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)

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.
IIED | 16-Jun-2017
This report examines whether and how investor-state arbitral tribunals consider community perspectives, interests and rights in their settlement of investment disputes.
Teletica | 29-May-2017
El estado panameño destinó un monto de $3,7 millones para costear la defensa ante la demanda que una sociedad que integra el candidato liberacionista Antonio Álvarez Desanti planteó contra ese país, tiempo atrás, por un litigio por tierras.
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.

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