Tag Archives: protracted displacement

Article on HLP rights and durable solutions in GPC Digest

by Rhodri C. Williams

A short piece I wrote on the relationship between ‘housing, land and property’ (HLP) rights and durable solutions for displaced persons has been published in the Global Protection Cluster Digest, vol. 1/2014, and can be accessed in pdf form here. I have also added the last draft before final edits just below.

The thrust of the piece will be pretty familiar to any regular readers of this blog. I’ve been going on about the steady demise of the Pinheiro Principles and their exclusive focus on restitution (over other forms of reparation) for some time now. As precedents like the ECHR Demopoulos decision and humanitarian changes in tack like the IDP Durable Solutions Framework crowded in, it became ever more clear that a more balanced approach was justified.

Indeed, even before the spike in global displacement seen since 2011, growing awareness of the problem of protracted displacement had put local integration front and center in international discussions of durable solutions. Where displacement persists because return is not on the table, continuing to emphasize the future hope of restitution can distract both displaced persons and host communities from practical steps to ameliorate the here and now. Meaning that a more balanced approach was also necessary.

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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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Report on property issues and displacement in Libya for UNHCR

by Rhodri C. Williams

Entering Tajoura, picture by the author

Toward Tajoura, March 2012, picture by the author

Many TN readers will be aware that I spent the better part of last Spring working for the UNHCR on a report on housing, land and property (HLP) issues related to displacement in Libya. The research involved interviews with numerous internally displaced persons (IDPs), many of the officials directly or indirectly responsible for their welfare, as well as civil society activists and legal experts. The work was undertaken throughout the north of the country, including Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi, Sirte, Ajdabiya, Tiji, Nalut, Yefren and Kikla.

The resulting report was published earlier this Fall and includes both immediate term recommendations for humanitarian programming and longer term observations on how the process of seeking durable solutions for Libya’s displaced relates to broader dynamics of transitional justice, rule of law reconstruction and sustainable development. Accordingly, those of you who have read my earlier short piece on HLP issues in Libya will find many of the themes introduced there greatly expanded upon here. 

The report goes into some detail and is not a light read at nearly 100 pages. The Executive Summary is a bit more manageable at 15 pages and closely tracks the four part breakdown of the full paper. However, in order to help TN readers get a quick overview of the main points in the paper, I have further compressed the summary down to about five pages, reprinted just below.

A great deal of credit is due to the UNHCR country office in Libya, and particularly to Senior Protection Officer Samuel Cheung, for recognizing early on the need to understand the nexus between property issues and displacement in Libya. The UNHCR also proved farsighted in providing a mandate not only to examine the humanitarian implications of property disputes, but also to extend the analysis to take in concerns related to transitional justice, rule of law and development.

Since its local release last Fall, the report has supported efforts by both national advocates and international observers to ensure that outstanding property questions in Libya are resolved in accordance with international standards. Such efforts will be crucial to achieving an end to the ongoing and protracted displacement of entire communities collectively punished for their imputed support for the Gaddafi regime, and thereby achieving meaningful national reconciliation.

The report also underscores the need for more research and further analysis in order to ensure that the resolution of HLP issues is based on Libyan realities as well as international standards. There have been some very promising signs on this front, including the inclusion of a study on property and housing issues in a broader project related to strengthening rule of law institutions in Libya run by the Hague Institute of Global Justice, as well as plans to shortly include an updated property rights profile of Libya in USAID’s land tenure country profiles series.

In sum – this paper represents a first stab at a complex issue that is crucial to Libya’s future. I am grateful to the UNHCR for giving me the opportunity to participate in this process and look forward to any comments and feedback from TN readers.

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Post-conflict property restitution in Kosovo: A continuing challenge

by Guido van Heugten

Guido van Heugten graduated from the ‘NOHA’ masters program in International Humanitarian Action at Uppsala University). He wrote his thesis on ‘Post-Conflict Property Restitution in Kosovo’.

