Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-mpxzb Total loading time: 0.495 Render date: 2023-01-29T09:31:54.641Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Land Grabbing, Sustainable Development and Human Rights

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2015

Evadné Grant
Department of Law, University of the West of England, Bristol (United Kingdom). Email:
Onita Das
Department of Law, University of the West of England, Bristol (United Kingdom). Email:


Increasing investment in agricultural land by global corporations and investors from wealthy developed nations in poorer, less developed countries has significant human rights and environmental impacts. Proponents of such land deals argue that they provide opportunities for improvements in agricultural practices and generate employment, which will benefit economic growth in host countries. However, there is growing evidence that the phenomenon known as ‘land grabbing’ displaces poor and vulnerable populations and damages the environment, which in turn exacerbates poverty and food insecurity. This article explores the impact of land grabbing in Ethiopia and examines the human rights and sustainable development frameworks within which land grabbing takes place. The article argues that a human rights approach is fundamental to reconcile the sustainable development imperatives of economic development and environmental protection in the context of land grabbing. It advocates an integrated human rights and sustainable development approach as a holistic framework for assessing the impact of land grabbing and for the development of policy and regulatory responses.

© Cambridge University Press 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2013 Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) Annual Symposium, ‘Human Rights and the Environment: Re-imagining the Relationship II’, San José (Costa Rica), July 2013. We thank participants for their insights and suggestions.


1 De Schutter, O., ‘The Green Rush: The Global Race for Farmland and the Rights of Land Users’ (2011) 52(2) Harvard International Law Journal, pp. 504559Google Scholar, at 504.

2 Messerli, P. et al., ‘The Geography of Large-Scale Acquisitions: Analysing Socio-Ecological Patterns of Target Contexts in the Global South’ (2014) 53 Applied Geography, pp. 449459CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 449; Arezki, R., K. Deininger & H. Selod, ‘What Drives the Global Land Rush?’, IMF Working Paper WP/11/251, International Monetary Fund, 2011, p. 13Google Scholar.

3 Zagema, B., ‘Land and Power: The Growing Scandal Surrounding the New Wave of Investments in Land’, Oxfam Briefing Paper, 22 Sept. 2011, p. 5Google Scholar; Cotula, L., ‘The International Political Economy of the Global Land Rush: A Critical Appraisal of Trends, Scale, Geography and Drivers’ (2012) 39(3–4) Journal of Peasant Studies, pp. 649680CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 651.

4 See L. Cotula, ‘Analysis: Land Grab or Development Opportunity?’, BBC News, 22 Feb. 2012, available at:; World Bank, ‘How Africa Can Transform Land Tenure, Revolutionize Agriculture and End Poverty’, Word Bank Press Release, 22 July 2013, available at:

5 See De Schutter, n. 1 above, at p. 524; Human Rights Watch (HRW), ‘Waiting Here for Death: Forced Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region’, 17 Jan. 2012, p. 3, available at:; S. Daniel & A. Mittal, ‘The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor’, The Oakland Institute, 2009, p. 13; B. Robertson & P. Pinstrup-Andersen, ‘Global Land Acquisition: Neo-Colonialism or Development Opportunity? (2010) 2(3) Food Security, pp. 271–83, at 275.

6 M.-C. Cordonier Segger & A. Khalfan, Sustainable Development Law: Principles, Practices & Prospects (Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 1.

7 Ibid., at p. 3.

8 Most recently in ‘A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development’, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Agenda, May 2013, available at:

9 Per O. Metho from the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, in a statement at the United States (US) Congressional Briefing on Land Grabs in Africa, 18 Apr. 2013, available at

10 UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ‘The Global Social Crisis: Report on the World Social Situation 2011’, pp. 67–72, available at:; European Commission, ‘Causes of the 2007–2008 Global Food Crisis Identified’, News Alert Issue 25, 20 Jan. 2011.

11 Rahmato, D., Land to Investors: Large-Scale Land Transfers in Ethiopia (Forum for Social Studies, 2011), p. 1Google Scholar.

