JICA Ogata Research Institute

News & Views

【JICA-RI Focus Vol.16】 Interview with Research Fellow Mari Katayanagi

August 2, 2011

Pursuing a Rights-based Approach
An Interview with Research Fellow Mari Katayanagi on Human Security Research

At the 12th Spring Conference of the Japan Society for International Development (JASID) in June, JICA-RI research fellow Mari Katayanagi presented the analysis results of JICA's community development and confidence building projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), introducing the projects as a successful case of peace-building from below. In this interview, she talks about the factors of its success as well as the development strategy of “rights-based approach,” which is her specialty.

Peacebuilding Project in Bosnia Enters Sustainable Phase

You were deeply involved in BiH as Senior Advisor to the Embassy of Japan and Political Advisor to the Office of the High Representative. I assume that the knowledge and experiences from your work in the field are of valuable reference in your research activities now.

I served as Senior Advisor to the Embassy of Japan in BiH from 2001-03. It had been six years since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, which established the general framework for peace, and the country was regaining some level of stability then. There I mostly handled grant assistance for grass-roots projects. I shifted our focus of grant assistance from infrastructure-based assistance -- that was the main approach at the time, such as restoration of elementary schools -- to projects that promote community members’ self-reliance, like income generating projects for returnees, while putting particular effort in agriculture-related activities.

While most international aid organizations and donors prioritized support for returnees solely, our focus was a community as a whole. We promoted activities that would generate and increase income, and allow residents of different ethnic groups to cooperate in their daily work. The knowledge and experiences gained through these projects are reflected in my current research activities, and have provided an important perspective in analyzing JICA's peace-building projects.

At the 12th Spring Conference of the Japan Society for International Development (JASID) in June, you presented analysis results from the research project "Peace- Building from Below: Community Development and Confidence Building Projects in Srebrenica."

Those were the analyses on JICA's two projects. One is the "Project for Human Security on Sustainable Return, Reintegration of Returnees and Development in Srebrenica" (March 2006-08), and the other is the ongoing "Project for Confidence-Building on Agricultural and Rural Enterprise Development" that covers expanded area and support scale (to be completed in September 2011). I consider these projects as successful cases of peace-building from below, which have revitalized the local community through residents-centered agricultural activities.

The most distinctive characteristic of these projects is the high level of enthusiasm from local authorities. Anyone who’s been in BiH long enough would agree that this is extremely uncommon. Even if the local authorities welcome new projects and encourage donors to proceed, they seldom work together with the donors pro-actively. However, with these JICA projects, they set up an office with full-time staff in the middle of the project. Also, beneficiaries who are participating in the projects have formed some associations and one cooperative [voluntarily] and are showing willingness to engage in activities together. This implies that the series of activities have entered a sustainable phase, and is firmly taking root within the local community.

What do you think are the reasons for the projects’ success?

There are different approaches to promote ethnic reconciliation, organizing special events is one example. Yet JICA placed the focus of the projects on agriculture as a way of making a living, and therefore it was inevitable for the community members to cooperate with each other -- no matter what their ethnic backgrounds were. As neighbors having lived side by side, the feeling of prejudice and fear tend to fade while working in group activities. Still it’s undoubtedly difficult for them to become close like before, but they can, at least, cooperate, and if their incomes and standard of living improve as a result, they can continue the activities without resistance. When projects reach this level, you can leave the activities in beneficiaries’ own hands and have the projects progress further while they establish associations and cooperatives.

In the first project, JICA carried out nine types of activities including pasture production, communal use of tractors, strawberry production, and apiculture in six districts. For apiculture, five local advisors -- three Serbians and two Bosniacs (Muslims) – travelled around, instructing residents of all ethnicities. Now, people who have received the instructions are actively sharing the knowledge with others residents. I think it’s wonderful that JICA’s projects have achieved in creating a situation like this. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of JICA experts [on the ground] who successfully motivated the residents by placing them as the main actors.

Srebrenica is known as the site where over 7,000 Bosniac men were massacred in 1995. Community rebirth must be seriously difficult.

It’s crucial that they first overcome their fear for one another. BiH's political system is based largely on ethnic groups, making it difficult to break out of this concept. However, there are certain cases -- at least at the community level, as seen in JICA's projects -- where residents are willing to ignore their differences and cooperate in whatever ways they can. This precisely leads to one principle of human security “freedom from fear.” To fear another ethnic group as enemies who can possibly harm you, or to regard them as neighbors you can at least coexist with. This difference can be phenomenal.

During the eight years that I worked in BiH, I was often asked by local people about the reason Japan puts so much effort in assisting their country. Compared to European countries or the U.S., which tend to clearly show their stance over which side they're on in general, Japan is perceived as neutral and I think our country is more suited to conduct peacebuilding projects because of that.

New Research on Post-conflict Land/ Property Issues

Please tell us about the future plans of your research activities.

Since I joined JICA-RI, I have been involved in the research project "Prevention of Violent Conflicts in Africa: The Roles of Development Cooperation," which is now in its final phase. Focusing on what leads to conflict, such as structural factors, political processes and people’s perceptions, we aim to discover how these elements are connected to social instability. The research is led by visiting fellow, Prof. Yoichi Mine, with senior research fellow Dr. Shinichi Takeuchi, research fellow Dr. Satoru Mikami, and I taking part from JICA-RI. We conducted perception surveys in seven countries -- Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda -- and examined aspects like their perceptions on inequalities among different identity groups, as well as their view toward other ethnic groups..

For the survey, we collaborated with foreign researchers to create the questionnaire and hired local consultants to conduct interviews. An interesting finding was that it wasn’t the poorer ethnic groups, but rather, the groups with some affluence have hostility toward others. This suggests that people tend to become defensive and try to protect their status when they achieve a certain economic level. Through two workshops, we were able to build firm ties with foreign researchers. Currently, we are putting the final results together and plan to publish a book in English next year.

Meanwhile, we launched a new research project on peace-building regarding the land/property issues. After the preparatory phase for two and a half months, we have started the project at its full-scale in July. In addition to BiH which I take charge of, we are thinking of expanding it as a comparative study, focusing also on East Timor, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Colombia, and Cambodia.

The objective of this study is to analyze the land/property issues from a state-building and economic development perspective, evaluate the peacebuilding process of each country through this. I plan to deepen my analysis over BiH from the following angles: 1) issues on property restitution to refugees and internally displaced persons (which was majorly assisted by international organizations); 2) issues regarding agricultural lands; and 3) settlement on state-owned properties. BiH is divided into two entities established by the Dayton Peace Accords—each entity has largely autonomous political power with about a half of the state's territory—and the central government is placed on top of them. The properties of the central government still remain unclear. I believe this comparative study will be meaningful in understanding how other countries and organizations are tackling post-conflict land/property issues.

How do the concepts of "human security" and "rights-based approach" relate to each other?

When tackling various problems, "human security" is a large concept -- almost like an umbrella -- and this is why it has so many interpretations. I don't see it as something that must be strictly defined; it can be a relatively malleable concept. Meanwhile, “human rights” concept is specifically defined in international law, which I specialize in, and there is a clear standard. That is the advantage of taking rights-based approach, and I believe there are many cases where this approach can be effective.

It’s hard to communicate the effectiveness and significance of this approach, and it’s challenging, but I plan to look over my attempts so far and keep trying by exploring for more effective method for dissemination.

Top of Page