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).