12 De Schutter, O., ‘How Not to Think of Land-Grabbing: Three Critiques of Large-Scale Investments in Farmland’ (2011) 38(2) Journal of Peasant Studies, pp. 249279CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 249.

13 Smaller, C. & Mann, H., A Thirst for Distant Lands: Foreign Investment in Agricultural Land and Water (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2009), p. 7Google Scholar, available at:

14 Sassen, S., ‘Migration is Expulsion by Another Name in World of Foreign Land Deals’, The Guardian, 29 May 2013Google Scholar, available at:

15 Woodhouse, P., ‘New Investment, Old Challenges. Land Deals and the Water Constraint in African Agriculture’ (2012) 39(3–4) Journal of Peasant Studies, pp. 777794CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 778.

16 O. De Schutter, ‘The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food’, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Human Rights Council, UN Doc A/HRC/25/57, 24 Jan. 2014, p. 10.

17 Woodhouse, n. 15 above, at p. 778.

18 Deininger, K. et al., Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefit? (World Bank, 2011), p. 79Google Scholar, available at:

19 Arezki, Deininger & Selod, n. 2 above, at p. 20.

20 Robertson & Pinstrup-Anderson, n. 5 above, at p. 272.

21 ‘Ethiopia Overview’, The World Bank, 31 Aug. 2014, available at:

22 See Millennium Declaration, UN Doc. A/RES/55/2, 18 Sept. 2000.

23 F. Horne et al., Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Ethiopia (Oakland Institute, 2011), p. 4; UN Country Team/Government of Ethiopia, ‘Assessing Progress Towards the Millennium Development Goals: Ethiopia MDGs Report 2012’, Dec. 2012, available at:

24 HRW, n. 5 above, at p. 3.

25 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 22.

26 Ibid., at p. 23. It has been reported recently that Karuturi is in financial difficulty: see GRAIN, ‘Karuturi, the Iconic Landgrabber, Flops’, GRAIN Media Release, 14 Feb. 2014, available at:

27 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 32.

28 HRW, n. 5, at p. 20.

29 Ibid., at pp. 28–38.

30 Ibid., at p. 20.

31 Ibid., at p. 41.

32 Ibid., at p. 46.

33 Plummer, J. (ed.), Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia (International Bank of Reconstruction and Development/World Bank, 2012), p. 315Google Scholar.

34 HRW, n. 5 above, at p. 54.

35 Robertson & Pinstrup-Anderson, n. 5 above, at p. 273.

36 GRAIN, The Great Food Robbery: How Corporations Control Food, Grab Land and Destroy the Climate (GRAIN/Pambazuka Press, 2012), p. 27.

37 Deininger, n. 18 above, at p. 2.

38 FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2012: Investing in Agriculture for a Better Future (FAO, 2012).

39 De Schutter, n. 1 above, at p. 520.

40 Rakotoarisoa, M.A., Iasfrate, M. & Paschali, M., Why Has Africa Become a Net Food Importer? Explaining Africa Agricultural and Food Trade Deficits (FAO, 2012), p. 62Google Scholar.

41 These include, e.g., enforceable investor commitments relating to the timing, nature and quality of infrastructure provisions; clear terms giving the host state capacity to monitor compliance or sanction non-compliance; as well as express contractual obligations on job creation, use of local producers and supply chains to improve local livelihoods: see Cotula, L., Land Deals in Africa: What is in the Contracts? (International Institute for Environment and Development, 2011), pp. 2627Google Scholar.

42 Ibid., at p. 26.

43 Ibid., at p. 62.

44 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 35.

45 Ibid., at p. 37.

46 Rakotoarisoa, Iasfrate & Paschali, n. 40 above, at p. 62.

47 Ibid.

48 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 17.

49 Ibid., at p. 37.

50 See Cotula, n. 41 above, at p. 25.

51 J. von Braun & R. Meinzen-Dick, ‘“Land Grabbing” by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities, 13 IFPRI Policy Brief, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2009, p. 3.

52 FOE, Land Grabbing, available at:

53 Cotula, n. 41 above, at p. 38.

54 Ibid.

55 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 36.

56 Shifting cultivation involves land being worked for a few years before moving on to another area, leaving land to lie fallow for a number of years.

