Tag Archives: RSG IDPs

Sargsyan and Chiragov: The Strasbourg Court takes aim at frozen conflicts?

by Rhodri C. Williams

Last week I joined Philip Leach of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) in Strasbourg to present the European Court of Human Rights’ June 2015 judgments in two cases related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to government representatives at the Council of Europe, at a briefing event organised by the European Implementation Network and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The cases were Sargsyan v Azerbaijan and Chiragov v. Armenia, which were effectively joined by being relinquished from their original chambers to the same composition of the Grand Chamber in 2010. Both judgments found continuing violations of the applicants’ rights to property and their homes (as well as an effective remedy) based on their displacement in the early 1990s and subsequent inability to return to or access their properties.

While not (yet) signaling the initiation of a pilot judgment procedure, the court notes that the cases typify repetitive claims resulting from the respondent states’ failure to peacefully resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, reiterate the “primordial” importance of subsidiarity to the functioning of the Convention system, and recommend that both states take immediate steps to address property claims on their own steam:

…it would appear particularly important to establish a property claims mechanism, which should be easily accessible and provide procedures operating with flexible evidentiary standards, allowing the applicant and others in his situation to have their property rights restored and to obtain compensation for the loss of their enjoyment. (Sargsyan, para. 238, Chiragov, para. 199)

Taken together, the judgments represent intriguing developments at a number of levels. Continue reading

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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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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

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 National Responsibility to Response – Part II: IDPs’ Housing, Land and Property Rights

by Elizabeth Ferris, Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark

This post continues our discussion of the study entitled “From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Response to Internal Displacement” recently released by the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement.

Addressing housing, land, and property (HLP) issues is a key component of national responsibility. Principle 29 of the non-binding but widely accepted Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement emphasizes that competent authorities have a duty to assist IDPs to recover their property and possessions or, when recovery is not possible, to obtain appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation.

The 2005 Framework for National Responsibility – which set the benchmarks we applied in our current study – reaffirms this responsibility (in Benchmark 10, “support durable solutions”) and flags a number of the challenges that often arise, such as IDPs’ lack of formal title or other documentary evidence of land and property ownership; the destruction of any such records due to conflict or natural disaster; and discrimination against women in laws and customs regulating property ownership and inheritance.  The Framework for National Responsibility stresses that, “Government authorities should anticipate these problems and address them in line with international human rights standards and in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner.”

The extent to which a government has safeguarded HLP rights, including by assisting IDPs to recover their housing, land, and property thus was among the indicators by which we evaluated the efforts of each of the 15 governments examined in our study. Our findings emphasized the importance of both an adequate legal and policy framework for addressing displacement related HLP issues and the role that bodies charged with adjudication and monitoring can play in ensuring implementation.

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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)