Tag Archives: community titling

What future for reform? Tracking changes in forest tenure since 2002

by Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque

Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque is a Tenure Analyst with the Rights and Resources Initiative, and one of the lead researchers of “What Future for Reform?” along with Fernanda Almeida and Jenny Springer. He is currently managing and updating RRI’s various tenure tracking data sets and developing new methodologies to track changes in community tenure.

Few things are as political as the rights to the world’s remaining forest land. Forests are viewed by a wide range of actors as a source of timber, fiber, food, fuel, medicine, carbon storage, biodiversity, spirituality, and as sites of cultural belonging. Vast mineral, gas, and oil resources are also found beneath the world’s forests. As populations and incomes grow, pressure will continue to rise on the shrinking, yet increasingly important forest estate and the resources it contains. To understand the current contestation for these resources, it is important to begin with the following question: Who ‘owns’ or ‘controls’ these resources?

While the answers are rarely clear, and frequently contested, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and its Partners have been developing approaches to answering it since 2002. RRI’s recent report, What Future for Reform? Progress and slowdown in forest tenure reform since 2002, is the latest in a series of reports tracking developments related to four different statutory forest tenure categories: 1) forest land under government administration; 2) forest land designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities; 3) forest land owned by Indigenous Peoples and local communities; and 4) forest land owned by individuals and firms.

The report presents tenure data from 2002 and 2013 under these four categories for 52 countries, representing nearly 90 percent of the global forest area.[1]  Of these, the 40 countries that have complete data for each category and time-period exclusively inform the global aggregates. The aggregates for low and middle income countries (LMICs) are drawn from 33 countries.

Key findings

On a global scale, it is clear that while governments have increasingly recognized indigenous and local community control and ownership of forest land, governments retain the lion’s share of the global forest estate. Between 2002 and 2013, the proportion of forests owned or controlled by Indigenous Peoples and local communities increased from just over 11 percent of the global forest estate (at least 383 Mha) to 15.5 percent (at least 511 Mha). The proportion owned by individuals and firms only increased by 0.6 percent over this same time period.  Continue reading


Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Customary governance, property rights, and state building in Afghanistan

by Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili

Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili is assistant professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. She recently completed The Political Economy of Customary Governance: Informal Order and State Building in Rural Afghanistan (under review), and is finalizing Land, the State, and War (with Ilia Murtazashvili), on how conflict over property rights has shaped the trajectory of the Afghan state. She also co-authored “Community Documentation of Land Tenure and its Contribution to State-building in Afghanistan” in Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding with J.D. Stansfield, M. Y. Safar and Akram Salam, and provides an update in this guest posting.

Conflict over land is one of the most important, yet poorly understood, drivers of instability in rural Afghanistan. The Taliban, for example, has been active in trying to establish its credibility and authority as reliable mediators of land conflict as it competes with the Karzai government for legitimacy.

The solution offered by the international community to the problem of tenure insecurity is the promotion of formal, state-backed legal titles. The chapter I authored with J.David Stanfield, Yasin Safar, and Akram Salam, “Community Documentation of Land Tenure and Its Contribution to State-Building in Afghanistan,” suggests that customary forms of land titles may be more effective in promoting the legitimacy of the state than by simply issuing formal government deeds.

The state has very little credibility with most Afghans as it is largely viewed as a source of corruption rather than governance.  This is not to say that Afghans do not want government. On the contrary, many Afghans are in demand of government but want to have little to do with formal state authority as it is currently exercised.

Thus, current efforts to promote property rights by promoting an extension of state authority in Afghanistan are not viewed by many Afghans as a viable solution. Instead, by making them more dependent upon a corrupt state, property rights based on state-issued legal titles may threaten, rather than enhance, tenure security in Afghanistan. This is largely due to the fact that many Afghans, especially those in rural areas, rely primarily upon customary mechanisms for the mediation of land disputes.  Furthermore, as Doug Batson suggests in his chapter in the volume, formal land titles often fail to adequately account for forms of customary land tenure.

One of the reasons efforts to extend state authority in rural Afghanistan have struggled, is because state-builders (both in the international community and some in the Afghan government) view the relationship between customary authority and the state in zero-sum terms.

While some analysts of Afghanistan have argued that that customary governance has withered away, my own fieldwork has shown that such structures remain quite strong but have changed over time to adapt to new circumstances in the country. Due to war and displacement, customary structures are actually more representative and democratic than they had been in the past.

