Legal tools for citizen empowerment: sharing lessons from innovation


Around the world, citizens' groups are taking action to change the way investments in natural resources are happening, to protect the rights of citizens and the environment for a fairer and more sustainable world. The Legal Tools for Citizen Empowerment initiative shares tools and tactics among practitioners.

Kalimantan, Indonesia: A community leader discusses resistance to a logging company building a large oil palm plantation. The banner in the background demands that the company return the community’s rights. (Photo: Rainforest Action Network via Flickr)

Citizens' groups are using multiple levers to promote justice, sustainability and accountability in investment processes. These range from grassroots action to claim rights, engage in legal reforms and international policy debates, to mobilising international human rights bodies. It also includes making use of investor and company grievance mechanisms to scrutinising international investment treaties, contracts and arbitration.

Through approaches such as legal literacy trainings, paralegal programmes, radio broadcasts or local deliberation tools, civil society organisations are enabling communities to register collective landholdings, claim their rights and to have a say in investments that affect their lives.

There is a need to share lessons from this experience – both the successes and the challenges still to be overcome. And in a carbon-constrained and time-pressured world, practitioners need new ways to communicate, interact and learn from one another without necessarily travelling the world to resource-intensive meetings.

What does IIED do?

IIED works with practitioners who are developing innovative approaches to reflect on their experiences and share this learning with others. This includes:

  • Documenting and publicising lessons learnt, and
  • Convening lesson-sharing events.

To facilitate international lesson-sharing, IIED and its partners use multiple interlinked channels, including international workshops, webinars, practitioner write-ups and newsletters.

Webinars are online seminars that enable practitioners to share their experience, learn from each other and create new alliances. Examples of past webinars include:


Project flyer: LandCam - Securing land and resource rights and improving governance in Cameroon, Lorenzo Cotula, Emily Polack (2017) Project flyer in English and French

The practitioner write-ups provide an opportunity to reflect on innovative experiences, and to share lessons with a wider community of practitioners who may be grappling with similar issues elsewhere, or may be inspired to take action.

Connected and changing: An open data web platform to track land conflict in Myanmar, Catriona Knapman, Wai Wai Lwin (2016), project report

Pillars of the community: how trained volunteers defend land rights in Tanzania, Godfrey Massay (2016) Research report

Genre et foncier : l’expérience des consultations juridiques gratuites au Sénégal, Khadidiatou Kébé Diouf (2016), IIED (in French only)

Mainstreaming gender in Tanzania’s local land governance, Nasieku Kisambu (2016), IIED

Community-based advocacy: lessons from a natural gas project in Mozambique, Alda Salomão (2015), IIED report 

Asserting community land rights using RSPO complaint procedures in Indonesia and Liberia, Tom Lomax (2015), IIED report | en français

Bringing community perspectives to investor-state arbitration: the Pac Rim case, Thierry Berger, Saúl Baños, Marcos A. Orellana (2015), IIED | en Español

Community-based monitoring of land acquisition: from the Buseruka oil refinery, Uganda, Bashir Twesigye (2015), IIED | en français

Advocacy on investment treaty negotiations: lessons from Malaysian civil society, Fauwaz Abdul Aziz (2015), IIED

Catalysing famers' influence in shaping law reform: experience from Senegal, Ndèye Coumba Diouf (2015), IIED Case study | en français

Legal advice for environmental justice: Experience from eastern India, Sanjay Upadhyay, Suparna Jain, Enviro Legal Defence Firm (2015), IIED Case study

Walking with villagers: how Liberia's land rights policy was shaped from the grassroots, Ali Kaba, Gaurav Madan (2014), IIED Case study | en français

From legal caravans to revising the mining code: lessons from experience with legal empowerment in communities affected by mining, Mali, Amadou Keita, Moussa Djiré, Lorenzo Cotula (2014), IIED Case study | en français

Challenging the constitutionality of Indonesia's investment law, Yudha Fathoni (2014), IIED Case study | en français

Public interest litigation as an empowerment tool: the case of the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust and diamond mining in Zimbabwe, Mutuso Dhliwayo (2013), IIED | en français

From law school to the field: community lawyers in Cameroon, Samuel Nguiffo (2012), IIED Briefing | en français

Barefoot lawyers: defending community resource rights in the Philippines, Carl Cesar Rebuta, Ronald A. Gregorio and Yasmin O. Hatta (2012) IIED | en français

Listen, think and act: Radio broadcasting to promote farmers' participation in Mali's land policy, Mamadou Goïta and Mohamed Coulibaly (2012), IIED | en français

Sustaining legal empowerment in initiatives to support local land rights, Robin Nielsen (2012), IIED Case study | en français

Legal empowerment in practice. Using legal tools to secure land rights in Africa, Lorenzo Cotula and Paul Mathieu (2008), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN/IIED Land Tenure and Resource Access in Africa Series.


The Department for International Development (DFID)


The reports listed above have been authored by one or more of the following organisations:

Association des juristes sénégalaises (AJS) (French language site)

Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA)

Center for Environmental Research and Advocacy/Centro Terra Viva 

Forest Peoples Programme (FPP)

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD) (Spanish language site)

Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED)

Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Melayu (MTEM), (Malay language site)

Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR)

Environment Law and Development Foundation (ELDF)

Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)


Groupe d’étude et de recherche en sociologie et droit appliqué (GERSDA)

The Indonesian Peasant Union (SPI, Serikat Petani Indonesia) (Indonesian language site)

Centre pour l’environnement et le développement (CED) in Cameroon (French language site)

The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center/Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth-Philippines (LRC-KsK/FoE-Philippines)

The Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development in Africa (IRPAD)


Lorenzo Cotula (, principal researcher, Natural Resources research group; programme lead

Emily Polack (, senior researcher, Natural Resources research group

Philippine Sutz (, senior researcher, Natural Resources research group