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).

Photo: Jill Buseth / War on Want

(March 2020)

Zimeye | 27-Jan-2024
A London court has ordered Zimbabwe to pay US$125 million to two timber firms whose land was seized by the government, rejecting its claim of state immunity in a case that tests the enforcement of international arbitration awards.
APA News | 26-Jan-2024
La justice britannique a demandé au Zimbabwe de se conformer à une décision de 2015 exigeant le paiement de 125 millions de dollars à deux entreprises pour des terres saisies lors de la réforme foncière controversée du pays au début des années 2000.
The Citizen | 11-Jul-2023
Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) plane that was seized in the Netherlands after a Swedish firm won a $165 million award against Tanzania has been released, says the government.
The Zimbabwe Mail | 2-Jun-2023
ZIMBABWE continues its fight in the United States (US) to block enforcement of a US$277 million arbitration award to a German and Swiss family which stems from the country’s controversial land reform programme.
The Citizen | 7-Dec-2022
Air Tanzania Company Limited plane has been seized in the Netherlands after a Swedish firm won a $165 million award against Tanzania due to revoked land title in the Bagamoyo sugar project.
Peace Brigades International Canada | 2-May-2022
The ZEDEs are free from import and export taxes, but could set up their own internal forms of government, as well as courts, security forces, schools and even social security systems.
Bulawayo | 28-Jul-2021
Bernhard von Pezold and his family have enlisted the help of a US federal court in Washington DC in enforcing a US$277 million arbitral award against Zimbabwe.
IISD | 9-Apr-2021
Para muchas personas afectadas por la extracción de recursos, los tratados de inversión pueden proteger emprendimientos que pueden cambiar drásticamente sus vidas con poco margen para expresar sus opiniones u obtener reparación.
IISD | 9-Apr-2021
For many people affected by resource extraction, it is the prevailing legal regime that dis-embeds and disintegrates, because investment treaties can protect ventures that upend their lives with little scope for voice or redress.
IISD | 8-Apr-2021
Pour de nombreuses personnes affectées par l’extraction des ressources, le régime juridique désintègre, car les traités d’investissement peuvent protéger des projets qui bouleversent leur vies, leur laissant peu de chance de se faire entendre.