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)

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.
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.

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