57 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 43.

58 Ibid., at p. 36.

59 HRW, n. 5 above, at p. 45.

60 See, e.g., ‘International Land Deals: Who is Investing and Where – Get the Data’, The Guardian, 27 Apr. 2012, available at:; T. Kachika, ‘Land Grabbing in Africa: A Review of the Impacts and the Possible Policy Responses’, Oxfam International, 2011, pp. 34–6 (with reference to, e.g., Tanzania, Mali and Ghana).

61 Campbell, S., ‘Special Report Revealed: The Bitter Taste of Cambodia’s Sugar Boom’, The Ecologist, 13 Apr. 2011Google Scholar, available at:

62 Slow Food, ‘Impacts: The Social and Environmental Consequences of Land Grabbing …’, available at:

63 FOE, n. 52 above.

64 De Schutter, n. 12 above, at p. 273.

65 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 42.

66 Ibid.

67 Woodhouse, n. 15 above, at p. 788.

68 Smaller & Mann, n. 13 above, at p. 5. See also H. Turral, J. Burke & J.-M. Faurès, Climate Change, Water and Food Security, FAO Water Reports 36 (FAO, 2011), p. 35.

69 Woodhouse, n. 15 above, at p. 788.

70 Cotula, n. 41 above, at p. 36.

71 Ibid.

72 Ibid.

73 Horne, n. 23 above, at pp. 45–6.

74 Ibid., at p. 46.

75 Wily, L.A., ‘From State to People’s Law: Assessing Learning-by-Doing as a Basis of New Land Law’, in J.M. Otto & A. Hoekema (eds), Fair Land Governance: How to Legalise Land Rights for Rural Development (Leiden University Press, 2012), pp. 85110Google Scholar, at 85.

76 De Schutter, n. 1 above, at p. 524.

77 L. Cotula, ‘Securing Land Rights in Africa – Trends in National and International Law’, in Otto & Hoekema, n. 75 above, pp. 57–84, at 70.

78 Ibid., at p. 74.

79 Zagema, n. 3 above, at p. 6.

80 C.G. Weeramantry, ‘Foreword’, in Cordonier Segger & Khalfan, n. 6 above.

81 See International Law Association (ILA), ‘Report of the Seventy-Fifth Conference’, Sofia (Bulgaria), Aug. 2012, pp. 821–79. See also French, D., International Law and Policy of Sustainable Development (Manchester University Press, 2005), p. 53Google Scholar; ILA, ‘New Delhi Declaration of Principles of International Law Relating to Sustainable Development’ (2002) 2 International Environmental Agreements, pp. 209–16 (New Delhi Declaration).

82 Principle 1.2, New Delhi Declaration, ibid.

83 Ibid., Principle 1.1. This obligation is part of customary international law as is evident from Principle 21, Declaration of the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration), UN Doc. A/CONF.84/14 (1972); Principle 2, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (Rio Declaration), adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 3–14 June 1992, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26/Rev.1 (Vol. I), 14 June 1992, available at:, and endorsed in the Legality of the Threat and Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports (1996), p. 266, at para. 29.

84 The principle of equity ‘… refers to both inter-generational equity (the right of future generations to enjoy a fair level of common patrimony) and intra-generational equity (the right of all peoples within the current generation of fair access to the current generation’s entitlement to the Earth’s natural resources)’: see Principle 2.1, New Delhi Declaration, n. 81 above.

85 Although the principle is not part of customary international law, it is increasingly reflected in international instruments and judicial decisions: see, e.g., Arts 3 and 5, Rio Declaration, n. 83 above; Preamble and Art. 3(1), UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), New York, NY (US), 9 May 1992, in force 21 Mar. 1994, available at:; Art. 2(1), UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 5 June 1992, in force 29 Dec. 1993, available at:; Preamble and Art. 15(7), UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa (UNCCD), Paris (France), 17 June 1994, in force 26 Dec. 1996, available at:; Supreme Court of the Philippines, Minors Oposa v. Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), 30 July 1993, (1994) 33 ILM 173, p. 185; Nuclear Weapons, n. 83 above, at para. 29 (the ICJ recognized that ‘quality of life’ in relation to the environment also affected ‘generations unborn’).

