by Rhodri C. Williams
Although I gather that the Government of Kenya is serious about implementing the February 2010 decision by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in the ‘Endorois case‘, I have yet to hear much about what actual progress has been made in the nearly two years since it was issued. However, an article in the Guardian on the recent displacement of Kenya’s Samburu people indicates that the fundamental lesson of the Endorois decision may be slow in sinking in, at a high cost to indigenous peoples in East Africa.
One striking thing about the Samburu case is the broad similarity it bears to the original Endorois evictions in 1974. This includes the fact the Samburu are also a pastoralist people, that they have been moved through acts of official violence and intimidation to marginal areas at the edge of their former homeland, and that the justification for the eviction in both cases involved the creation of a nature reserve. In both cases, national litigation appears to focus on formal title issue without apparent regard to customary ownership (or “indigenous title” in the ACHPR’s parlance). Coincidentally (or not?) both cases even involve land associated with former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi.
However, one factor clearly distinguishing the Samburu case is the involvement of two international charities, the Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation in acquiring the land and gifting it to Kenya for use as a nature park. While the Guardian reports that both are maintaining a watchful silence, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure that will inevitably mount on them. Given the public profile of these organizations, neither are likely to tolerate the patterns of cooptation and brutality apparently encouraged with regard to pastoralists by private safari park interests in neighboring Tanzania (I linked to an MRG account of this situation earlier here; for an exhaustive report by a Swedish observer who was actually expelled from the country for her troubles, see the view from the termite mound).
Whether the Nature Conservancy and AWF will be willing to act as decisively as the Body Shop did in Colombia last year in response to allegations of land-grabbing by one of its suppliers is another question. In that case, an NGO, Christian Aid, was able to act as an intermediary between the aggrieved Colombian farmers and a fundamentally sympathetic company. In the case of the Samburu, however, another NGO, Survival International, has taken a more skeptical stance. Upon reading their press release and watching a documentary clip on the evictions by Channel 4, it is not too hard to see why.
by Erica Harper
The international community has traditionally concentrated its legal development activities on the reform of formal justice sector institutions: the courts, legislature, police and correctional services. As it has become clear that these approaches have been relatively unsuccessful in improving access to justice for poor and disadvantaged populations, attention has shifted to the role that customary justice systems might play in the programming of governments, international organizations and NGOs operating in development, post-conflict or post-disaster contexts. A strong argument can be put forward that, in most developing countries, the state cannot provide justice services to its entire population and it might not be the most cost-effective provider of these services. Moreover, part of the reason that customary systems exist is due to shortcomings in formal justice systems.
Sometimes these shortcomings are connected to issues of physical access or dysfunctions such as discrimination or corruption; they can also be because state justice fails to respond to the needs and social imperatives of disputants in the way that the customary system does. Such arguments have influenced the rule of law programming strategies of many organizations. A review of the current policy and programmatic landscape reveals a growing consensus that, despite some obvious challenges, excluding customary justice systems from reform strategies may not be the best approach for enhancing access to justice and protecting the rights of vulnerable groups. There is a growing appeal for strategies that aim to improve the quality of outcomes resolved at the community level by building on the positive aspects of customary systems, particularly their reach and popularity, and attempting to reform negative practices.
But while there is now greater consensus around the issue of engaging with the customary sector, programmatic guidance on how this should occur remains scant. Moreover, partnering with customary justice systems raises new and important concerns. Principally, how can customary systems be supported while at the same time ensuring that this does not equate with a recognition or formalization of rights-abrogating practices? Such concerns have arguably led to technocratic ‘fix it’ programming, such as reforming customary laws to strengthen procedural or substantive protections, or modifying the state-customary interface with a view to regulating or harmonizing the two frameworks. This is problematic because where customary norms do not align with international human rights standards, there are often complex rationales in play, touching upon issues such as culture, socio-economic factors and security. Approaches that concentrate on bringing customary systems into alignment with international norms can thus be, at best ineffective and at worst harmful.
A further concern is the gap between the proliferation of customary justice programs and the evidence and knowledge base on which such programming is grafted. There have been few comprehensive or empirically driven efforts that reflect on or evaluate the impact of past programming efforts. Nor has there been sufficient critical analysis of the objectives of customary justice programming: is the aim to support or supplement state courts, to act as a venue for a decentralization of state legal services, or to form part of a broader spectrum approach to accessing justice? One result is that development practitioners have tended to re-apply programs designed for use at the state level rather than craft activities specifically for use in customary contexts, and replicate activities perceived to have been effective elsewhere without a proper understanding of what conditions facilitated such results.
These questions promted the International Development Law Organization to conduct research into the impact of customary law programming in developing countries. This research culminated in two volumes: “Customary Justice: From Program Design to Impact Evaluation” and an edited volume: “Working with Customary Justice Systems: Post-Conflict and Fragile States”. Continue reading
Posted in Guest posting, Resources
Tagged access to justice, customary law, development, gender, IDLO, justice for the poor, land disputes, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, women's rights
This week picks up a few interesting items from the end of last year as well as some more updated texts:
– Now that the referendum on South Sudan’s separation appears to have gone off peacefully, attention is turning to the contested territory of Abyei. As described in this NYT article, Abyei represents a microcosm of the North-South conflict but one which has, alarmingly, been left on the sidelines of last week’s putative solution. Here’s a sample:
“We will go to war over this,” said Rou Minyiel Rou, a veterinarian in Abyei. “This is about land, and we can’t compromise on land.”
– Anyone remember Osh? Fortunately Transitions OnLine does, and they released a series of reports last week on the aftermath of last June’s orchestrated attacks on Uzbek minority communities in this town in southern Kyrgyzstan. The first two reports focus squarely on land and property issues, including the plight of women left behind to safeguard destroyed family homes, and ongoing ethnic tensions over land access in the region. Against a chilling backdrop of arbitrary arrests of Uzbek men, the latter report notes that the reconstruction of Uzbek neighborhoods may not take place according to the victims’ preferences:
Other unsubstantiated claims center around the urban plan under discussion by city authorities. Few details have been released, but the plan is said to include building apartment blocks in place of the traditional family compounds where many Uzbeks live. Uzbek neighborhoods take up large areas of the city, particularly in central districts and around the famous Suleiman Mountain.
– Carl Soderbergh of Minority Rights Group International (MRG) wrote a two part report in the MRG Blog late last year on the threatened land rights of the Maasai in Tanzania. The first part of the report analogizes latter day practices of removing this indigenous group from the environs of a wildlife park with the colonial doctrine of terra nullius (sound familiar?) used to justify earlier annexations. The second part examines the violent expulsion of another group of Maasai from a wildlife sanctuary acquired on disputed legal grounds by the American tour operator Thomson Safaris. Fully 37 years after the facts that triggered the Endorois decision by the ACHPR in neighboring Kenya, this must be only one of many more such cases in the making.