional reform and reparations) along with more recently articulated concerns such as gender justice. The broader issue of reparations for displacement was ably addressed by Peter van der Auweraert, head of the IOM’s land and reparations program and past TN guest-blogger. In one sense, my chapter on HLP restitution was much narrower than Peter’s. After all, HLP violations are only one of the many types of injuries typically suffered in the course of displacement, and restitution is only one of the forms of redress that can be applied. At the same time, what I enjoyed most about writing the chapter was the opportunity it gave me to think at the broadest possible level about how the fundamental goals and methods of humanitarian action comport with those of transitional justice and even development assistance.

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From National Responsibility to Response – Part I: General Conclusions on IDP Protection

by Elizabeth Ferris, Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark

The Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement recently released a study entitled “From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Response to Internal Displacement“. The study examined 15 out of the 20 countries with the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations—Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen.

According to estimates, these 15 countries represent over 70 percent of the world’s 27.5 million conflict-induced IDPs.  Wherever possible, we also tried to include government efforts to address internal displacement by natural disasters. But in this and the subsequent blog post, we will focus on our main general conclusions as well as particular issues around housing, land and property (HLP) rights that emerged from our analysis (see Part II of this posting).

The study looks at how governments have fared in terms of implementing 12 practical steps (“benchmarks”) to prevent and address internal displacement, as outlined in the 2005 Brookings publication entitled “Addressing Internal Displacement: A Framework for National Responsibility.” The 12 benchmarks are as follows:

1. Prevent displacement and minimize its adverse effects.
2. Raise national awareness of the problem.
3. Collect data on the number and conditions of IDPs.
4. Support training on the rights of IDPs.
5. Create a legal framework for upholding the rights of IDPs.
6. Develop a national policy on internal displacement.
7. Designate an institutional focal point on IDPs.
8. Support national human rights institutions to integrate internal displacement into their work.
9. Ensure the participation of IDPs in decisionmaking.
10. Support durable solutions.
11. Allocate adequate resources to the problem.
12. Cooperate with the international community when national capacity is insufficient.

Stepping back from HLP issues (to be addressed in a subsequent set of comments in Part II of this guest posting), we drew several key observations on our overall findings. Continue reading

Refugees International on civilian protection: a cautionary note on Blue Helmet HLP interventions

by Rhodri C. Williams

Refugees International just released a report on peacekeeping and civilian protection that makes for some interesting but sobering reading from an housing, land and property (HLP) rights perspective. This in a context where a number of advocacy documents have recently called for peacekeepers to be given a greater role in protecting the property rights of displaced civilians, ranging from ensuring that abandoned properties are not occupied or destroyed to enforcing, where necessary, orders for the eviction of occupants of claimed properties.

For instance, the UN Secretary General’s 2007 report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict recommended “strategic deployment of peacekeeping troops to prevent evictions and the illegal appropriation of land and property” as well as “the inclusion of [HLP] issues as an integral part of future peacekeeping and other missions, with provisions for dedicated, expert capacity to address these issues” (paragraph 59).

UN-HABITAT has gone further in its 2007 “Post-Conflict Land Administration and Peacebuilding Handbook“, proposing that international security forces be mandated to provide assistance in lawful evictions from occupied property (page 23) and that UN peacekeeping forces carry out eviction orders against criminal elements where necessary to execute demolition orders for illegally built structures (page 33).

Finally, the 2005 Pinheiro Principles call for international peace operations to help maintain a a secure and stable environment such that restitution programs can be implemented (Principle 22.5) and, upon request, to “support the protection of the right to housing, land and property restitution, including through the enforcement of restitution decisions and judgments” (Principle 22.6). UN Security Council members are encouraged to consider including these roles in the mandate of peace operations.

By contrast, the new Refugees International report points out the difficulties peacekeeping missions have faced in the exercise of the most fundamental protection mandate imaginable, namely the physical protection of civilians under “imminent threat of violence”. The report points out that structuring even such basic protection is often complicated by the failure of peacekeeping mandates to provide guidance on how to prioritize numerous conflicting tasks. However, it also notes the structural difficulty of getting trained soldiers to to do things they were not trained for – and do them well and consistently:

The lack of clarity is made even more challenging by the fact that peacekeepers do not have a standard doctrine on how to conduct protection activities. This forces peacekeepers to improvise tactics in the field. Traditional military doctrines and training were built mainly to defend territories, not to protect individuals. While a refugee camp is more straightforward to defend, it is much more difficult to plan an operation to protect civilians in far-flung communities.

The report does not really address protection of abandoned property, with the implication that the authors may view this as the type of peripheral task that can raise dangerous expectations on the part of affected populations while distracting peacekeepers from the type of basic protection work they may actually be able to achieve.

This conclusion would largely resonate with international experience in Bosnia, where peacekeepers’ presence and arrests of war crimes suspects was helpful in achieving an overall security environment conducive to restitution but any direct military involvement in actual evictions would have invoked rather unhelpful shades of prior ethnic cleansing and undermined the idea that addressing property disputes was an essentially civilian rule of law exercise.

Moreover, post-Bosnia situations in which international military personnel have been drawn into property disputes appear to reinforce RI’s central point that uninformed protection interventions will lead to improvised, ad hoc outcomes, potentially doing  more harm than good. A good example is provided by Human Rights Watch’s description, in its 2004 Claims in Conflict report on northern Iraq:

In the absence of any legal framework or practical mechanism for resolving property disputes, U.S. forces in some places began conducting their own mediations to resolve property disputes. There appeared to be no coordinated approach to these mediations, and the approach of different U.S. commanders varied widely. Some commanders told Human Rights Watch that they refused to engage in resolving property disputes. ….

Other U.S. troops, however, decided to play a limited mediation role, to resolve the least controversial of property disputes and to prevent inter-ethnic violence. The U.S. efforts presented a host of problems. While well-intentioned, the ad hoc mediations were often conducted by U.S. military personnel with limited knowledge of the complex property issues involved, and without the guidance of a standardized framework to ensure fairness. No clear guidelines were developed to structure the ad hoc mediations, so the weight given to different claims was determined by the mediators, rather than by standardized policies. Neither was it clear that all affected parties, including the displaced Arabs, were fully represented at the negotiations. ….

This message is underscored by the fact that forthcoming UN guidance to humanitarian actors in the field – who could reasonably expected to be more sensitized to the complexities of HLP issues than peacekeepers – has adopted ‘do no harm’ as its departure point and primarily advises humanitarians to avoid getting in over their heads where possible and to defer to land tenure experts.

Given the fundamental importance of HLP issues to security and stability in post-conflict settings, it is not unreasonable to expect peacekeepers to be aware of them and to consciously take on at least indirect roles in securing HLP rights in the course of exercising their mandate. However, RI’s findings serve as a reminder that unclear and unrealistic expectations of what peacekeepers can do will serve no one’s interest.