Even over a decade after the violent conflict of 1999, Kosovo is often still referred to as a ‘hot potato’ that has been passed on from the UN to the EU, which is currently desperately searching for ways to find a resolution for the dispute between the governments in Belgrade and Pristina. The recently elected Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic has stated that Kosovo Serbs are currently living under threat of genocide and that he would not rule out a partition between ethnic Serb and Albanian regions. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on a visit to Kosovo, tried to focus more on common challenges and opportunities and made another attempt to stress the importance of dialogue in order to find resolution to the regions issues.

The population of Kosovo is indeed still much divided between the lines of ethnicity and identity, fuelling a volatile security situation, especially in the Northern provinces surrounding the divided town of Mitrovica. Together with resolution of the political problems relating to Kosovo’s continuing status as a UN protectorate, it is crucial that serious efforts are being made by all stakeholders to finish the property restitution process and ensure respect for housing, land and property (HLP) rights in the context of conflict resolution efforts in the region.

Due to the 1990s trends toward increasing displacement and internal conflicts and the decreasing will of Western states to provide asylum, voluntary return (as opposed to resettlement) became the preferred policy when dealing with displaced populations in post-conflict contexts. This is also expressed by the development of international policy around that time, culminating in the adoption of the ‘Pinheiro Principles’ on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons in 2005.

The 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo caused immense damage to property, which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights determined was not solely an act of vandalism, but an attempt at wiping out signs of the presence of entire populations, including their national and cultural identity.[1] In most UN peacekeeping missions, HLP rights usually do not play a very central role, even though land and property issues are often an underlying cause of conflict. Kosovo however, has been one of the few places where the UN has decided to give property restitution an important role in the peace-building process.[2]

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Can you be internally displaced for twenty years? Housing issues and protracted displacement in Azerbaijan

by Yuliya Aliyeva

Yuliya Aliyeva is a Senior Program Manager at the Caucasus Research Resource Center, Azerbaijan. This blog post is based in part on the publication she co-authored last year for the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, “‘Can you be an IDP for Twenty Years?’ A Comparative Field Study on the Protection Needs and Attitudes towards Displacement among IDPs and Host Communities in Azerbaijan”.  The report co-author, Tabib Huseynov, is the Caucasus Program Manager for Saferworld.

The ongoing conflict with neighbouring Armenia over Azerbaijan’s predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh produced one of the largest flows of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) seen during the deterioration process of the former Soviet Union. Today, some 595,000 people—or seven percent of the total population—remain internally displaced in Azerbaijan.[1] While the two states continue their posturing about the future of Nagorno-Karabakh, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens await durable solutions to their displacement and continue to face major housing and property concerns in particular.

The conflict started in 1988 as Armenians demanded incorporation of Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia. As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, leaving a huge power vacuum behind, inter-communal clashes escalated into a full-scale undeclared war between newly independent Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a result of the fighting, which left some 25,000-30,000 people dead on both sides, Armenian forces gained control over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that together make up 13.6 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. A cease-fire was signed in 1994, which has largely held until today, although the parties have been unable to resolve the political dispute regarding the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

As IDPs fled the conflict areas, they were temporarily settled throughout Azerbaijan. Some of them settled in administrative buildings, schools, unfinished buildings, dormitories and sanatoriums. Others were placed in IDP camps, railway cars, dugout shelters and other sub-standard emergency shelters in rural areas. The housing conditions for some IDPs have improved over time and are now similar to those enjoyed by the general Azerbaijani population. However, for the majority of IDPs, proper housing is still only a dream.

Today, according to official statistics, 86 percent of IDPs in Azerbaijan live in urban areas (mainly in Baku and Sumgait).[2] According to a recent World Bank study, 42.5 percent of IDPs live in one-room accommodations, compared to only 9.1 percent of non-IDPs.[3] As a result, IDP families have an average of 36 square meters of living space compared to 74 square meters for non-IDP families.[4] That being said, there is some diversity among IDP populations and their housing situations. Overall, the IDPs can be divided into four categories based on housing conditions.