86 Bosselmann, K., The Principle of Sustainability (Ashgate, 2008), p. 59Google Scholar. See also UN, ‘Millennium Development Goals and Beyond 2015’, available at:

87 See, e.g., Art. 24, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Nairobi (Kenya), 27 June 1981, in force 21 Oct. 1989, available at:; Art. 11, Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador), San Salvador (El Salvador), 17 Nov. 1988, in force 16 Nov. 1999, available at:; Art. 1, Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, Aarhus (Denmark), 25 June 1998, in force 30 Oct. 2001, available at:

88 UN Human Rights Council, ‘Preliminary Report of the Independent Expert on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment, John H Knox’, 24 Dec. 2012, UN Doc. A/HRC/22/43.

89 Boyd, D.R., The Environmental Rights Revolution (UBC Press, 2012), p. 47Google Scholar.

90 New York, NY (US), 16 Dec. 1966, in force 3 Jan. 1976, available at: See UN Mandate on Human Rights and the Environment, ‘Mapping Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment, Individual Report on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’, Dec. 2013, available at:

91 Ibid.

92 This principle refers to ‘the right of all peoples within the current generation of fair access to the current generation’s entitlement to the Earth’s natural resources’: see Principle 2.1, New Delhi Declaration, n. 81 above.

93 Geneva (Switzerland), 27 June 1989, in force 5 Sept. 1991, available at: The 22 ratifying states include only one African country.

94 UNGA Res. 61/295, UN Doc. A/Res/61/295 (13 Sept. 2007), available at:

95 Ibid., Art. 26.

96 Ibid., Art. 2.

97 Cordonier Segger & Khalfan, n. 6 above.

98 See e.g., Preamble and Art. 3 UNFCCC; Arts 4, 5, 6 UNCCD. See also, e.g., United States – Import Prohibition of Certain Shrimp and Shrimp Products, Recourse to Article 21.5 by Malaysia, Panel Report, WTO Doc. WT/DS58/RW, 15 June 2001, p. 102.

99 Principle 3.1, New Delhi Declaration, n. 81 above.

100 Ibid., Principle 3.2.

101 Ibid., Principle 3.3.

102 Ibid., Principle 3.4.

103 CESCR Poverty Statement, UN Doc. E/C. 12/2001/10 (10 May 2001).

104 UNGA, Declaration on the Right to Development (UNDRD), 4 Dec. 1986, UNGA Res. 41/128, UN GAOR 41st Sess., Annex, UN Doc. A/Res/41/128 (1986), available at: Although the UNDRD is not binding under international law, the principles embodied in it are arguably already part of international law as they reiterate and elaborate on a number of rights already embodied in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), New York, NY (US), 16 Dec. 1966, in force 23 Mar. 1976, available at:, and the ICESCR, n. 90 above. See Ibhawoh, B., ‘The Right to Development: The Politics and Polemics of Power and Resistance’ (2011) 33(1) Human Rights Quarterly, pp. 76104CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 82; Bunn, I.D., The Right to Development and International Economic Law (Hart, 2012), pp. 8283Google Scholar.

105 Art. 4 UNDRD, ibid. See also HRC, ‘Report of the High-Level Task Force on the Implementation of the Right to Development on its Sixth Session’ (2010) UN Doc. A/HRC/15/WG.2/TF/2/Add.2, para. 16.

106 ‘A precautionary approach is central to sustainable development in that it commits States, international organizations and the civil society, particularly the scientific and business communities, to avoid human activity which may cause significant harm to human health, natural resources or ecosystems, including in the light of scientific uncertainty’: see Principle 4, New Delhi Declaration, n. 81 above. See also, e.g., Sachs, N.M., ‘Rescuing the Strong Precautionary Principle from Its Critics’ (2011) University of Illinois Law Review, pp. 12851338Google Scholar, at 1285 (arguing that the precautionary principle may provide a valuable framework for preventing harm to human health and the environment). Cf. Sunstein, C.R., Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (Cambridge University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar (arguing that the goals of the precautionary principle should be promoted by other means). For a more general review see, e.g., Ellis, J., ‘Overexploitation of a Valuable Resource? New Literature on the Precautionary Principle’ (2006) 17 European Journal of International Law, pp. 445462CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 445.

