by Scott Leckie (ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 390pp. Hardback. $85.00/₤50.00. ISBN: 9780521888233. eBook format. $68.00. ISBN: 9780511460777.

Reviewed by Allan K. McDougall, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, University of Western Ontario. Email: akmcdll [at] uwo.ca.


HOUSING, LAND AND PROPERTY RIGHTS IN POST-CONFLICT UNITED NATIONS AND OTHER PEACE OPERATIONS comprises a set of detailed case studies of UN involvement in housing and property rights issues. The book delivers on its title. Scott Leckie is an international human rights lawyer with extensive experience in numerous international theatres. All of the authors have practical and detailed experience in at least the mission they are analyzing. Leckie introduces the book and concludes it with eight recommendations for a global policy on housing, land and property rights in post conflict situations. An institutional framework for the implementation of that policy is then defined. The recommendations are not naïve. Leckie acknowledges the importance and uniqueness of each situation, but he argues, using the data amassed in the case studies, that his recommendations must be addressed if international peace operations are to have the capacity to address the rights to property defined in international law.

The book assumes that a conflict is over and that peacekeeping is in place. The challenge is to solve conflicts over property rights as an aspect of returning the population to peace. As Leckie states “The agonizingly slow recognition that the resolution of land- and property-related disputes following war is one of the cornerstones of any sustainable peace operation has proven frustrating for those charged with unraveling the chaos of displacement and restoring the rights of survivors” (p.xvii).

The first case study, on Cambodia, provides a good historical context and an introduction to the challenges posed by multiple shifts in property ownership, the lack of documentation in traditional systems, and the resultant complexity of unraveling land issues. The second case, on Kosovo, adds an institutional dimension to an analysis of the problems surrounding property rights. In both cases the literature on international property rights and United Nations legal documents frame the discussion. Experiences of peacekeeping in East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Bougainville accentuate the complexity of matching expectations inherent in individual rights with customary practices in defining rights to physical assets (see p.135). Cases on Afghanistan, Burundi, Rwanda and DR Congo follow. These cases follow the same pattern as the earlier ones, describing the emergence of an international property rights regime, introducing the history of the conflict, and describing the efforts of the UN mission and peace agencies [*523] insofar as they address, or fail to address, property and housing issues. The most institutional analysis is the case focusing on Iraq. Possibly reflecting the size of the international intervention and its efforts to create a new sovereign entity, the chapter analyzes the migration of restitution systems as property rights are addressed. The iterative quality of housing and property rights administration leads to a number of recommendations including “the consideration of a more unified policy approach to this critical human rights issue.” Finally a case on Sudan is written in a more futuristic tone attempting to harness the experience of earlier international agencies to the challenge of preparing for anticipated returning populations.

The book includes an interesting chapter acknowledging that the presence of well paid UN and International Peace agency employees in post-conflict areas skews property values and housing prices. A large contingent thus exacerbates the housing issues experienced by the populations in these regions. No solution is offered, but the analysis is of potential interest to those studying urban gentrification and issues of economic redevelopment.

The contributors all have extensive experience in peace keeping and in addressing international human rights. Their shared interest in international human rights frames their analysis. The detail in the case studies reflects the depth of their knowledge and makes the book an excellent reference work. None of the cases are weak. All provide a good historical and institutional review of the limits of the application of property and housing rights in post-conflict situations, but none directly addresses their dependence on the struggles which led to the conflict in the first place and the subsequent agenda of the victor. If community action leads to conflict, these tensions cannot be left unaddressed in a peace accord. For example, if Albanians were a problem to Serbian residents in Kosovo, it is not a surprise that returning property is a thorny political issue. Restitution or property rights enshrined in a peace accord could run counter to the reason for the conflict in the first place. The inclusion of a property rights regime in the peace agreement predicated on international human rights then becomes intensely political. Such questions are not addressed. Instead, tensions are recognized in the case studies as an aspect of the property problem but in the context of defining prior legal title, equality and fairness. In an aloof international regime, that approach has salience but, to the participants, it seems that resolving the property issues may require very different solutions.

A second problem was the failure to address the Palestinian property issue. Given its historic and chronic quality, it is surprising that it appears once, in a list of places where property rights are contested (p.15), and then disappears. Instead Leckie distinguishes between conflicts over property and issues in peace agreements. His book documents provisions, or lack of provisions, in agreements and the importance of implementing property rights under them, highlighting the need to strengthen property rights provisions in the agreements and to address their implementation seriously. [*524]

Overall the book offers an excellent resource on the challenges of realizing an emerging international property rights and housing regime in post-conflict areas. The authors have years of experience in the field and know the challenges. Their quest is a quest in process. The book provides a snapshot of their work to date. Sadly, they do not link the emergence and imposition of a property rights regime to the land issues which framed the prior conflict. In a positive sense, this might lead one to believe that the imposition of a property regime would avoid the need for conflict. However, in a pessimistic sense a property rights regime cannot be realized if the prior conflict was provoked by property related issues and the result entrenched the agenda of the victor! Maybe that can be the focus of their next book.

© Copyright 2009 by the author, Allan K. McDougall.