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Say it with a resolution: The UN marks two decades of work on internal displacement as new challenges emerge

by Rhodri C. Williams

I tend to count being slightly outside the Geneva loop as a net positive, but every once in a while it means that I get ambushed by major developments in my own field. This has been such a time, with the IDMC announcing the UN Human Rights Council’s adoption by consensus of a ‘historical resolution‘ on internal displacement. As much as I would love to deliver the inside dish on fledgling Resolution A/HRC/20/L.14’s existential significance, I must leave the honors to IDMC:

The substantive resolution is, for the first time, independent from the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on IDPs, representing a strengthened commitment from UN Member States to recognise their own role in promoting and protecting the human rights of IDPs.

So, it seems that the joint and several UN Rapporteurs on internal displacement have so successfully mainstreamed human rights-based approaches to the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that the UN can promote them on its own. Good news considering the controversy that IDP advocacy efforts have occasionally sparked in the past (see Erin Mooney’s wonderful piece on the early IDP debates). However, I was taken aback to read an observation on the timing of the resolution in its preamble:

Welcoming the twentieth anniversary of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons and the considerable results achieved since its creation,

A few things went through my mind at this point. One (facetiously) was that it was a bit cheeky of the Council to celebrate the mandate’s twentieth birthday by beginning to make it redundant. But the other was genuine disbelief that we have already been witness to two decades of IDP advocacy. Having started law school in 1996, the height of the post-Cold War, pre-9/11 human rights window, I was hardly present at the creation but had at least heard about it in real time.

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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.

Addressing systemic obstacles to restitution in Kosovo: Legal aid as a fact finding tool

by Massimo Moratti

In post conflict settings in which internally displaced persons (IDPs) seek to regain possession of their properties, the provision of legal aid becomes an essential service for the protection of their rights in the place of origin. The importance of such services is even greater when significant barriers arise between the place of origin of the IDPs and the place where they are actually displaced. These barriers may not only consist in the physical distance between the two places, but also in the fact that the place of origin of IDPs (in this case, Kosovo), and the place of displacement of IDPs (Serbia) hold diametrically opposed views on the future of Kosovo and are evolving into two separate legal systems with little or no institutional communication. Phone lines, mail and official communication are interrupted and, pending reciprocal recognition or an overall settlement of the issue, their resumption cannot be envisaged in the immediate future.

For these reasons, the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia has partnered with the Serbian authorities to provide legal aid services to IDPs from Kosovo as well as refugees from Bosnia and Croatia through Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) funding. Continue reading

Back to the Balkans – upcoming guest postings on restitution issues in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo

by Rhodri C. Williams

It is a special pleasure for me to announce upcoming guest postings by two old friends and colleagues from the early 2000s, when we were spending all our time monitoring property restitution for the OSCE Mission to Bosnia (including many quality hours in our adjunct office at Sarajevo’s finest čevabdžinica).

First out is repeat TN guest-author Massimo Moratti, who in earlier incarnations brought property restitution to Prijedor and helped to found one of Bosnia’s first extreme sports clubs, but is now engaged as the Team Leader for a legal advising project assisting IDPs from Kosovo in Serbia (full disclosure: I have been brought on as a consultant to the project to provide occasional help with training and legal strategy). Massimo will begin with a piece describing his team’s efforts to build on their individual casework in generating findings indicating which systemic problems still continue to block property restitution and return. This piece is meant to be the first in a series of guest-postings that will highlight new reports generated by the project as they are published.

The issue of durable solutions for Kosovo IDPs is one of the legacies of the 1990s conflicts in the Western Balkans that has slipped so far from the limelight that many people may assume it no longer exists. I wrote about the issue for Brookings last year, focusing on the steps that the Serbian authorities were taking to facilitate integration of IDPs without precluding their eventual right to return. However, Massimo’s pieces will focus on the responsibility of the (de facto, depending on your viewpoint) authorities in Kosovo, as well as their international partners, to respect IDPs’ property rights and create conditions for their voluntary return.

In addition, my mentor in all things Bosnian, Halisa Skopljak, will provide a first time guest posting highlighting emerging judicial practice in Bosnia that threatens to roll back many of the gains made by a post-conflict property restitution process formally deemed complete nearly a decade ago. Halisa, who monitors implementation of the Bosnian criminal codes at the OSCE and graduated in 2010 from Law School in Travnik, will provide an overview of recent jurisprudence in the Serb entity of Bosnia requiring reinstated property claimants to pay exorbitant costs to wartime occupants for alleged improvements.

