The Power of Sharing Knowledge Helps Countries Tackle Forced Displacement

December 2, 2015

  • Colombia hosts international knowledge exchange and uses own experiences of conflict-related population displacement to highlight global issue of land restitution.
  • Delegations from Nepal, South Africa, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Colombia share experiences and best practices.
  • World Bank managed community of practice continues to gain peer support on land related issues in fragile and conflict-affected situations.

Can you imagine being forced from your land at gunpoint with only the clothes on your back? Unfortunately, the forceful taking and occupation of land is all too common during times of instability and conflict.

Colombia was no exception, experiencing a five-decade long conflict leaving up to six million people internally displaced. But as the only country in the world to implement a land restitution policy amidst conflict, it had unique lessons to share on how to ensure safe and sustainable return of land beyond securing the victims´ land titles.

Based on these efforts to address this challenge, the Colombian Land Restitution Unit (Unidad de Restitución de Tierras) recently convened a south-south knowledge exchange in the city of Cartagena, bringing together 75 participants from similarly affected countries -- Colombia, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nepal and South Africa. Among them were judges, journalists, academics and land and legal experts from the International Organization for Migration and the World Bank.

“The restitution process in Colombia is two-handed, the executive and the judiciary, and our judges have begun to dictate their sentences. There have been some very interesting legal constructs that may be useful to other countries.” says Ricardo Sabogal, Director Land Restitution Unit of Colombia.

“Land restitution is important because it helps with peace-building, restoring the land to people and also restoring their dignity so that they are able to use the land as a catalyst for their own development.” says Thami Mdontswa, Deputy Chief Lands Claim Commissioner South Africa Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.

The four day event enabled practitioners to evaluate their successes and challenges linked to land restitution policies and to determine actions which would improve the effectiveness of policy implementation. The knowledge exchange was funded by the Korea Trust Fund for Economic and Peacebuilding Transitions (KTF) and supported by the World Bank Community of Practice for Land in Fragile and Conflict-affected Situations, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration and Colombia Land Restitution Unit. This builds on work between 2003 and 2014 on the Protection of Land and Patrimony of Internally Displaced Persons Project supported by the State and Peacebuilding Fund.

Lessons learned include:

·         Establish a legally sound process that is efficient and includes mediation mechanisms, especially when restoring land in the context of larger investments.

·         Integrate land restitution programs into broader land administration programs to ensure a cohesive and sustainable approach to land rights protection.

·         Coordinate efforts from affected governments which include the voices of the displaced, not only to establish a land restitution process that is just and technically sound, but also to help the communities regain lost livelihoods and create new economic opportunities

At the individual level, the loss of assets, such as land and access to income and social networks, decreases a person’s opportunity for self-reliance. Displaced persons also tend to be the most vulnerable in a country. For example In Colombia, 63% of the internally displaced live below the poverty line.

“Land restitution must always be claimed against the state, the state must always guarantee the right of return for people who were dispossessed of their land.” says Dr. Samuel Tororei Commissioner, Kenya National Land Commission.

To advance this level of thinking, participants agreed on the need for a comprehensive set of policies to successfully restore the livelihoods of those returning to their land. These policies include the provision of public services and reconstruction to integrate the displaced to national and regional value chains. 

As part of the knowledge exchange, participants also visited conflict-affected areas in the Montes de María region of Colombia to speak directly to displacement victims about their experiences as well as the benefits of returning as a community, especially as women.

The visit underscored the importance of paying special attention to vulnerable groups, considering the different needs of the displaced, and designing targeted services and interventions to benefit them. 

“Throughout all of these processes, women have been allowed to participate as business owners and managers of their own development, not just dependent on aid or subsidies to help them generate income and become autonomous.” says Juana Alicia Hernandez, teacher and beneficiary of the Land Restitution Program.

Moving forward and with further support from the United Nations office in Colombia, the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation has started documenting specific user cases related to peace building. These documented cases will lead to the development of a community of practice on peace building, including a focus on land and conflict issues. All knowledge exchange delegates expressed their interest in being part of such a network of professionals working on land restitution issues. Additionally, the World Bank Community of Practice Land in Fragile and Conflict-affected Situations, currently with over 60 professional members and growing, will continue to facilitate knowledge sharing events to help governments improve their capacity to protect the rights of vulnerable groups in conflict-affected countries.