Assisting communities to seek legal redress for land rights violations

Increased pressures on natural resources have shifted resource control in favour of commercial interests, with many communities affected by land rights violations. IIED is helping these communities to assert their rights.

Law, economies and justice
A collaborative programme of work on renegotiating the law to promote fairer, more sustainable economies
A woman picking leaves from a tree.

A women’s co-operative is farming in the township of Yoko, Cameroon (UN Women/Ryan Brown via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A recent wave of large-scale commercial investments in agriculture, extractive industries and other land-based sectors has compounded the ‘global resource squeeze’ in low- and middle-income countries. But many communities affected by land rights violations struggle to assert their rights.

Demand for legal support outstrips resources, and what is available is not always appropriate. Pursuing litigation often presents significant obstacles, major costs and risks to the communities involved without offering any certain outcomes.

To complement existing accountability efforts, IIED’s legal tools team is participating in various initiatives to help communities seeking redress after falling victim to land rights violations.

What is IIED doing?

Supporting communities affected by large-scale land acquisitions:

  • We conduct legal analysis and promote dialogue between communities and governments. For example, along with the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum and the International Land Coalition, we convened dialogue sessions between the government of Tanzania and four villages whose land had been allocated to a now-failed biofuel project in Tanzania’s Kilwa District.

Providing policy support to national civil society on compulsory land acquisition:

  • In Guinea, where the government is preparing a new regulation on land acquisition for private investment, we are providing technical input to a national coalition of civil society organisations with the goal of strengthening the rights of communities.
  • In Cameroon, where large-scale land acquisitions have been a source of conflict, we are developing law reform proposals through the LandCam project on how the country should adapt its compulsory land acquisition framework.

Assisting advocates in seeking redress for communities:

  • We develop concepts and methodologies to help practitioners support communities whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by agricultural investments. For example, we’ve developed the concept of ‘investment chains’, and the ‘pressure points’ they offer for holding companies to account.

Convening peer-to-peer learning between grassroots organisations:

  • In partnership with Namati and the International Land Coalition, we convene the Community Land Protection Initiative (CLPI), which brings together grassroots organisations to share new ideas for security community land tenure. Watch a video presenting the initiative and others from the workshops in the YouTube playlist below.


Redress for land and resource rights violations: a legal empowerment agenda, Brendan Schwartz, Lorenzo Cotula, Masalu Luhula, Tomaso Ferrando and Hayden Fairburn (2019), IIED Briefing

How to promote transnational accountability in relation to 'land grabbing'? Insights from a brainstorming event, Thierry Berger, Lorenzo Cotula, Tomaso Ferrando, Gearóid Ó Cuinn and Hayden Fairburn (2017), Workshop report

Following the money: an advocate’s guide to securing accountability for agricultural investments, Emma Blackmore, Natalie Bugalski, David Pred (2015), IIED and IDI Report

Understanding agricultural investment chains: lessons to improve governance, Lorenzo Cotula and Emma Blackmore (2014), IIED and FAO

Additional resources

Blog: Overcoming obstacles to women's land tenure security in Guinea, by Nentébou Barry (October 2022)

Mediation and development-related conflict, Giedre Jokubauskaite, Catherine Turner (2022), Research report

Land reforms in Guinea: challenges and prospects for the recognition of legitimate rights, Mamadou Alpha Mariam Diallo, Dakala Grovogui, Moussa Soumaoro (2021), IIED Briefing | français

Case study: Helping Indigenous communities secure land rights in Nepal, Jagat Deuja, Rachael Knight (December 2020)

Blog: What happens when the landgrabbers leave? An account from Kilwa, Tanzania, Masalu Luhula, Brendan Schwartz (December 2020)

Case study: Protecting Indigenous lands: lessons from Chile (November 2020)

'How-to' videos from the 2019 CLPI workshop participants:

Follow-up ‘diaries’ and blogs from the 2018 CLPI workshop participants

  • Dewi Sutejo, diary, and Imam Hanafi, blog, Jaringan Kerja Pemetaan Partisipatif (JKPP)
  • Digna Irafay, diary, and Masalu Luhula, blog, TNRF
  • Jitar Christain Taku, diary and blog, Community Assistance In Development (COMAID)
  • Rachael Knight, blog, Namati
  • Manolo Morales, blog, Environmental Management and Law Corporation (ECOLEX)

Blog: Creating a global 'land rights family': from knowledge to action, Brendan Schwartz (March 2018)

Blog: Legal activism key to securing land rights in new investment phase, Lorenzo Cotula (March 2018)

Blog: Legal empowerment: what we do, what we've learned, Lorenzo Cotula (November 2017)

Animation: Promoting accountability in agricultural investment chains (2015)