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Defining communities in Colombia: the Afro-descendant communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó and communal land rights

by Anouska Perram

Anouska Perram is a Supervising Associate at the London office of Simmons & Simmons LLP, an international law firm. At the request of an international NGO for whom it acts on a pro bono basis, Simmons & Simmons LLP has recently submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Colombian Constitutional Court in relation to international human rights law considerations pertaining to the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó communities’ case.

Once seen as antipathetic to the individual rights focus of international human rights law, “third generation” and collective rights have – despite lingering controversy – been widely accepted as a fundamental element of the indivisible human rights framework.[1] Driven in particular by the demands of indigenous peoples, national and international law has recognised and protected rights to communal land titles, rights to language, religious practices, specialised education and protection of cultural heritage, and many other rights which are associated with the existence of distinct socio-cultural groups within the boundaries of the wider state.

As they have developed, collective rights have increasingly been applied to groups beyond indigenous peoples. ILO Convention 169 (the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention) extends protections not only to indigenous peoples (described as peoples descended from a pre-colonial society) but also – the clue is in the name – to “tribal peoples”. Unlike the description of indigenous peoples in the Convention, tribal peoples need not be linked by common descent, but rather are characterised by “social, cultural and economic conditions” which “distinguish them from other sections of the national community”.[2]

Taking a similarly expansive approach, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has applied collective rights principles to Afro-descendant groups. The Court applies its jurisprudence on indigenous land rights equally to Afro-descendant groups where they have “an ‘all-encompassing relationship’ to their traditional lands, and [where] their concept of ownership regarding that territory is not centered on the individual, but rather on the community as whole”.[3]

The expanding scope of collective rights entails a shift in emphasis in the way these rights are justified. Indigenous rights advocacy has often focused on a claim to right derived from chronological precedence – ancestral descent since time immemorial – perhaps paralleling an orthodox property rights analysis which takes an earlier claim as a better claim. The expansion of rights to other groups such as Afro-descendants – who do not have the same claims to ancestral ownership – moves the focus towards the uniqueness of social and cultural characteristics of the group. In this way, as collective rights have developed juridically, the principle of a distinct social organisation, intrinsically worthy of and requiring protection as a collective has become central to the analysis.

This question brings to the forefront the issue of how to define membership of the “collective” entitled to “collective rights”. Logically the entitlement to protection should follow the contours of the social organisation being protected; how to determine those boundaries in each situation is, however, not necessarily straightforward. This is not actually of course a new question – it arises equally for indigenous peoples – but has perhaps been more readily glossed over in relation to indigenous peoples, in reliance upon the (mythically) objective element of “descent” to determine the boundaries of the group.[4] No such “objective” identifier applies to non-indigenous groups and so the question of how to define the group cannot be avoided.

Lawmakers will remain tempted to adopt an “objective” criterion of descent, which gives an appearance of certainty and also places finite limits on a group. Such an approach, however, has the potential to decouple collective rights from parts of the collectivity being protected. This is the very issue currently before the Colombian Constitutional Court in relation to the Afro-descendant communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó.

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Empowering communities to document and protect their land claims: A solution to the global land grab?

by Rachael Knight

Rachael Knight is the Program Director of the Community Land Protection Program at Namati, a new global legal empowerment organization, and author of its recent report on community land titling. She previously served as Director of the International Development Law Organization’s (IDLO) Community Land Titling Initiative, working to document and protect the customary land rights of indigenous groups in Uganda, Liberia and Mozambique.

Community meeting in Uganda (photo credit Namati)

For billions of rural people, land is their greatest asset: the source of food and water, the site of their livelihoods, and the locus of history, culture, and community. Yet more than ever, rural land is in demand. In recent years, governments in Africa have been granting vast land concessions to foreign investors for agro-industrial enterprises and forestry and mineral exploitation. According to recent data, transactions covering at least 57,393,083 hectares of land have been granted or are under negotiation.  Often, governments grant concessions with the goal of stimulating development and strengthening the national economy. Yet such concessions are further exacerbating trends of growing land scarcity and weakening the land tenure security of rural communities.

Even when communities welcome private investment, they may not be consulted about the terms of the investment, properly compensated for their losses, or given a say in land management after the investment is launched. Alternatively, such investments may be undertaken in ways that lead to environmental degradation, human rights violations, loss of livelihoods, and inequity. In this context, protections for rural communities and their lands are urgently needed.

