Tag Archives: UN-HABITAT

Upcoming guest postings and recent HLP resources

An apology to TN readers for the sparseness of recent postings. It has been one of those periods where the non-blog related aspects of one’s life (there are a few) predominate and I am particularly grateful to recent guest bloggers such as Anneke Smit, Yulia AliyevaRoger Duthie and Megan Bradley for keeping things interesting. Most recently, Megan Bradley has teamed up again, this time with Mike Asplet, to co-author a very intriguing piece on how the new Kampala Convention deals with property issues in durable solutions.

I would also like to take this opportunity to announce a few upcoming guest-postings. These include a piece by Guido van Heugten based on his recent thesis on property restitution in Kosovo, as well as a co-authored update on land issues and de-mining by GICHD’s Sharmala Naidoo and UN-HABITAT’s Szilard Fricska. In addition, Ayla Gürel, with whom I previously collaborated on Cyprus research, will be introducing the PRIO Cyprus Centre’s innovative new project on tracking displacement and dispossession. Finally, I am hopeful that Anneke Smit may soon provide an update to her earlier observations on indigenous land ownership in Canada. And to top it off, I gather that Kaigyluu may once again be stirred to write on HLP issues in Kyrgyzstan.

With all that out of the way, there have been a number of developments on the housing, land and property front, and I would like to highlight just a few here. I am hoping that some of the involved parties may soon guest-post in more detail on them, but wanted to introduce them in brief and without further delay.

First, the Global Protection Cluster – the flagship body of the ongoing UN-led humanitarian reform process – has just launched a new website. Having migrated from the defunct humanitarianreform.org to the confusing oneresponse.info, it now has a home of its own. In addition to several thematic resources pages, the new site highlights the four GPC sub-working groups, or ‘areas of responsibility‘, including the UN-HABITAT-led AoR on housing, land and property issues. The HLP AoR site includes a useful overview of resources including both country-related and general references. While the former in particular still suffers from some notable gaps (Colombia?), it provides a very cogent set of references for other current HLP contexts and may be useful for practitioners and researchers alike.

Second,  the most recent Annual Report by Minority Rights Group International focuses squarely on the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights to land and natural resources – an issue that has taken on an increasingly important role in light of the ongoing pressure on these assets from both national governments and private investors.

UN High-Level RoL meeting to take up HLP issues … maybe

by Rhodri C. Williams

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar marking the tenth anniversary of Sweden’s government agency “for international peace intervention”, the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA). The topic of the seminar was rule of law (RoL) in general and this Tuesday’s UN conference on the issue in particular. The high level meeting at this year’s 67th session of the UN General Assembly is one of these periodic, frantic plenary meetings where all the states in the world along with a plethora of observers and NGOs culminate weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling with (hopefully) the adoption of an outcome document that may push an important issue forward a few steps.

In the best case, the outcome will have legs even if the grandiosely named meetings themselves quickly fall into the obscurity of UN genealogy. Students are frequently bemused to hear that they failed to notice a “World Summit” hosted by the UN in 2005. However, few have failed to notice the resulting responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine. And for those of us in the rights-based humanitarianism branch, the strong endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement buried in paragraph 132 of the Outcome Document may come to be seen as a pretty important step in the long march from soft law to opinio juris. But I digress.

Some of the talk at the FBA seminar was about the high-level politics of the high-level meeting, and particularly an emerging tendency to distinguish RoL as applied at the international versus the national levels. This has apparently been one of the key debates surrounding the drafting of the outcome document, with states that see domestic RoL as one of their own virtues more inclined to promote it to others (and the targets of their exhortations curiously more interested in the international variant). However, all indications are that there will be a buffet-style compromise, with both national and international RoL, as well as various ‘nexuses’ in between on offer.

This is perhaps most clearly evinced in the UN Secretary-General’s preparatory report for the conference, which proposes the adoption of a broad and often ambitious programme of action. Some proposals are simply unrealistic (states should ‘remove any reservations’ to UN treaties they have ratified, para. 12). Others are curious to the point of evoking typos (UN post-conflict RoL assistance should ‘promote gender’, full stop – para. 24). However, the overall feel of the document is quite sound, reflecting an increasingly emphatic accommodation of legal empowerment and economic/social concerns in an area of practice that arguably began as a bastion of orthodox civil and political imperatives.

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Promoting equity through improved urban state land governance

by Shaun Williams

Shaun Williams is Land and Natural Resources Governance Adviser to the Justice for the Poor program of the World Bank.

In many emergent states, where significant proportions of property in de-colonized national territory is still held customarily, reform questions around immovable property and development often tend to be focused on rights issues within customary estates. However in these newer nations, state-owned land commonly includes the most economically valuable land, including significant areas of urban land, on which development pressure is high. This land was commonly first expropriated out of customary estates by colonial powers and then subsequently acquired by post independence states as part of a liberation ‘dividend’.

Most departing imperial powers evaded responsibility for restitution of colonial era dispossessions, as subsequently have post independent states, thereby protracting a significant source of much civil discontent.  Many new states have also been unable to overhaul the arcane land administration institutions they inherited, which were designed to service the land needs of long gone, colonial era, church and trading elites, thereby frustrating the configuration of the new elite coalitions of local entrepreneurs needed to accommodate the rapid urbanization they are all experiencing (UN-HABITAT has estimated that 30% of all Solomon Islanders and almost 40% of Vanuatu’ and Timor-Leste’ populations will be living in cities by 2030). As the legitimization, adjudication and enforcement of property rights is a core function of nation states, these failures in turn undermine wider state building projects.

More important perhaps, throughout the developing world poor governance of state land negatively impacts the poor materially. Mismanagement of state land results in loss of significant amounts of economic rent (because of the high value of state land) that could otherwise be spent on the public services or invested in the infrastructure upon which the poor depend. These foregone rents are frequently being captured by the patrons of sometimes corrupt administrators operating within highly discretionary and otherwise dysfunctional regulatory frameworks.

Indifferent management of state land clogs up land markets, notably urban immovable property markets where demand is high and supply is tight.  Poorly managed disposal of state property is equally unlikely to produce better outcomes. Warehousing by speculators of leases and concessions of state owned land, frequently acquired through opaque and uncompetitive allocations, further restricts supply, particularly of urban land, thereby inflating urban land prices and directly contributing to the unaffordability of city housing for both the poor families and low- to middle-income earners.

Recent evidence from Solomon Islands suggests that a reform focus on the governance of state land holdings, even if relatively small in area, can yield outsized benefits. In Solomon Islands, as much as 10 percent of GDP may be affected by how effectively urban state (referred to in the relevant Solomon Islands legislation as ‘public’) land is governed and the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor program, UN-HABITAT, and other partners are working to catalyze interagency coordination to move towards improve urban state land governance.

For more information please see the Justice for the Poor program Briefing Note Public Land Governance in Solomon Islands or the Justice for the Poor website.

Avoiding conflict through early and effective management of land disputes

by John W. Bruce

The last decade or so has seen growing recognition of the major role played by competition for land in generating conflict. However, the often extremely complex and embedded nature of such conflicts—and associated political sensitivities—is such that both international and national actors have in many cases shied away from fully engaging with them. In other cases, forms of intervention have not always sufficiently taken into consideration their major—and potentially recurring—causes. The challenge is to better understand the role played by land, combined with related factors, in the generation of conflict—both in terms of the conditions that create a vulnerability to conflicts and events that tend to trigger violent conflict—as a basis for preventing or de-escalating violence.

I had worked on land issues from a development standpoint in Mozambique, Sudan and Cambodia, but a 2009 study in Rwanda for the Overseas Development Institute and follow-up work with UN-Habitat made me aware that the humanitarian community working in peacebuilding contexts had developed new ways of looking at land conflict and useful short-term approaches for addressing it. The land tenure in development community had little knowledge of these and often saw land policy and administration exclusively through an economic development lens. At the same time, those in the humanitarian community working with post-conflict land issues lacked familiarity with the role of land tenure in development processes and sometimes did not appreciate what was needed to lay the basis for sustainable, sound land governance.  These bodies of understanding and differing perspectives about land issues had not been integrated-an integration that is essential to the development of effective strategies for prevention and mitigation of land-related conflict.

With these challenges in mind I agreed to work with the Initiative on Quiet Diplomacy (IQd) to develop a handbook on Land and Conflict Prevention The handbook is one of a series providing third party actors with practical guidance in addressing issues that are frequently the sources of tension before violent conflict (re)erupts. IQd’s approach to me coincided with a train of thought that began when I worked with UN-Habitat on post-conflict land issues. I was struck by the fact that the valuable thinking that had been going on in the post-conflict context needed to be walked back through time, as it were, into the pre-conflict period, asking “What do we know about land and conflict that can be mobilized for prevention?” The result is a blend of ideas and practical guidance for preventing land-based conflict drawn from both the post-conflict and developmental contexts.

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