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)

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.
Expropriate | 4-Aug-2018
On 29 July 1918, the British judiciary proffered the Empire’s most expressly and egregiously racist justification for the land dispossession of indigenous peoples. Today, an ICSID tribunal continues that mission. No matter which way Zimbabwean’s turn at the polls, they’re still paying for their invasion and occupation by Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa company...
Milieu Defensie | 12-Jan-2018
The French oil company Total evicts people from their land in Uganda to make room for an oil processing facility.
IISD | 22-Dec-2017
Tanzania passed three new laws that significantly change the regulatory landscape governing natural resources and the mining sector in particular.
Scoop | 31-Oct-2017
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced plans to effectively ban foreign buyers of existing residential property but says the prohibition doesn’t put New Zealand at odds with the slimmed down version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.
Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy of Korea | 25-Oct-2017
First ISDS case against South Korea under Korea-US FTA.
IIED | 23-Oct-2017
How international investment treaties could promote more responsible investment and argues that, while some innovative practices are emerging, there is still much to do.
Land Portal | 18-Oct-2017
Tanzania is currently confronting this challenge, faced with a new international investment dispute tied to a proposed large-scale sugarcane and ethanol production project.
The Reporter | 11-Oct-2017
Karuturi could sue the government of Ethiopia at international tribunals on the basis of violations of the Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement India and Ethiopia have signed on.
IISD | 22-Sep-2017
Swedish investor EcoDevelopment registered a claim at the ICSID against the Tanzanian government for revoking a land title amid concerns over the impact on local communities and a wildlife sanctuary.

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