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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS CONCLUDES DAY OF GENERAL DISCUSSION ON GOVERNANCE OF LAND TENURE

Holds Panel Discussions on Concerns Related to Land by Indigenous Peoples and other Vulnerable Groups, Land Rights and Conflicts, and Land under Changing Environmental Conditions and Climate Change
14 October 2019

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon concluded a day of general discussion on the obligations of States under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and governance of land tenure. Three panel discussions were held in that context.

The first panel discussion focused on “Concerns related to land by indigenous peoples, traditional groups and other vulnerable groups”. Michael Windfuhr, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the General Comment, acted as the moderator.

Speaking were Kaitlin Y. Cordes, Head of Land and Agriculture, Lead on Human Rights and Investment at the Columbia Centre on Sustainable Investment; Federico Pacheco from La Via Campesina; and Cissé Salim, Permanent Secretary of Agricultural Orientation Law at the Ministry of Agriculture of Mali. Laila Susanna Vars, Member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, spoke by videoconference.

Colombia, Norway, Archana Soreng, Maria Berenice Sanchez Lozada, Roland Lameman, and Larry Salomon Pedro made statements following the presentations.

Panellists explored various issues in the second panel discussion titled “Land rights and conflicts”, which was moderated by Rodrigo Uprimy, Committee Expert and Co- Rapporteur for the General Comment.

Speaking were Camilo Sanches, Professor at Virginia University; Philip Seufert from Fian International Secretariat; and Leiria Vay García from Codeca - Comite De Desarollo Campesino.

Guatemala, Colombia, and Consejo De Pueblos Wyxhatj made statements following the presentations.

The third panel discussion centred on “Pressures on land and speculation”. Olivier De Schutter, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the General Comment, acted as moderator.

Speaking were Joshua Castellino, Professor of Law at Middlesex University; and Santiago Sanchez, Lawyer at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales. Kirtana Chandrasekaran, International Programme Coordinator at the Food Sovereignty Friends of the Earth International, spoke by videoconference.

State of Palestine, Guatemala, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Miloon Kothari and Uruguay made statements following the presentations.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Windfuhr said the Committee still welcomed written inputs.

Sandra Liebenberg, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked those present for their valuable contributions.

Documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/, while meetings summary releases can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 18 October, to close its sixty-sixth session.

Panel Discussion on “Concerns related to land by indigenous peoples, traditional groups and other vulnerable groups”

KAITLIN Y. CORDES, Columbia Centre on Sustainable Investment, Head of Land and Agriculture, Lead on Human Rights and Investment, said various indigenous groups, pastoralists, fisherfolk, peasants and others around the world were losing access to their lands, resources, and traditional ways of life due to weak land rights. State failure to protect these individuals’ access to land generated violations of economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Covenant. In the process of demarcating land, communal land should be delineated first. The Government should formally recognize data and maps produced by indigenous peoples. When the land was held communally, the rights should be given communally, to groups. In the General Comment, the Committee should suggest that the presumption of ownership be in favour of claimants while their claims were pending. The recognition of a right was useful if that right was protected; the State party should ensure access to national and international mechanisms to protect indigenous peoples’ right to land.

FEDERICO PACHECO from La Via Campesina supported the recognition of a broad, universal right to land. It was obvious that access to land for any individual was essential to the enjoyment of rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. Article 5 and 7 of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas clearly referred to access to resources. In that regard, the right to land was de facto recognized for rural workers and farmers. This acknowledgement should be used as a platform to make recommendations on economic, social and cultural rights, and policy recommendations should be developed accordingly. A right to trade land should not be recognized, as land was not a commodity nor a resource to be traded. The General Comment should clearly call for the recognition of community ownership.

LAILA SUSANNA VARS, Member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, speaking by videoconference, said the dominant models of individual ownership, privatization and development of lands were often in contrast with indigenous peoples’ traditions of collective ownership and management of lands. She stressed the importance of free, prior and informed consent. Indigenous peoples should be able to influence the outcome of the decision-making process, not merely be involved in or heard in the process affecting them. Furthermore, the collective nature of land rights in indigenous contexts could not be underestimated. The Committee should in its General Comment address the issue of reprisals. The killings and other forms of reprisals against indigenous human rights and environmental defenders engaged in struggles for their lands and resources were recognized as a global crisis.

CISSÉ SALIM, Permanent Secretary of Agricultural Orientation Law at the Ministry of Agriculture of Mali, said it was up to each country to ensure the consistent and progressive implementation of the State’s international obligations. The Government of Mali had promulgated a law in 2006 that contributed to counter speculation in land tenure transactions and abusive customary holdings. The Agriculture Policy aimed to safeguard investments in farming and ensure the sustainable management of natural resources, inter alia. That law also allowed the recognition of customary rights, such as tenant farming. It also made it possible to recognize individual and collective rights. Land could also be transferred through inheritance or disposed of by way of donation.

