Land in Post-Conflict Settings recounted | Land Portal

Post-conflict situations remain strained for years and can easily relapse into violence during the first two decades. During this social, political, and economic transition phase, post-conflict countries are especially fragile and vulnerable. Increasingly acknowledged as a key driver or root cause for conflict, land is as much a critical relapse factor as it is a bottleneck to recovery [1]. In the aftermath of war, access to and control of land and natural resources often remains a sensitive issue for years which may precipitate tensions and challenge stability. At the same time, resolving land-related issues is significant to achieve sustainable and durable peace. Yet, it is just one item on a long list of issues that need to be addressed in post-conflict periods next to reconciliation and transitional justice processes, establishing security and a functioning state, economic recovery, and the rebuilding of social cohesion [2].

In view of the question of land, post-war societies have to deal with land-related conflict legacies, farmland and forest degradation, weak land governance, heavily exploited natural resources, land mine contamination, a destroyed infrastructure, as well as returning refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and ex-combatants [3]. Rural and urban areas alike may face population and resource pressure triggered by internal displacement or refugee flows. These tensions might facilitate new or rekindle land-related conflicts between host and displaced communities, especially in semi-arid or arid regions where pastures and access to water are naturally limited.

 

Factbook currently maps 89 conflicts related to agricultural and pastoral land, 62 of which are labelled as ongoing (as of June 2019).

Post-conflict Land Governance

Violent conflict and war leave their marks on the institutional environment. Post-war land governance is often characterized by dysfunctional legal systems and lacking administrative capacities, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, class, gender, and generational power disparities, loss of legal documents and land records, recurring tensions between customary and formal legal systems, competition based on ethnicity and identity, as well as the illegal use of land and natural resources [4]. Post-war institutional environments are often highly fluid, and people may be confused about unclear mandates and responsibilities. Others capitalize on the messy status quo by claiming their land rights until one institution judges in their favor. Although customary institutions may have been severely affected by conflict too, they often prove more resilient than statutory institutions, as in Afghanistan, Liberia, or South Sudan. In other cases, such as in northern Uganda, protracted conflict and displacement largely weakened customary institutions, tenure, and conflict resolution mechanisms. Here, post-conflict tensions between state actors, customary authorities, communities, and companies have evolved around ownership of and access to land as well as business interests to the extent that if not addressed soon the situation may turn violent again [5].

 

Returning refugees, IDPs, and Ex-Combatants

In addition, the restitution and redistribution of land pose key challenges to postwar governments. When the conflict subsides, refugees and IDPs often face multiple obstacles to returning home, such as the destruction or non-existence of property records, abandonment laws, or secondary occupation [6]. Global standards have been developed intended to address the legal and technical questions surrounding housing, land and property restitution, namely the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (2005). The Pinheiro Principles were influenced by the restitution process and its lessons learned in Bosnia Herzegovina. Today, a core instrument of the United Nations applied in various post-conflict contexts, the principles emphasize the right to voluntary return in safety and dignity in situations where persons were arbitrarily or unlawfully displaced. States are required to prioritize the right to restitution as the preferred remedy for displacement and as a key element of restorative justice. Implementors face considerable challenges in adapting these standards with their orientation towards inclusive and participatory measures, especially in areas where the state is largely absent [7].

 

Challenges of Restitution Processes

Depending on the post-conflict circumstances, restitution can enhance the rule of law and promote peace and stability as much as it can undermine all of these processes. In contexts where territorial separation of identity groups was initiated through violence, restitution may set the stage for revenge rather than reconciliation. In Bosnia Herzegovina for example, the process was initially manipulated to consolidate ethnic separation instead of reversing it; often described as the “victor’s registry” [8]. On the other side, a stronger international involvement carries the risk to transplant Western laws and logics. That said, the Western notion of home and equating home and property rights with citizenship and stability, does not necessarily mirror the reality of societies in transition. The very concept of home is altered by war and, in some cases, it is impossible to return home which is as much a physical place as a source of identity, power, and social status [9]. Regarding the technical side of the process, digital advances are being made for tracing land boundaries and demarcation. Yet, remedying forced eviction involves understanding the complex socio-political dynamics and norms as well as the unique geographical and economic contours. Moreover, restitution can only foster (re-)building social ties and the reestablishment of productivity once returnees feel safe, have access to jobs, education, and social services [10].

