Land rights

Over the past few years, investors have relied on investment agreements to bring a growing number of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) proceedings to challenge the legality of state conduct linked to land governance, such as land reform programmes, handling of farm occupations or termination of land transactions. They have sought significant amounts in compensation.

These connections between land rights and investment treaties could become increasingly prominent in the coming years, due to the growing pressures on land from mining and petroleum projects, agribusiness investments, special economic zones, tourism developments and infrastructure projects.

Land grabbing ISDS disputes include:

• Hussain Sajwani & Damac (UAE) vs. Egypt: the investor acquired a land at the time of the Mubarak regime for an alleged below market value. Egyptian courts cancelled the transaction after the fall of that regime. Case was settled in 2013 - details undisclosed (Egypt-UAE BIT invoked).

• Abengoa & Cofides (Spain) vs. Mexico: the municipality of Zimapán provided a land to the investor for the opening of a toxic waste disposal plant. Local communities demanded that the land be returned to them. The protests prompted the municipal council to withdraw the project’s license. The investors were awarded about US$30 million in 2013 (Mexico-Spain BIT invoked).

• Border Timbers, Border Timbers International and Hangani Development (Switzerland) vs. Zimbabwe: the dispute arises from the land reform in Zimbabwe, an effort to more equitably distribute land between black farmers and white Zimbabweans of European ancestry, who had traditionally enjoyed superior economic status. Case pending (Switzerland-Zimbabwe BIT invoked).

(November 2015)

Mining Watch | 2-May-2019
We analyzed 38 multi-million dollar claims brought by the mining industry using ISDS and other investment protection laws; in over half, communities are fighting to protect Indigenous territory, water, and more.
Lex Latin | 6-Mar-2019
Los demandantes alegaron que Panamá expropió y no otorgó un trato justo y equitativo a las empresas y a su inversión en el proyecto.
Yellowhead Institute | 26-Feb-2019
Exception clauses amount to little more than tokenism, and short-change our full rights to determine trade relationships on our land and oceanic territories.
IIED | 23-Feb-2019
Existing arrangements for third parties to participate in investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) are not designed to protect people whose rights and interests are directly at stake.
Hogan Lovells | 20-Feb-2019
Claimants failed to seek an annulment of the 12 October 2018 award, which dismissed the totality of claimants’ claims against the Republic of Panama.
Global Development and Environment Institute | 18-Dec-2018
While promising economic growth, large-scale land investment deals have caused increased inequality, widespread displacement of people, and destruction of natural resources.
Pazimbabwe | 28-Nov-2018
The ICSID has rejected Zimbabwe’s application to annul an US$195 million award to a German family whose property was expropriated under the controversial land reform programme.
IIED | 8-Nov-2018
Many SEZs have been associated with compressions of land, labour and human rights. Investment treaties protect investments against adverse regulatory change, including in SEZs. To date, investors have brought at least 20 arbitrations to challenge diverse aspects of SEZ regimes.
Ámbito | 27-Aug-2018
El grupo chileno impulsa proyecto inmobiliario por U$S 600 millones. El conflicto es por un terreno público en San Isidro que la empresa compró en 1996 por u$s22 millones y que el Estado pretende recuperar sin pagar.
Africa is a country | 4-Aug-2018
Zimbabwe is still seeking to have annulled two Awards issued by a tribunal of the ICSID. The disputes concern the government’s expropriation of timber plantations which were first established by Rhodes’ BSAC.

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