Colombia, Norway, Archana Soreng, Maria Berenice Sanche Lozada, Roland Lameman and Larry Salomon Pedro made statements following the presentations.

Panel Discussion on “Land rights and conflicts”

RODRIGO UPRIMY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the General Comment on Governance of Land Tenure, said land was a determinant of war and peace. Many conflicts were linked to deep-rooted unfairness related to land. The bond of people to land was so strong that some analysts wondered whether it was war that led to forced displacement or if the reverse was true.

CAMILO SANCHES, Professor at Virginia University, said there was undeniable empirical evidence between land and conflict. It could be seen as a reason for conflicts, the persistence of conflicts, and a bottleneck for their resolution. The various stages of conflict had to be taken into account, as well as the different needs that existed at each stage. Reaching harmonization on all land projects had to been found. The Committee could ask that harmonization processes take into account the enjoyment of the provisions enshrined in the Covenant. Land should be perceived as a means of preventing and resolving conflicts; this should lead to the creation of early warning systems on lands, but also on economic, social and cultural rights.

PHILIP SEUFERT, FIAN International Secretariat, drew the attention of those present to the situation of human rights defenders. Some corporate actors tried to access resources and lands, generating tensions and at times dispossessions. The General Comment should clarify the responsibility of States in such situations, notably their obligation to address conflicts and prevent them. Unequal distribution had grown historically due to factors such as colonization. Recently, the growing power of financial markets and actors had made the situation worse. This was exacerbating dispossession and increasing inequalities. Land investment projects were rolled out through the sale of financial products. In that context, the General Comment should state that the obligation to regulate that was incumbent upon States was not limited to traditional sectors, but also extended to financial markets, trade agreements, etc.

Leiria Vay García from CODECA - Comite de Desarollo Campesino, said that during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala, land was seen as a resource and not as a source of life. The peace agreement had benefitted families and people who did not have land before, without providing them with the means they needed to produce. Decades later, no progress had been achieved. Many farming families still did not have access to land and were now burdened with a lot of debt. Indigenous peoples believed that land must no longer be seen as a good that could be bought and sold in the market. Failing that, indigenous peoples would not be able to resist for another 500 years, as large businesses were using the land for extractive projects that were sapping the life out of the land. Earth should not be seen as a resource, but rather the source of life, that way the continuation of life could be guaranteed. Furthermore, to address conflicts, people should be seen as rights holders. The enforcement of the right to land should also be monitored.

Guatemala, Colombia, and Consejo de Pueblos Wyxhatj made statements following the presentations.

Panel Discussion on “Land under changing environmental conditions and climate change

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the General Comment, said the Committee had become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change on the right to health and food, inter alia. It seemed natural to broach this topic in the context of the discussion on land, given the close links between the management of land, climate change and biodiversity.

Kirtana Chandrasekaran, International Programme Coordinator at the Food Sovereignty Friends of Earth International, speaking by videoconference, said this discussion was very timely. Land-based climate mitigation and climate change policies could represent opportunities but also threats to people and their land rights. The General Comment should address both the opportunities and threats related to the climate change-land nexus. The link between the climate crisis and land crisis was not new; they were both due to the growth of extractive industries. The negative emissions technologies pathway was being proposed to address climate -- bioenergy for instance. The impact of such an approach on the right to food and land rights had been overlooked. This needed to be explored further. There were other options, such as reforestation.

JOSHUA CASTELLINO, Professor of Law at Middlesex University, said indigenous peoples were still perceived as objects rather than subjects of law. There was still a colonial land system; decolonization remained incomplete if land rights were not addressed. The tenure land rights were still based on the colonial system. There were short-term imperatives, such as protection against evictions, notably indigenous peoples that had been historically custodians of the environment and who were now ironically evicted in the name of environmental protection. In a similar vein, the huge gender dimension to this issue should be emphasized.

SANTIAGO SANCHEZ, Lawyer at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, said Argentina was carrying out a type of occupation that was degrading the environment at the expense of the community. In the Buenos Aires province, there were about 200 closed neighbourhoods that had been built without having received the certificates that were required by law prior to their construction. These neighbourhoods had been granted the certificates after their construction, through an expedited legal procedure, which Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales had challenged before the courts. This illustrated that Argentina played the role while private players moved forward in acquiring land at the expense of the environment and human rights. It was paramount to regulate the relationship between States and businesses.

State of Palestine, Guatemala, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Miloon Kothari, and Uruguay made statements following the presentations.

Concluding Remarks

MICHAEL WINDFUHR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the General Comment, said the Committee still welcomed written inputs.

SANDRA LIEBENBERG, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked those present for their valuable contributions.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CESCR19.020E