In some countries, national laws allow communities to register or title their lands as a whole and then manage their land according to local needs and interests. Such community land documentation processes – which document the perimeter of the community according to customary boundaries – are a low-cost, efficient and equitable way of protecting communities’ customary land claims. Community land documentation efforts not only protect large numbers of families’ lands at once, but also the the forests, water bodies, and grazing areas that rural communities depend on to survive and are often the first to be allocated to investors, claimed by elites, and appropriated for state development projects. Importantly, formal recognition of their customary land claims gives communities critical leverage in negotiations with potential investors.

However, because these laws transfer control over valuable lands and resources away from the state and into the hands of the community members themselves, governments have so far dragged their heels in implementing them. For example, in the 14 years since the passage of Uganda’s Land Act (1998), not one Ugandan community has yet gained title to its customary lands.

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What Rights? Comparing developing countries’ national legislation on community forest tenure rights

by Fernanda Almeida

Fernanda Almeida is the lead author of RRI’s “What Rights?” report and works as an international legal consultant on comparative legal, regulatory and policy research and analysis.

Indigenous Peoples and forest communities have long-established customary land rights to a large proportion of the world’s forests. The recognition of these rights by governments and international law and jurisprudence, has proven to be one of the few success stories in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Where these rights are recognized, Indigenous Peoples and other communities are not only able to enjoy their most fundamental human rights, but also to develop themselves sustainably.

For example, in the case of Amazonian traditional populations in the Extractive Reserve of Marajoí (Brazil), the açaí palm had virtually disappeared due to previous over-harvesting caused, at least in part, by unclear tenure. Once land tenure issues were resolved, traditional populations invested their resources in managing the açai area as a way to bring back wildlife, fish, and the açai palm itself. As a result, biodiversity was restored and the population had secured its means of subsistence.[1]

In spite of the importance of such rights to the promotion of a sustainable development agenda, very little was known about the extent to which governments around the world had recognized them and how. The What Rights? report by the Rights and Resources Initiative begins to fill this gap. It analyzes national laws that relate to the forest tenure rights of indigenous peoples and communities in 27 developing countries, home to 2.2 billion rural people, that collectively contain about 75 percent of the forested land in all developing countries.[2]

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New RRI report (and upcoming guest post) on community land rights in tropical forests

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) just released a new report indicating that forest peoples have “quietly gained unprecedented legal rights to the land and resources owned under customary law” over the last twenty years. However, the authors also express concerns about legal obstacles to the exercise of such rights and the risk of their rollback by elite groups seeking to facilitate international land and natural resource deals. According to RRI’s press release:

“Forest peoples are caught between the forces of a drive for environmental sustainability and the intense pressure of economic development”, said Jeffrey Hatcher, Director of Global Programs for RRI, and one of the authors of the new report. “Despite tremendous progress in establishing legal tenure regimes, a lack of political will and bureaucratic obstacles make it a struggle to implement any real action in most forest-rich developing nations. ….”

The report is described as providing “the most comprehensive global legal analysis to date of the status of forest tenure rights held by Indigenous Peoples and other local communities in more than two-dozen developing countries”, which together account for “approximately 75 percent of the forests of the developing world, home to some 2.2 billion people.” It was released together with a separate study on the positive development effects of recognizing customary forest tenure. Both reports taken together constitute the results of an analysis undertaken by RRI on the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in order to inform the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on June 20-22.

I am very pleased to announce that Fernanda Almeida, the lead author of the report, will be guest-writing on TN next week in order to provide further analysis of the results of RRI’s research and insights on how these findings may be of practical assistance in efforts to secure the tenure rights of forest peoples.

Fernanda’s guest-posting can now be read at the following link:

– What Rights? Comparing developing countries’ national legislation on community forest tenure rights (11 June 2012)



Guest-posting by Erica Harper on new IDLO customary justice books

I am very pleased to announce that Erica Harper, Senior Rule of Law Advisor at the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), will shortly be guest-posting at TN. The topic will be a set of three books recently released by the IDLO on customary justice (all of which are available for free download as .pdfs at the above link). In her posting, Ms. Harper will address both the general issues explored by the volumes and their specific implications for land practitioners.  A little further ahead, we are looking forward to guest-postings by Rachael Knight, a contributor to the customary justice books and manager of an IDLO project on Community Land Titling that just released reports related to Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda.

Work with customary norms and community-level institutions reflect both the potential and the complications inherent in housing, land and property (HLP) work in a world where development expertise has destabilized some of the late 1990s certainties reflected in documents such as the Pinheiro Principles – but without necessarily replacing them with new ones. They are also burningly relevant as the agrarian communities most dependent on land find themselves increasingly threatened by large-scale investment and natural resource concession trends.