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Land rights are increasingly becoming a crucial human rights issue. The issue of land rights is central in pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict situations. For example, as illustrated by the situations in South Africa, Uganda, Guatemala or Zimbabwe, land issues and agrarian reforms are often at the centre of violent conflicts and as such are key elements in the transition from conflict to peace.

More generally, there is a strong link between the use, access to, and ownership of land on the one hand, and development and poverty reduction on the other. In some areas, traditional access and ownership rights for women, minorities, migrants and pastoralists have been ignored or reduced. The current movement of land grabbing taking place in many countries in the hands of private corporate interest is adding more pressure on the issue.

Despite land rights being such a crucial issue there is clear lack of focused research on the role of human rights law in dealing with land rights. Traditionally, under international law, territoriality is addressed through the lens of territorial state sovereignty wherein the primary concern is a state’s control over its own territory. In contrast, the research group will examine the potential role of international human rights law in addressing the issue of territoriality from the perspective of protecting the essential rights of individuals and/or communities. Vulnerable groups such as minorities, indigenous peoples, women, children or refugees in particular are often the victims of territorial seizure.

The main purpose of the proposed research group is to conduct comprehensive research towards the development of a consistent human rights approach to land rights. Members of the research group on Land and Human Rights are Jeremie Gilbert, Sally Holt and Nicola Antoniou.

Activities

In June 2014 Prof. Jeremie Gilbert convened an international workshop on “Land Grabbing, Land Rights and Human Rights” which brought together scholars and practitioners to discuss the human rights dimensions of land rights and of land grabbing. The workshop reflected on the situation across the globe.

Subsequent to the workshop, a small Working Group of researchers from UEL, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and as formed with the aim of supporting the adoption of a General Comment on the right to land by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The first step was to undertake a systematic review and compilation of relevant materials from across the UN system that make reference to land rights. Intended as a resource that the CESCR and other UN actors can draw on in framing a right to land, the aim of the research is both quantitative and qualitative: quantitative as it demonstrates how substantial the references to land rights have been throughout the work of the CESCR, in particular; qualitative as the research reveals which rights are used and referred to in connection with land rights and which rights-holders are specifically identified as requiring special attention when it comes to land rights. A synthesis of research findings is published in this report, which summarises the guidance with regard to human rights and land issues already elaborated by the CESCR and other UN bodies and mechanisms and highlights areas for special consideration in the process of elaborating a General Comment on the right to land.

The Working Group is now coordinating with a range civil society organisations and networks working and campaigning on land rights across the globe to lobby diplomats and UN experts, to highlight the importance of the issue and demonstrate global support for the evolution toward a ‘right to land’ under international human rights law. A Joint Statement urging the adoption of a General Comment by the CESCR was delivered at the Commitee's 58th Session in June 2016, with a briefing for Committee Members planned for the Autumn Session.

News: Jeremie Gilbert Give Expert Witness Statement Before The Inter-American Courts of Human Rights

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Land Research Group members also regularly respond to requests to undertake consultancies or provide expert input on specific issues.
  • Prof. Gilbert was invited to present a paper on “Secure Land Rights - Land as a Human Right?” by the Committee on Development of the European Union. The roundtable focused on the 2015 report ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World’, stressing the importance of ensuring access to land and securing tenure for local communities.  Dr Gilbert highlighted the importance of recognising the rights to land of the most marginalised communities, notably small-scale farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and women. Link.
  • Sally Holt has developed an e-learning course 'Addressing Disputes and Conflicts over the Tenure of Natural Resources' for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.