107 Case Concerning Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay), Judgment of 20 Apr. 2010, ICJ Reports (2010), para. 204. It is worth noting that similar recognition was not given to the precautionary principle by the Court. However, see Separate Opinion of Judge Cançado Trindade, paras 62–96 and 103–13 (where Judge Trindade argues that the precautionary principle is a ‘general principle of international environmental law’).

108 Sage-Fuller, B., The Precautionary Principle in Marine Environmental Law (Routledge, 2013), p. 89Google Scholar.

109 The principle requires states to ensure that their individual citizens have ‘access to “appropriate, comprehensible and timely” information concerning sustainable development that is held by public authorities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, as well as effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy’. See Razzaque, J., Public Interest Environmental Litigation in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (Kluwer, 2004), p. 402Google Scholar. This principle is an emerging norm reflected in various international instruments: see, e.g., Principle 10 Rio Declaration; Art. 6 UNFCCC; Arts 13 and 14(1) UNCBD.

110 The concept of good governance is not part of customary international law but operates as a policy tool: see, e.g., Choudhury, N. & Skarstedt, C.E., ‘The Principle of Good Governance’, CISDL Draft Legal Working Paper (CISDL, 2005), p. 21Google Scholar.

111 Razzaque, n. 109 above, at p. 402 (footnotes omitted).

112 ICCPR, n. 104 above.

113 CESCR, General Comment No. 12, ‘The Right to Adequate Food (Art. 11)’, 12 May 1999, E/C.12/1999/5, para. 23.

114 C. Golay & M. Büschi, The Right to Food and Global Strategic Frameworks: The Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition (GSF) and the UN Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA) (FAO 2012), p. 15.

115 Art. 19 ICCPR; Art. 13 ACHPR.

116 Arts 21 and 22 ICCPR; Arts 10 and 11 ACHPR.

117 Art. 9 ACHPR.

118 Art. 25 ICCPR; Art. 13 ACHPR.

119 L. Cotula (ed.), The Right to Food and Access to Natural Resources: Using Human Rights Arguments and Mechanisms to Improve Resources Access for the Rural Poor (FAO, 2008), p. 18.

120 HRW, n. 5 above, at p. 3; Horne, n. 23, at pp. 30–1.

121 HRW, ibid., at pp. 32–8.

122 Santiso, C., ‘Towards Democratic Governance: The Contribution of Multilateral Development Banks in Latin America’, in P. Burnell (ed.), Democracy Assistance (Routledge, 2013) pp. 150190Google Scholar, at 166.

123 ‘The Surge in Land Deals: When Others Are Grabbing Their Land’, The Economist, 5 May 2011, available at:

124 HRW, n. 5 above, at p. 30.

125 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Arts 14–28, available at:

126 Horne, n. 23 above, at p. 5.

128 Horne, n. 23, at p. 7.

129 M.-C. Cordonier Segger & A. Newcombe, ‘An Integrated Agenda for Sustainable Development in International Investment Law’, in M.-C. Cordonier Segger, M.W. Gehring & A. Newcombe (eds), Sustainable Development in World Investment Law (Kluwer Law International, 2011), pp. 99–142, at 124.

130 Principle 7.1, New Delhi Declaration, n. 81 above.

131 Cordonier Segger & Newcombe, n. 129 above, at p. 124.

132 Case concerning the Gabčikovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary v. Slovakia), Judgement, 25 Sept. 1997, ICJ Reports (1997), p. 205.

133 Gearty, C., ‘Do Human Rights Help or Hinder Environmental Protection?’ (2010) 1(1) Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, pp. 722CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 22.

134 Holder, J. & Lee, M., Environmental Protection, Law and Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2007) p. 231CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Coyle, S. & Morrow, K., The Philosophical Foundations of Environmental Law: Property, Rights and Nature (Hart, 2004), p. 208Google Scholar.

