Dubai Land Department announces the conclusion of the first Arab land governance conference
The conference, organized in partnership with the World Bank, the Global Land Tool Network, UN-HABITAT, the League of Arab States and the Arab Surveying Association, was attended by more than 300 participants, representing several regional and international bodies.
Dubai Land Department General Manager Sultan Butti Bin Mujrin opened the conference, saying: "We were delighted to welcome and participate with a large number of representatives from governments, international and non-governmental organizations, reflecting the importance of the topics covered by the conference. In order to find successful solutions to the various challenges facing the land sector in the Arab world, which is clearly demonstrated by the list of recommendations issued by the conference, which will benefit the various activities and activities of the dispersion, and all segments of society.
The first substantive session was a High-level Panel on Access to Land for Real Estate, Sustainable Business and Investment, followed by two Technical Sessions. One focused on Women’s Land and Property Rights and inventoried the issue involved and values at stake across the region for women’s tenure and the tremendous gap between women and men in their access to, and control over land and other productive assets. Annalisa Mauro of International Land Coalition chaired the session, which featured Rafic Khouri of the Arab Union of Surveyors, providing an overview of “Women’s Access to Land in the Arab Countries.” Ombretta Tempra, Human Settlements Officer with the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) proffered a set of “Practical Recommendations to Increase Women Access to Land and Housing in the Arab States,” followed by Shahaan Murray from the Norwegian Refugee Council, who focused on “Barriers to Accessing Housing Land and Property Rights for Women in Iraq.” Two other presentations concentrated on specific subregions, with Rashid Abdel Aziz Musaad presenting lessons on “Women Land and Property Rights in Butana Region, Sudan” from the Butana Integrated Rural Development Project, and researcher Jean-Marie Bora delivering a presentation on “Women Land Rights in the Maghreb between the Complexity of the Land System and Discrimination: The case of Morocco.”
The second Technical Session was the first of two panels dedicated to Protection of Land and Property Rights of Displaced People and Refugees. The first iteration on the subject was chaired by Erfan Ali, the Iraq Country Representative of UN-Habitat. The first presenter, Laura Cunial of Norwegian Refugee Council’s Syria Office summarized the HLP issues in the context of “Displacement and Housing, Land and Property in the Syrian Arab Republic.”
Jamal al-Amleh, director of HIC Member organization, Land Research Center (Palestine), provided the essential legal and administrative tools used in Israel’s deprivation Palestinian’s land rights in the occupied Palestinian territory. Jon Unruh, Associate Professor at McGill University (Québec) expounded on ways to document HLP of refugees and displaced persons with a presentation on “Upgrading Housing, Land and Property Restitution: A Digital Approach.” Abdel Rahman Mustafa Ahmed (UN-Habitat, Sudan) presented a “Land Perspective for Durable Solutions - Darfur Case,” and Tom O’Sullivan (UNHCR Lebanon) shared “The Housing, Land and Property situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon – Experiences from the field.”
The first session of the second day involved the presentation of two simultaneous high-level panels: One on Women and Land” and another on “Land and Conflict.” Zena Ali Ahmad, the new Regional Director of the UN-Habitat Office for Arab States, chaired the session led by Mabrouk Kourchid, Tunisian Minister of State for Land Affairs, recounting “The experience of Tunisia in advancing the conditions of women and protecting women’s land and property rights.” Michael Taylor, director of International Land Coalition, presented “Land Rights for Women, Farmers and Pastoralists in the Arab States” from the perspective of civil society. UN Resident Coordinator for UAE, Oman and Qatar Frode Mauring complemented his fellow panelists with a presentation of “Gender Perspectives from the Gulf Region,” while Jebri Radhia, president of Union Nationale des Femmes Tunisiennes (UNFT) provided her organization’s experience in “Supporting the Creation of Income for Women and Families in Precarious Situations.” The panel presentations concluded with Majida Ali Rashed (Dubai Land Department) giving a host-country perspective with “Bringing land administration closer to the needs of women: the experience of Dubai.”
The other high-level panel of Day 2 highlighted the importance of land in regional conflicts. It addressed the issue of housing, land and property (HLP) rights and their restitution as a measure of conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution in the Middle East/North Africa region. Chaired by Oumar Sylla (GLTN), Musa Shkarna, head of Palestine’s Land and Water Settlement Commission discussed the “Relevance and Impact of Land-related Conflicts in Palestine: Challenges and Opportunities.” Javier Molina of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) argued for “The relevance of the Voluntary Guidelines on Good Land Governance of Tenure for Countries Affected by Conflict.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Regional Representative Abdel Salam Sidahmed introduced the efforts underway to produce the MENA Handbook on the “Pinheiro Principles” for prevention, mitigation and resolution of rights violations in the region. Laura Cunial (NRC) and Karolina Lindholm Billing (UNHCR Lebanon) each shared lessons from the field and posed recommendations for improvement in the restitution of lands to refugees in the Arab region.
The afternoon session of Day 2 of the conference featured the follow-up Technical Session on “Protection of Land and Property Rights of Displaced People and Refugees. That session, moderated by Jamal Mahmoud Hamid, Minister of Urban Planning – Khartoum State (Sudan), featured five experience exchanges that covered four country-specific cases and one regional diagnosis.
