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 have become increasingly prominent in the recent 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:

• 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. In July 2015, the case was decided in favour of the investor, for an undisclosed amount (Switzerland-Zimbabwe BIT invoked).

• Agro EcoEnergy and others (Sweden) vs. Tanzania: in September 2017 the Swedish investor EcoDevelopment registered a claim against the Tanzanian government for revoking a land title to grow sugar cane and produce ethanol, amid concerns over the impact on local communities and a wildlife sanctuary (Sweden - Tanzania BIT invoked).

(March 2020)

The Zimbabwe Mail | 2-Sep-2020
There are only two types of farmers that can be compensated for both land and improvements on farms. On of them is farmers whose land was protected by Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements.
The East African | 5-Aug-2020
Some of the dispossessed farmers were from countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland whose properties were protected by investment treaties between Harare and the Western countries.
The East African | 1-Apr-2020
The group, representing nearly 4,500 dispossessed commercial farmers, said the new regulations only affect ‘’indigenous’’ farmers and foreigners protected by Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs).
IISD | 27-Mar-2020
Magyar e Inicia afirmaron que Hungría había expropiado sus derechos de arrendamiento a las tierras tras una reforma del sector agrícola destinada a promover las explotaciones agrícolas familiares a expensas de las empresas agrícolas.
IISD | 27-Mar-2020
Magyar et Inicia ont affirmé que la Hongrie avait exproprié leurs droits de bail sur la terre, suite à une réforme du secteur agricole visant à promouvoir les exploitations familiales au détriment des entreprises agricoles.
IISD | 27-Mar-2020
Magyar and Inicia filed for arbitration against Hungary claiming expropriation of their leasehold rights to the land, following an agricultural sector reform to promote family farms over farming companies.
Reuters | 13-Mar-2020
The dispossessed farmers covered in the land compensation scheme are citizens of countries that have bilateral investment agreements with Zimbabwe.
Yonhap | 1-Oct-2019
The South Korean government has won an international arbitration in a suit a Korean-American individual filed over expropriation of land in a redevelopment project.
GRAIN | 2-Aug-2019
El RCEP no sólo cambiará las reglas sobre la exportación e importación de bienes y servicios; cambiará la forma en que los gobiernos deciden sobre los derechos de tierras y quiénes tienen acceso a ellos.
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.

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