A high-level dialogue on Land and Conflict took place at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York with a triple objective: raise awareness on land and conflict and how conflict sensitive development contributes to sustaining peace; support and sustain dialogue and engagement on land and conflict with member states; and discuss the role of the UN as outlined in the Secretary-General Guidance Note on “The United Nations and Land and Conflict”.
Jointly organized by UN-Habitat, the Global Land Tool Network, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department of Peace Operations, the Government of Switzerland and the Global Donor Working Group on Land, the event highlighted how development gains are reversed by violent conflicts and the pivotal importance of addressing the land and conflict nexus to ensure peace, in support of all SDGs.
The Chair of the meeting, Mr. Filiep Decorte, Deputy Director of the UN-Habitat Office in New York, pointed out the importance of having this meeting during the High Level Political Forum as conflict-sensitive development is the only way to ensure a sustained engagement that can overcome land as a root cause of conflict and bottleneck to development.
In her opening remarks, UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif, noted that land-related conflicts are key root causes of conflict and bottlenecks to recovery, but if managed correctly land can be an engine for growth and development. To achieve this, more coherent and sustained engagement is required by all key stakeholders. Land issues should be part of conflict analyses, UN assessments and planning processes at country level. Ms. Maimunah stressed the need for a consistently engaged UN leadership that expands the partnerships among UN and non-UN actors and that further development of capacities to address land and conflict nexus, including the advancement of practical tools, is key to achieving stabilization and recovery.
Mr. Marcel Stoessel, Senior Policy Advisor on Fragility, Conflict and Violence from Switzerland, noted that land is a crucial issue to be addressed to prevent violent conflicts, the vast majority of which has competition over land as a root cause, to support fragile countries to ensure food security and dignity. Mr Stoessel confirmed the importance of the land and conflict agenda for Switzerland, which is proud to have supported the development of the Guidance Note and the ongoing work of the Global Land Tool Network.
Mr. Gam Awungshi Shimray, Secretary General of Asia Indigenous People Pact, highlighted the key land challenges faced and the importance of protecting the land rights of indigenous peoples, whose identity, livelihood and very existence is related to land. Mr. Shimray recognized the relevance of the Guidance Note, particularly for ensuring that land issues are included in conflict analyses and in peace agreements; capacity and knowledge development and support to community initiatives were highlighted as the main entry points.
Ms. Marta Ruedas, Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary-General and Resident Coordinator of Iraq, recognized how fundamental it is to address land and property rights to create the conditions for peace in conflict affected countries, where appropriation of land is often used as an instrument of power and domination by a group over another. Loss of civil and land documentation is a key challenge, especially for women, particularly if wives or widows of fighters. By working along with the government, the UN is trying to reconstruct property rights by tapping into a wide range of resources such as historical land mapping and community consultations. The Secretary General’s note on land and conflict, said Ms. Ruedas, provides a solid toolbox to move forward on the protection of land and property rights and to sustain peace in the long term.
Mr. Libreros, Advisor on Peace and Civic Culture, Mayor’s Office of Santiago de Cali, Colombia, highlighted the displacement of indigenous and rural people because of armed conflict and the efforts being made by the government on land restitution and dispute resolution. Mr. Libreros also introduced the local government perspective, that accompanies the land-related national policies with a broader social component. The work being done through the Comprehensive Social Model for the Prevention of Violence in Santiago de Cali was presented.
Interventions from the floor by the Department of Peace Operations, European Commission, Qatar Fund for Development, Huariou Commission and other civil society representatives showed a broad recognition of the importance to address land and conflict issues, with a strong gender dimension.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Teresa Whitfield, Director Policy and Mediation Division at the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, thanked the various organizers for the event, and stressed that the common denominator across the discussion was that land is existential issue for conflict, as it relates to people, identity and power. Land issues are both an incitement and a consequence of conflict, said Ms. Whitfield, and this will only gain complexity as climate change becomes an increasing concern. Ms. Teresa welcomed the Guidance Note as a valuable opportunity to work across agencies in the short, medium and long-term.
Overall, the event attracted attention of many participants that engaged in a lively discussion on the land and conflict nexus. UN-Habitat, working with the UN system, is committed to continue provide its knowledge and expertise to prevent and resolve land conflicts, to ensure a path to peace and stability and ultimately the achievement of the SDGs.
The recording of the event is available at webtv.un.org