135 Holder & Lee, ibid., at p. 218. For further critique on sustainable development see, e.g., Bosselmann, n. 86 above, at p. 4; Pesqueux, Y., ‘Sustainable Development: A Vague and Ambiguous “Theory”’, in N. Lesca (ed.), Environmental Scanning and Sustainable Development (Wiley, 2011), pp. 124Google Scholar, at 6.

136 Principle 2.2, New Delhi Declaration, n. 81 above.

137 Liddle, B. & Moavenzadeh, F., ‘The Sustainability Challenge for Climate Change: Balancing Inter- and Intra-Generational Equity’, in F. Moavenzadeh et al. (eds), Future Cities: Dynamics and Sustainability (Kluwer, 2002), pp. 195214CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 195.

138 E.g., the UNFCCC, the UNCBD and the UNCCD. See also Sands, P. & Peel, J., Principles of International Environmental Law, 3rd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 207CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

139 2012 Sofia Report, n. 81 above, at pp. 4–14 (on sustainable development in international jurisprudence). See also Iron Rhine (‘IJzeren Rihn’) Railway Arbitration (Belgium v. Netherlands), Award of the Arbitral Tribunal, 24 May 2005, pp. 28–9; Pulp Mills, n. 107 above, at pp. 52 and 55–6.

140 French, n. 81 above, at p. 36.

141 Nanda, V., ‘International Environmental Protection and Developing Countries’ Interests: The Role of International Law’ (1991) 26 Texas International Law Journal, pp. 497519Google Scholar, at 498.

142 Fuel Retailers Association of Southern Africa v. Director-General Environmental Management, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, Mpumalanga Province, et al., Case No. CCT 67/06, ILDC 783 (ZA) 2007, para. 58.

143 2012 Sofia Report, n. 81 above, at p. 4.

144 Reported progress includes, e.g., the reduction of global poverty by half by 2010, significant gains in access to improved water sources and the advancement of women: see UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), World Economic and Social Survey 2013: Sustainable Development Challenges, E/2013/50/Rev. 1 ST/ESA/344 (UN, 2013), p. iii.

145 Ibid.

146 See, e.g., 2012 Sofia Report, n. 81 above, at p. 3; Lafferty, W.M., ‘Governance for Sustainable Development: The Impasse of Dysfunctional Democracy’, in J. Meadowcroft, O. Langhelle & A. Ruud (eds), Governance, Democracy and Sustainable Development: Moving Beyond the Impasse (Edward Elgar, 2012), pp. 297338CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 312–3.

147 Cooper, P.J. & Vargas, C.M., Implementing Sustainable Development: From Global Policy to Local Action (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), pp. 192195Google Scholar.

148 Francis, G. & Lerner, S., ‘Making Sustainable Development Happen: Institutional Transformation’, in A. Dale & J.B. Robinson (eds), Achieving Sustainable Development (UBC Press, 2011), pp. 146159Google Scholar, at 146–7.

149 2013 UNDESA Survey, n. 144 above, at p. iii.

150 See ILA, ‘Report of the Seventy-Third Conference’, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 2008, p. 2.

151 Ibid., at p. 7.

152 According to the UN Open Working Group on SDGs, the SDGs ‘are action oriented, global in nature and universally applicable’: see UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, ‘Introduction to the Proposal of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals’, 19 July 2014, para. 18.

153 N. 83 above.

154 Anton, D.K. & Shelton, D.L., Environmental Protection and Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 68CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

155 N. 81 above.

156 ILA, ‘Report of the Seventy-First Conference’, Berlin (Germany), 2004, pp. 896–938, at 890.

157 See Bosselmann, n. 86 above, at p. 53.

158 Gearty, n. 133 above, at pp. 7–9; Coyle & Morrow, n. 134 above, at p. 211.

159 See, e.g., McGoldrick, D., ‘Sustainable Development and Human Rights: An Integrated Conception’ (1996) 45(4) International Comparative Law Quarterly, pp. 796818CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 796.

