Joint Statement on the Right to Land- 58th Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Presented at the 58th Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Geneva, 13 June 2016
Thank you Mister Chair,
I speak on behalf of a group of twelve international and national NGOs and research organisations.
Our organisations work together on the issue of land rights in different countries across the globe, and we document the impact of violations of the right to land on the enjoyment of the rights protected under the Covenant by affected populations. Through this statement, we would like to draw the attention of the Experts to the urgent need for the Committee to address this issue, in a context of growing threats and violence targeting land rights defenders.
In many countries, land rights and security of tenure constitute the basis for access to food, livelihoods, housing and development. However, rights over land are frequently concentrated in the hands of the few. Large-scale land acquisitions and land grabbing are exacerbating these inequalities, adversely affecting small-scale rural producers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, hunter-gatherers, forest dwellers, fisherfolk and others who rely on the land and natural resources for livelihoods. This situation also particularly affects women who tend to enjoy less access to, control over and use of land, due to social structure and power differentials. Aside from the economic consequences, the cultural impacts of displacement or impeded access to land can be devastating for those whose way of life is inextricably tied up with the territories they live in. Inequality in access to and control over land has been a driver of tensions, unrest and violent conflict across the globe. As the pressures on land and natural resources increase, these issues now require urgent attention.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the working group developing the draft Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas, and the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food have all extensively addressed these issues. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples guarantees indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources. In addition, the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure explicitly recognise the strong links between tenure rights and human rights. At the same time, human rights organisations report a growing trend of threats, violence and assassinations of ‘land rights defenders’. Recent years have seen the mobilisation of mass social movements fighting for the recognition of land rights and social equality. Their role has been specifically recognised by the landmark resolution issued in March 2016 by the Human Rights Council, which called for their protection.
Mister Chair, distinguished members of the Committee,
All of the above points to a clear need for a statement from this Committee clarifying that land rights are human rights.
We believe the Committee is well-placed to undertake this task. The Committee has frequently referenced the need to respect land rights and consistently demonstrated that access to – and security of – land tenure are important aspects of economic, social and cultural life. The Committee has also provided specific guidance on the need to regularise land tenure, promote access to land, and protect individuals and communities against expropriation, displacement or forced eviction. The Committee has further recognised that, whilst formal land titling can be an important tool for securing land rights, it is not always the most appropriate means to achieve security of tenure. Beyond land titling, the strengthening of traditional and customary tenure systems – including those of indigenous peoples – remains crucial. Furthermore, community land rights must be recognised and protected.
In addition, the Committee has extended the principle of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities to minority and other communities where cultural practices and identity are threatened. The Committee has also stated that weak governance, vested interests and corruption in land administration agencies need to be systematically addressed.
We welcome the Committee’s approach which recognises the indivisibility of rights and the instrumental role of land rights in the realisation of other fundamental rights, such as the rights to food, water, health and housing.
However, our organisations believe that there is a need now to strengthen the legal framework to promote and implement the human right to land. A guarantee of land rights as human rights is critical not only in securing other rights, but in recognising and protecting the inherent economic, social and cultural value of the connection between people and land which is now under threat in many contexts.
A strong and comprehensive communication from this Committee is now needed on the fundamental importance and content of a human right to land per se. A General Comment on the Right to Land, would clarify the normative foundations of the right to land, reaffirm the linkages with other rights and go further in setting out the normative content of the right. In this way, it would articulate states’ core obligations and give practical guidance on implementation at the national level. The essential role of international cooperation should also not be forgotten, especially bearing in mind the impact of foreign trade and other policies on land acquisition and use in many countries. Such an initiative would provide much-needed clarity for states in fulfilling their duties with respect to the right to land and for those holding them to account.
In conclusion, Mister Chair, we urge the Committee to rise to this challenge, to consolidate and build on its substantial contributions on land rights to date and help advance a rights-based approach to land.
I thank you.
Association for Land Reform and Development – ALRG (Bangladesh),
Autopromotion Rurale pour un Développement Humain Durable – ADHD (Togo),
International Institute for Environment and Development (iied),
International Land Coalition (ILC),
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA),
Landesa Rural Development Institute (USA),
Minority Rights Group International (MRG),
National Federation of Peasant Organisations (Pambasang Kilusan ng Mga Samahand Magsasaka – PAKISAMA) (Philippines),
Training Support for Partners – TSP (Malawi),
University of East London’s Centre on Human Rights in Conflict (United Kingdom)
 Association for Land Reform and Development – ALRG (Bangladesh), Autopromotion Rurale pour un Développement Humain Durable – ADHD (Togo), Bios (Moldova), International Institute for Environment and Development (iied), International Land Coalition (ILC), International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Landesa Rural Development Institute (USA), Minority Rights Group International (MRG), National Federation of Peasant Organisations (Pambasang Kilusan ng Mga Samahand Magsasaka – PAKISAMA) (Philippines), Training Support for Partners – TSP (Malawi), Trócaire (Ireland), University of East London’s Centre on Human Rights in Conflict (United Kingdom)
 See: Part I, Objectives 1.1: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i2801e/i2801e.pdf.