 

The Gender Dimension in Restitution Processes

In terms of gender equality, restitution processes as well as post-war land governance go along with multi-faceted challenges for residents and international or non-governmental organizations operating in these complex environments [11]. In Burundi, where land is scarce, population pressure high, and tenure documentation incomplete, returnees have contributed to compound land-related conflicts. During the registration process, it turned out that women who only hold secondary rights to land were highly disadvantaged. Instead of a vocal advocacy-oriented approach to land rights for women which very likely would have been met with disapproval by customary authorities and political actors on higher levels and led to polarized positions on the ground, NGOs opted for participatory intra-community discussions [12]. This way, fears and prejudices around registering land certificates for women could be alleviated in most cases. In a next step, higher levels of authority and customary leaders can be addressed to formalize land rights for women.

Reconstruction and the Commodification of Land

The commodification of land to the detriment of local residents and illegal allocations pose another threat to post-conflict stability. It may be that loyalty in combat is rewarded with access to land and/or natural resources or, on a larger scale, reconstruction policies promote large-scale land and infrastructure development. More often than not, local authorities turn into private sector land developers using their networks and knowledge and benefit from facilitating land transactions in the wake of war [13]. New governments are eager to re-start the economy, preferably through the allocation of resource-based concessions which is also promoted by the international assistance community.

Promising at first glance in terms of infrastructure development, technological transfer, and revenues, the remodeling of war-torn political economies and large-scale land deals in particular may aggravate conflict and competition, and perpetuate inequalities [14]. Most studies conclude that, even under favorable conditions, the impact on affected residents and the environment remains ambivalent and tends to be rather harmful. In some cases, areas used by communities are declared as idle to attract investors or returnees and ex-combatants compete for land directly with the state and its foreign business partners [15]. Emerging resistance against land grabbing may further undermine conflict transformation efforts, provoke new violence, and spark further cleavages [16]. In an attempt to mitigate the negative externalities of land deals, international and national policy responses followed, namely FAO’s VGGT (2012), but largely failed to consider the specifics of post-war settings.

 

Risks of Politics of Exclusion and Land-related Grievances

Societies in transition are particularly vulnerable to politics of exclusion and land grievances. Questions of identity and belonging add an additional layer of complexity here [17]. In ethnically diverse areas, conflict can arise when groups seek to expand their borders for political or economic gains. The manifestation of power disparities or emergence of new power constellations are also mirrored in the areas that are given priority for the removal of unexploded ordnances or infrastructure development, for example. Tenure insecurity and limited statehood, a lack of nonviolent conflict resolution strategies, and displacement present an explosive mixture [18]. Growing inequalities, resentment, and grievances around questions of land can furthermore become politicized through external factors, such as the availability or supply of arms, and easily turn into violent conflict again [19]. Having said that, governments and the international community need to address pre-war land-related issues in a sensitive manner to enable genuine reconciliation and conflict transformation processes.

References

[1] UN-Habitat. 2012. Land and Conflict. Toolkit and Guidance for Preventing and Managing Land and Natural Resources Conflict. United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. Nairobi.

Elhawary, Samir and Sara Pantuliano. 2013. Land issues in post-conflict return and recovery. In: Jon D. Unruh and Rhodri Williams (eds.). Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London, New York: Routledge. 115–120.

Unruh, Jon and Rhodri Williams. 2013. Lessons learned in land tenure and natural resource management in post-conflict societies. In: Jon D. Unruh and Rhodri Williams (eds.). Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London, New York: Routledge. 535–576.

[2] Bonacker, Thorsten and Susanne Buckley-Zistel. 2013. Transitions from Violence – Analyzing the Effects of Transitional Justice. In: International Journal of Conflict and Violence 7 (1): 4–9.

[3] Unruh, Jon and Rhodri Williams. 2013. Lessons learned in land tenure and natural resource management in post-conflict societies. In: Jon D. Unruh and Rhodri Williams (eds.). Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London, New York: Routledge. 535–576. 536

[4] GLTN. 2015. Land & Conflict. Supporting peace-making and peacebuilding efforts in fragile states. Brief. GLTN. Nairobi.

[5] GIZ Civil Peace Service Program: Support for Participatory Transformation of Land Conflicts in Northeastern Uganda

[6] Unruh, Jon and Rhodri Williams. 2013. Lessons learned in land tenure and natural resource management in post-conflict societies. In: Jon D. Unruh and Rhodri Williams (eds.). Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London, New York: Routledge. 535–576.

UN-Habitat. 2012. Land and Conflict. Toolkit and Guidance for Preventing and Managing Land and Natural Resources Conflict. United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. Nairobi.