160 Gabčikovo-Nagymaros, n. 132 above, at pp. 91–2.

161 See, e.g., Hulme, K., ‘International Environmental Law and Human Rights’, in S. Sheeran & N. Rodley (eds), Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law (Routledge, 2013), pp. 285301Google Scholar, at 289.

162 Arts 11 and 12 ICESCR.

163 See UNHCHR, n. 90 above, at para. 16.

164 Council of Europe, Manual on Human Rights and the Environment (Council of Europe, 2012), pp. 45–60.

165 UN Human Rights Council, ‘Report of the Independent Expert on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment, John H. Knox: Mapping Report’, A/HRC/25/53, 30 Dec. 2013 (2013 Knox Report), paras 17–25.

166 Weston, B.H. & Bollier, D., Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 8797Google Scholar; Boyd, n. 89 above.

167 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Human Rights, Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development: Health, Food and Water – A Background Paper’, World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg (South Africa), 26 Aug.–4 Sept. 2002, p. 1, available at:

168 FAO, Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forest in the Context of Food Security (FAO, 2012).

169 Cotula, L., The Great African Land Grab (Zed Books, 2013), pp. 101102Google Scholar.

170 UN, ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework’, 2011.

171 UN General Assembly, ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter’, UN Doc. A/HRC/13/33/Add.2, 28 Dec. 2009, Annex, pp. 16–8.

172 RSPO, ‘RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production’, 2013.

173 RSB, ‘Certification’, available at: It is also worth noting that there are enforcement flaws in these certification schemes: see Fortin, E.R.M. & Richardson, B., ‘Certification Schemes and the Governance of Land: Enforcing Standards or Enabling Scrutiny?’ (2013) 10 Globalization, pp. 141159CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

174 Cotula, n. 169 above, at p. 102.

175 J.G. da Silva, ‘Global Land Deal Guidelines Could Pave Way to World Without Hunger’, The Guardian, 11 May 2012, available at:

176 Ibid.

177 See comment by L.A. Wily in M. Tran, ‘Negotiators Reach Consensus on Global Land Governance Guidelines’, The Guardian, 14 Mar. 2012, available at: See also Cotula, n. 169 above, at p. 104.

178 Cotula, L., ‘Tackling the Trade Law Dimension of Land Grabbing’, IIED Blog, 14 Nov. 2013Google Scholar, available at:

179 2013 Knox Report, n. 165 above, at para. 17.

180 N. 87 above.

181 Art. 24 ACHPR.

182 Art. 22 ACHPR.

183 Preamble ACHPR; see Grant, E., ‘Accountability for Human Rights Abuses: Taking the Universality, Indivisibility, Interdependence and Interrelatedness of Human Rights Seriously’ (2007) 32 South African Yearbook of International Law, pp. 158–179Google Scholar, at 167.

184 The African Commission monitors implementation of the ACHPR and is authorised to consider both individual and inter-state communications: Arts 47–59 ACHPR.

185 The Social and Economic Rights Action Centre and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights (SERAC) v. Nigeria, Communication 155/96, Oct. 2001.

186 The case is discussed in detail in Ebeku, K.S.A., ‘The Right to a Satisfactory Environment and the African Commission’ (2003) 3 African Human Rights Law Journal, pp. 149–166Google Scholar.

187 SERAC, n. 185 above, at para. 51.

188 Arts 4, 16 and 24 ACHPR.

189 SERAC, n. 185 above, at para. 53.

190 Ibid., at para. 55.

191 Centre for Minority Rights Development (Kenya) and Minority Rights Group (on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council) v. Kenya, Communication 276/03.

192 Art. 7 ACHPR.

193 Art. 14 ACHPR.

194 Art. 21 ACHPR.

195 Art. 22 ACHPR.

196 Endorois, n. 191 above, at para. 161.

197 See Ashamu, E., ‘Centre for Minority Rights Development (Kenya) and Minority Rights Group International on Behalf of Endorois Welfare Council v Kenya: A Landmark Decision from the African Commission’ (2011) 55(2) Journal of African Law, pp. 300313CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 300.

