Land Rights and Livelihoods: Local and International Responses to Land Grabs
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Side event at the 10th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues


On Tuesday, 24 May, 2011, the Equator Initiative organized a panel discussion titled "Land Rights and Livelihoods: Local and International Responses to Land Grabs" as a side-event to the Tenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN Headquarters in New York. The panel discussion focused on the controversial subject of "land grabbing", and drew on the experiences of Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), a 2008 Equator Prize winner, in advocating for land rights for the indigenous tribes of northern Tanzania.

Eric Patrick, a land policy specialist in the UNDP's Environment and Energy Group, moderated the panel and provided expert analysis of successful local responses to land grabs. He used the example of UCRT, who have successfully lobbied for restitution of land and have developed income-generating land use strategies with more than 35 villages bordering Tanzania's northern national parks. In particular, their use of participatory land use planning, drawing up of bylaws with village communities, conflict resolution activities, promotion of sustainable resource management, and involvement of women in cultural tourism projects have substantially empowered pastoralist and hunter-gatherer groups to better control, manage, and benefit from their land and natural resources.

Professor Paolo Galizzi of Fordham University Law School's Leitner Center provided a summary of the international legal framework and human rights issues associated with land-grabs. He noted that domestic legal recourse is often complicated by conflicts between customary laws concerning land allocation and formal legal systems. The international legal system, however, has some basic principles that many countries have ratified, which may offer alternative grounds for challenging these deals. Many issues around land grabbing can be framed as violations of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For example, appeals can be made to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food or on the Right to Adequate Housing. Professor Galizzi suggested establishing an international commission on the right to land and a UN Special Rapporteur to investigate land deals. He also highlighted the successful appeal of the Endorois community in Kenya to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in 2009.

24may_image6Paul Senyael, representing Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), described an ongoing land dispute in Loliondo Division, a strip of land bordering Serengeti National Park. The Tanzanian Government sold the land to a foreign investor in 1992 without consultation of local Maasai villagers. Recently, the government has passed new legislation restricting pastoralist activities within the game-controlled area, and has attempted to impose a new land use plan that cedes more land to the investors while reducing the Maasai's grazing lands by 50%. In July 2009, on the orders of the Tanzanian Government, a paramilitary group forcibly evicted 20,000 residents of eight villages in Loliondo, burning 200 huts and causing substantial economic losses to the communities, including livestock deaths and property loss. This was investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Loliondo case is the subject of an ongoing court case brought against the Tanzanian Government by UCRT and its partner NGOs.

A lively discussion followed the panelists' presentations. Professor Galizzi emphasized the need for recognition of customary rights to land in formal legal systems and clarity in their application. He also noted that international recognition in the form of awards such as the Equator Prize can help smaller NGOs compete with better-funded foreign investors; the role of the media can also be crucial in highlighting unfair land deals. It was agreed that there is a need to broaden the definition of land grabs, to include acquisitions by international and domestic consortiums, as well as governments; land deals for biofuels, tourism, and even conservation as well as for agricultural purposes; from a variety of different investor countries, including within the G77; and acquisitions of smaller areas of land, as well as marine resources. Several participants reiterated the need for far greater transparency in these deals, to demonstrate the benefits, if any, for host countries. The lack of political will in countries was also noted: this can be overcome with greater empowerment of local populations. Substantial funding is also needed to challenge the interests of wealthy investors.

A consensus emerged that international collaboration between lawyers, media, and economists, among others, is needed to support the efforts of groups like Ujamaa Community Resource Team, to raise awareness of the detrimental effects of land grabs on local people, and to make the arguments for community-based natural resource management.

For more information on this issue, please follow the links below:

Paul Senyael's presentation on UCRT

IIED paper on UCRT's use of Participatory Land Use Planning

Institute of Development Studies (UK) International Conference on Global Land Grabbing

Investigation of Loliondo case by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Websites recommended by Jeff Campbell (Christensen Fund) during the discussion:

Video coverage of the event:

Introduction by Eric Patrick (UNDP) and Professor Paolo Galizzi (Fordham University Law School's Leitner Center):

Report on the forced removal of pastoralists in Tanzania by Paul Senyael (UCRT):