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Ethnicised Entitlements in Land Tenure of Protracted Conflicts: The Case of Sri Lanka

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Korf, Benedikt
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Globalisation, the Ninth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Conf. Date: June 17-21, 2002
Date: 2002
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/325
Sector: Land Tenure & Use
Social Organization
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources--Sri Lanka
land tenure and use--Sri Lanka--case studies
conflict--Sri Lanka--case studies
social capital--Sri Lanka
livelihoods--Sri Lanka
ethnicity--Sri Lanka
civil war--Sri Lanka
violence--Sri Lanka
Abstract: From the Introduction: "Land tenure is a politically sensitive issue in many change processes, in particular in economic and societal transition, be it from socialist to market economies (central and eastern Europe, Cambodia, Vietnam), from Apartheid regimes to democratic rules (e.g. Namibia, Zimbabwe) or from civil war to peace (e.g. Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka). It is the third notion that this paper will have a closer look into. It does so using the perspective of the livelihood system approach, which analyses the life perspectives and opportunities of rural people in a holistic context. "Land tenure is, of course, only one, but essential aspect of rural livelihoods. In civil wars, forced mobility increases dramatically, since people have to flee their homes or prefer to migrate in order to survive. This mobility increases the fuzziness of endowments and entitlements to land resources, since, for example, land is abandoned and no one knows whether or not the owner of the land will return and claim the land again. Sound institutional arrangements enforced through credible state or community institutions could offer temporary arrangements for making use of such dilapidated resources without loosing sight of the owners potential claims. It is, however, a feature of protracted conflicts that exactly this credibility of key actors has vanished, if they are still present at all. The lack of credible civil governance institutions supports opportunistic behaviour and the rule of the fittest, in the case of war. The latter are mainly those sharing the oligopoly of military power. "The effects of war vary considerably for different ethnic and social groups. In situations of ongoing civil war, it is in particular the ethnicisation of entitlements, i.e. the perception that some (ethnic) groups benefit (or suffer less) from the war and can make use of their political networks to capture endowments and entitlements on natural resources, which is politically dangerous, because it steadily erodes any cross-communal bonds and communication. I do not refer here to the real winners of the war, the conflict entrepreneurs (cf. Goodhand and Hulme 1999), i.e. militants who utilise their oligopoly of violence to extract specific rents from the local population, but rather to the farmers and fishermen. Based on case studies from Sri Lanka, I will show that it is in the end this erosion of societal bonds across ones own culture, which impede real peace building on a local level. "The paper will first explain the specificity of protracted conflicts, which are categorised as complex political emergencies (Section 2). I will then go on to elaborate the framework of analysis, the livelihood system approach, a holistic way of looking at rural communities and their functioning. I will also discuss the concept of entitlements, social and political capital and what this implies for the situation in crisis zones, in particular with regard to land use (Sections 3 & 4). I will analyse four case studies taken from the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka to outline the role of social and political capital in resource management and its institutional arrangements (Section 5). The paper concludes that promoting conditions for co-operative relationships in resource management are to be a fundamental part of conflict transformation strategies in civil wars (Section 6)."

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