Ismael Frioud (Iraq) presented the case of “Land and Property Rights of IDPs in Iraq.” Jehad Arafat NRC – Gaza) shared reconstruction lessons in “Rebuilt from the Rubble: Gaza Three Years After). Tala Kammourieh of UN-Habitat – Lebanon presented the “Housing, Land and Property Issues affecting Syrian Refugees” inside and outside their country. Shahd Almukhtar of the Technical University of Munich presented research findings also on Syrian HLP issues, but through a gendered lens, in “How to Protect HLP rights of Syrian IDPs and Refugees, with a Focus on Women Rights.”
HIC-HLRN Coordinator Joseph Schechla addressed the “Challenges and Priorities for Arab Land Restitution within International Law Norms.” In his presentation, he laid out the normative international law framework that guarantees refugees’ and IDPs’ HLP rights and binds states to respect, protect and fulfill them. While pointing out that the legal norms have the purpose of positively affecting behaviors and outcomes in cases of impending and actual conflicts and disasters, the non-application of those same norms has had a consistently corrosive effect arising from “protracted impunity” for gross violations and crimes that violate HLP rights without remedy.
Other expert panels over the first two days focused on such topics as “Access to Land for real estate, Sustainable Business and Investment”; and “New Technologies to Support Land and Real Estate Registration Systems, Property Valuation and Taxation Policies.”
On the sidelines of the last day of the conference, the roundtable sessions and “masterclasses” were organized with a number of specialized and technical experts, during which various topics were discussed. The most prominent were: Land indicators in the goals of sustainable development and their application in the Arab region; Rural communities in responsible governance of land, land and conflict in Arab States: role of voluntary guidance on responsible land tenure governance (VGGT), conflict-sensitive land tools in conflict prevention, peace-building and reconstruction, capacity development initiatives in support for good governance of land and fitness for the purposes of land management, and women, and the means of social communication and access to land.
In the masterclass on “Land Indicators in the Goals of Sustainable Development and Their Application in the Arab Region,” HIC-HLRN’s representative raised the prospect of integrating already-standing reporting methods and data arising from states’ reporting obligations under human rights treaties. In the last day’s roundtable on “Land and Conflict in the Arab States: The Role of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of the Tenure of Land (VGGT) and of Conflict-sensitive Land Tools in Conflict Prevention, Peace Building and Reconstruct,” the HIC-HLRN coordinator served as an invited discussant. In his intervention he emphasized again the need to align processes to repair the UN System’s fragmented approach to land and conflict, taking lessons from the UN treaty-monitoring bodies, prioritizing state obligations over temporal commitments, ensuring accountability, and seeking harmony among the three purposes of the UN Charter: (1) peace and security/humanitarian assistance, (2) forward development and (3) human rights.
In the closing ceremony, the conference honored the United Arab Emirates for being ranked first among Arab countries in the speed and volume of real estate registrations and 10th in the world, as noted in the World Bank`s Doing Business 2018 report. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was also honored for the development of its real-estate business during the past year, rising in rank from 96th in the world to 72nd in the World Bank’s category on real estate registration.
At the same event, the delegation of the Kingdom of Bahrain at this conference found an opportunity to announce the launch of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), and Naji Sabt, Director General of Survey and Board Member of RERA, announced the launch of its work the day after the conference. The delegation expressed its pride in this step that they hope contributes to making the kingdom one of the investment destinations in the region in a way that supports the vision of the country`s leadership and government.
Under the title "Dubai Declaration on Land Governance in the Arab States," participants in the first Arab Land and Property Management Conference, representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society, academia, professionals, international and regional organizations and relevant stakeholders, made this announcement and emphasized the objectives of the conference, exchange of knowledge, enhance regional cooperation, develop capacity, and stimulate innovation in land management and real estate reform, in order to promote social and economic development in the Arab region.
The recommendations addressed the need to modernize land management, administration and governance in Arab countries to ensure full protection of land as a property right; promote social and economic development and investment, economic diversification and facilitate improved service delivery; and ensure the sustainable use of land resources for the current and future generations.
On a more socially oriented note, one of the recommendations identified the most pressing challenges, particularly the need for full protection of property rights for all segments of the population, land use and land-related conflicts, difficult access to land for women, youth and marginalized communities at affordable prices, land tenure security for vulnerable urban and rural populations, the accuracy and effectiveness of land management processes and practices, and the need to improve the capacity of regional and local institutions to address the challenges of land management in a comprehensive and integrated manner.
In conclusion, the participants called for the continuation of this effort, through the promotion and deepening of knowledge sharing, research and capacity-building among Arab States, to further develop land management and real estate reform for the benefit of all residents of the region.
Reflecting on the 1st Arab Land Conference closure, Joseph Schechla noted: "The local organizers clearly demonstrated their preference for the treatment of land as private property and a means of profit seeking. However, this first conference has been an experiment to merge—if not yet reconcile—private interests with the public interests and socially responsible land governance urgently needed. Future Arab Land Conferences will tell how those representing the divergent approaches listen to each other across the divide.”
Download final declaration