Prof. Megan Ballard has returned from her sabbatical year in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Bogota, Colombia, with a wealth of information and new discoveries.
Ballard’s intention during her sabbatical year was to study post-conflict property restitution in the two countries. She had successfully applied for a Fulbright research and lecture grant to execute her research in Georgia, and a Gonzaga University Research Council grant paid for her work in Colombia.
“Both states are considered ‘not-yet-post-conflict,’ and both have been looking at possible post-conflict property remedies, taking very different approaches to the evidentiary issue,” she says. In Georgia it’s governmental; in Colombia it’s more nongovernmental.
“So my study really was about what mid-conflict states can do to prepare for an eventual post-conflict restitution program.”
Preparing for post-conflict restitution
She has written an article on her findings in Georgia to be published in volume 43.1 of the George Washington International Law Review. The focus of her article falls on the country’s My House Program, which has been prepared by the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation to address the property rights of displaced persons.
“[My House] wasn’t really conceived of as something that could be used to prepare for post-conflict property restitution,” Ballard says. “My article is about how they can change the program to make it better suited for facilitating post-conflict property restitution and how it could serve as the model in some other places as a mid-conflict measure to prepare for post-conflict property restitution.”
In Colombia, on the other hand, nonprofit organizations and academics are currently using a tool called cartografia social, or social mapping, to help restore the right parcels of land to their former owners.
“We have this great property titling system in the United States,” says Ballard. “If you want to know who owns what, or what the track record of ownership has been of a different parcel, you go to the county records and look it up. A lot of it is even online now.”
Social mapping gains traction
But in much of the developing world, real estate transactions and ownership are not so well documented. That’s where social mapping comes in.
“Anthropologists and cartographers meet with displaced people and have them participate as a community in identifying who was using what parcel and for what purposes,” she explains. “They can use 3D modeling to figure out that there was a boulder here, for example, and a tree here, and a neighbor farmed between those two spaces.”
The Colombian Supreme Court has already accepted some social mapping results as evidence in a property restitution case.
In addition to her research in both countries, which is being distilled into a chapter to a forthcoming book on property, exclusion, and sovereignty, Ballard taught an Introduction to U.S. Law course to non-native English speakers in Georgia.
That experience is something she says will broaden the scope and effectiveness of her teaching of comparative law and property law to her students at Gonzaga.
“Sabbatical is something that helped me grow as a scholar and a teacher, and I think I took full advantage of the opportunity.”