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)

Politico | 11-Apr-2017
The Teamsters labor union has escalated an investor dispute against Peru, arguing that its members’ pensions could be thrown into jeopardy as a result of the government’s alleged failure to pay investors $5 billion worth of debt tied up in land bonds.
The Hindu | 28-Feb-2017
Even as bilateral investment treaties are strengthened, domestic legislation must be implemented.
OHCHR | 1-Feb-2017
The report provides an analysis of the impacts of international investment agreements on the rights of indigenous peoples.
IIED | 18-Jan-2017
Lorenzo Cotula discusses highlights from his latest academic piece, in which he explores whether investment treaties protect ’land grab’ deals, and how these impact the land rights of rural people.
Peru Reports | 3-Jun-2016
Gramercy Funds Management has filed a $1.6 billion claim against Peru for its refusal to redeem land bonds from the 1970s agrarian reform.
IISD | 18-May-2016
In an award issued July 28, 2015 but only published February 2016, a tribunal at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ordered Zimbabwe to return farms it seized without compensation in 2005.
The Guardian | 25-Apr-2016
Government ordered to pay compensation after Hugo Chávez nationalised British beef company’s landholdings.
Earth Institute | 17-Mar-2016
A new report from the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment explores the dilemmas posed by land investments under international investment treaties and human rights law.
Yes | 6-Jan-2016
The TPP makes the rights of companies sacrosanct, and that includes the right to mine. But what about the rights of people who live in the way of proposed mining sites?
IIED | 18-Dec-2015
The vast majority of the land deals from the recent wave of agribusiness investments in low and middle-income countries are protected by at least one investment treaty.

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