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Drawing a line under the crisis: Reconciling returnee land access and security in post-conflict Rwanda

Working papers

This report is part of a broader comparative effort by the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group on Land Tenure in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations, which aims to inform and improve the policy and practice of humanitarian action and to inform related areas of international policy. It seeks to understand how land issues affect and are affected by violence and conflict resolution, what responses are appropriate and what lessons can be learned from specific contexts of land tenure interventions, both during and after conflict.

ODI selected Rwanda for one of the country studies because, as the project document suggests:

The experience of civil strife in Rwanda presents a stark example of the link between access to land and the precipitation of conflict … It also provides an example of a situation where refugee and IDP resettlement, land claims and land reform were major features of the post-conflict setting.

As the author worked with colleagues in Rwanda, two other important dimensions of the Rwandan experience became clear. Refugee return and land access in Rwanda has been an extraordinarily complex matter, with some refugees leaving just in time for others returning to take up their homes and lands. Rwanda has important lessons to teach us about the need to maintain flexibility in dealing with complexity, and raises questions about whether obviously well-meant but very specific requirements in international conventions can be applied with full rigour in all cases. In addition, the Rwandan experience highlights the fact that conflict and postconflict are not two ends of a simple spectrum, but overlap. Refugee return and economic reconstruction similarly overlap, and this creates challenges in framing policy and legal responses that address adequately the diverse claims and needs that arise.

Dr. John W. Bruce