[7] Betge, David. 2019. Land Governance in Post-Conflict Settings: Interrogating Decision-Making by International Actors. In: Land 8 (2): 1-15.

[8] UN-Habitat. 2012. Land and Conflict. Toolkit and Guidance for Preventing and Managing Land and Natural Resources Conflict. United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. Nairobi.

[9] Betge, David. 2019. Land Governance in Post-Conflict Settings: Interrogating Decision-Making by International Actors. In: Land 8 (2): 1-15.

[10] Ballard, Megan J. 2010. Post-Conflict Property Restitution: Flawed Legal and Theoretical Foundations. Berkeley Journal of International Law 28 (2): 462-496.

[11] Unruh, Jon and Rhodri Williams. 2013. Lessons learned in land tenure and natural resource management in post-conflict societies. In: Jon D. Unruh and Rhodri Williams (eds.). Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London, New York: Routledge. 535–576.

UN-Habitat. 2012. Land and Conflict. Toolkit and Guidance for Preventing and Managing Land and Natural Resources Conflict. United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. Nairobi.

[12] Ballard, Megan J. 2010. Post-Conflict Property Restitution: Flawed Legal and Theoretical Foundations. Berkeley Journal of International Law 28 (2): 462-496.

[13] UN-Habitat. 2012. Land and Conflict. Toolkit and Guidance for Preventing and Managing Land and Natural Resources Conflict. United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. Nairobi.

[14] Pugh, Michael. 2016. Corporate peace. Crisis in economic peacebuilding. In: Tobias Debiel, Thomas Held and Ulrich Schneckener (eds.). Rethinking paradigms and practices of transnational cooperation. London, New York: Garland Publishing. 175–190.

Unruh, Jon and Rhodri Williams. 2013a. Lessons learned in land tenure and natural resource management in post-conflict societies. In: Jon D. Unruh and Rhodri Williams (eds.). Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London, New York: Routledge. 535–576.

[15] Elhawary, Samir and Sara Pantuliano. 2013. Land issues in post-conflict return and recovery. In: Jon D. Unruh and Rhodri Williams (eds.). Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London, New York: Routledge. 115–120.

[16] Hennings, Anne. 2018. Plantation Assemblages and Spaces of Contested Development in Sierra Leone and Cambodia. In: Conflict, Security & Development 18: 6, 521–546.

Hennings, Anne. 2019. From Bullets to Banners and Back Again? Ex-Combatants and Mobilisation in Contested Land Deals in Sierra Leone. In: Africa Spectrum 54 (1): 1-22.

[17] Betge, David. 2019. Land Governance in Post-Conflict Settings: Interrogating Decision-Making by International Actors. In: Land 8 (2): 1-15.

[18] ibid.

GIZ Civil Peace Service Program: Support for Participatory Transformation of Land Conflicts in Northeastern Uganda

[19] UN-Habitat. 2012. Land and Conflict. Toolkit and Guidance for Preventing and Managing Land and Natural Resources Conflict. United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. Nairobi.

 

Author and Peer Reviewers

Anne Hennings, with an extensive experience in land governance issues in post-conflict settings, authored this thematic narrative and provided extensive support to the creation of the whole portfolio.

We also wish to express our gratitude to the anonymous experts who peer-reviewed different sections of this narrative, providing invaluable insights.

 

Access to conflict resolution measured on a scale from A - which stands for good practices - to D - reflecting weak practices.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; D)

Conflict resolution mechanisms are accessible to the public measured on a scale from A - which stands for good practices - to D - reflecting weak practices.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; D)

Conflicts in the formal system are resolved in a timely manner measured on a scale from A - which stands for good practices - to D - reflecting weak practices.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; D)

Number of long-standing conflicts measured on a scale from A - which stands for good practices - to D - reflecting weak practices.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; D)

This indicator is the headcount of pepole affected by land conflicts in India, by the reported starting year of the conflict.

Measurement unit: 
Headcount

This indicator is the count of land conflicts in India, organised by the reported starting year of the conflict.

Measurement unit: 
Count

Political stability and absence of violence measures perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically

Measurement unit: 
Index (-2.5; 2.5)

This indicator is the total area - in hectares - affecte by land conflicts in India, aggregated over the reported starting year of the conflict.

Measurement unit: 
Hectares (ha)
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This indicator is part of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/#home).

Measurement unit: 
Index (-2.5; 2.5)

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