The following guest-postings have now been published:

Milica Matijevic and Massimo Moratti, Mainstreaming IDP principles in capacity building efforts: A chance missed in Kosovo (13 July 2012)

-Milica Matijevic and Massimo Moratti, In search of a duty-bearer: No remedy for destruction of property during Kosovo’s international supervision (15 May 2012)

-Halisa Skopljak, Unfinished business: Why return issues remain relevant in the process of European integration (03 April 2012)

-Massimo Moratti, Addressing systemic obstacles to restitution in Kosovo: Legal aid as a fact finding tool (23 March 2012)

Upcoming guest postings by the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement

by Rhodri C. Williams

Rounding out a run of guest-posting announcements, I am very pleased to introduce an upcoming set of contributions by the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. For those of you not familiar with the Project, it is a small unit within the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy section that has not only played an outsized role in promoting effective responses to internal displacement, but also in laying the ground for rights-based approaches to humanitarian crises at a broader level.

The Project has been closely associated with the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur tasked with advising on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) since 1992 (formally in the guise of a ‘Representative to the UN Secretary General or ‘RSG’ until 2010).  Thus, the ‘LSE’ component refers to the academic home of the current mandate holder, Chaloka Beyani. This comes after a 2004-2010 period as ‘Brookings-Bern’ in reference to prior mandate-holder Walter Kälin, and earlier stint as ‘Brookings-SAIS’ in association with the first RSG, Francis Deng.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that the opportunity to work with Brookings early and often in my consultancy career not only made that career viable but also helped to expand my horizons tremendously. When the legendary IDP advocate Roberta Cohen plucked me out of obscurity to coordinate the development of a comprehensive manual on national response to internal displacement, I was quickly pushed out of my comfort zone of Balkan restitution issues and began to engage with the entire range of humanitarian, human rights and advocacy issues that still bedevil effective responses to the fundamental vulnerability of losing one’s home.

I am therefore happy to observe that Brookings is still going strong and recently published a raft of publications of both broad, humanitarian interest and more narrow relevance for the housing, land and property (HLP) community. The guest postings scheduled for the next weeks will feature a number of these.

First, Elizabeth Ferris, Brookings Project Co-Director, and her collaborators Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark will present their recent report From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Approaches to Internal Displacement. The report builds on an assessment of the implementation of the non-binding but seminal UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in fifteen of the world’s countries “most affected by internal displacement due to conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations”. The authors not only review the general conclusions of the report but also elaborate some of the most important findings related to HLP issues in internal displacement settings.

Second, Roberto Vidal, law professor at the Javeriana University of Bogota, will be writing on property-related themes related to his extensive recent work with the Project. And, third, authors Yulia Gureyeva-Aliyeva and Tabib Huseynov will be writing on their recent Brookings report “Can You Be an IDP for Twenty Years?” A Comparative Field Study on the Protection Needs and Attitudes Toward Displacement Among IDPs and Host Communities in Azerbaijan. While numerous HLP issues arise in relation to protracted displacement in Azerbaijan, some of the most difficult reflect tensions between IDPs and host communities and have been litigated as far as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg:

At the time of displacement many IDPs in urban and rural areas arbitrarily seized houses and land, which belonged (or were assigned later) to local residents. According to executive decrees, IDPs cannot be evicted from their places of residence—even those which they do not legally own—unless they are provided with alternative living arrangements. This has led some homeowners to take their cases all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, which questioned the existing government practices as a violation of property rights.

UPDATE – the following guest-postings have now been published:

– Yulia Aliyeva, Can you be internally displaced for twenty years? Housing issues and protracted displacement in Azerbaijan (12 September 2012)

– From National Responsibility to Response – Part II: IDPs’ Housing, Land and Property Rights (22 February 2012)

 From National Responsibility to Response – Part I: General Conclusions on IDP Protection (21 February 2012)