198 The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) was established by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Protocol on the African Court), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), 9 June 1998, in force 25 Jan. 2004, available at:

199 There are no restrictions on who may submit cases to the Commission: locus standi is extended to individuals and NGOs (Art. 55 ACHPR). See, e.g., SERAC, n. 185 above; Amnesty International v. Zambia, Communication 212/98. The same locus standi rules apply to the ACtHPR but the Court is not permitted to consider a petition unless the State Party concerned has made a declaration accepting its jurisdiction. All cases submitted to the Court must first pass through the Commission (Arts 5 and 34(6) of the Protocol on the African Court, ibid.).

200 Art. 56(4) ACHPR specifically mentions that communications must not be ‘based exclusively on news disseminated through the mass media’, but this clearly implies that media reports may form part of the evidence: see Sir Dawda K. Jawara v. The Gambia, Communications 147/95 and 149/96.

201 The jurisdiction of the ACtHPR is, however, optional and states may choose whether to accept direct access to the Court (Art. 34 of the Protocol on the African Court, n. 198 above). Ethiopia, for example, has not ratified the Protocol and therefore does not accept the jurisdiction of the Court: see J. Harrington, ‘The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights’, in M. Evans & R. Murray (eds), The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 305–34, at 305 and 318.

202 In spite of the African Commission issuing a resolution in Nov. 2013 calling on the Kenyan government to implement the decision in the Endorois case, no action has yet been taken: see African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Resolution Calling on the Republic of Kenya to Implement the Endorois Decision, 5 Nov. 2013.

203 Rome (Italy), 4 Nov. 1950, in force 3 Sept. 1953, available at:

204 See Manual on Human Rights, n. 164 above.

205 See, e.g., IACHR, Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tigni Community v. Nicaragua, IACHR Series C No. 79, 2001, available at; IACHR, Maya Indigenous Communities of the Toledo District v. Belize, Case No. 12.053, Report No. 40/04, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.122 Doc.5.rev 1, at 727 (2004), available at:

206 Slaughter, A.M., ‘A Global Community of Courts’ (2003) 44 Harvard International Law Journal, pp. 191–220Google Scholar, at 192.

207 Arts 60 and 61 ACHPR.

208 Grant, n. 183 above, at p. 163.

209 Harrison, J., ‘Reflections on the Role of International Courts and Tribunals in the Settlement of Environmental Disputes and the Development of International Environmental Law’ (2013) 25(3) Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 501–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 506.

210 Lowe, V., ‘The Function of Litigation in International Society’ (2012) 61(1) International Comparative Law Quarterly, pp. 209222CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 214.

211 Ibid., at p. 213.

212 Cotula, n. 169 above, at p. 104 (footnote omitted).

213 De Schutter, O., ‘The Emerging Human Right to Land’ (2010) 22(3) International Community Law Review, pp. 303334CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 316; F.F.K. Byamugisha, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity (Agence Française de Développment/World Bank, 2013), p. 5.

214 J.M. Otto & A. Hoekema, ‘Legalising Land Rights, Yes, But How? An Introduction’, in Otto & Hoekema, n. 75 above, pp. 7–30, at 9 (referring to community organizations, NGOs, academics and some politicians); De Schutter, ibid., at pp. 306–17.

215 Otto & Hoekema, ibid., at p. 14; De Schutter, ibid., at p. 317.

216 Otto & Hoekema, ibid., at p. 9; De Schutter, ibid., at pp. 316–8

217 De Schutter, ibid., at p. 322.

218 Otto & Hoekema, n. 214, at p. 21.

219 Ibid., at p. 21. See also Wily, n. 75 above.

220 De Schutter, n. 12 above, at p. 250.

221 D. Hunt & M. Lipton, ‘Green Revolutions for Sub-Saharan Africa?’, Chatham House Briefing Paper, 2011, p. 7Google Scholar; MacMillan, S. & Seré, C., Back to the Future: Revisiting Mixed-Crop Livestock Systems (International Livestock Research Institute, 2010), pp. 1516Google Scholar.

222 High-Level Panel Report, n. 8 above.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Land Grabbing, Sustainable Development and Human Rights
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Land Grabbing, Sustainable Development and Human Rights
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Land Grabbing, Sustainable Development and Human Rights
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *