Land rights - from constrainer to enabler?

The potential of the UN Tenure Guidelines in conflict transformation
01. Dezember 2022
The high-level panel on 30th of November organised by WHH: Renate Künast (Bündnis90/Die Grünen), Ward Anseeuw (LMI), Swantje Nilsson (BMEL), Ellen O. Pratt (Liberia Land Authority), Berns Komba Lebbie (Land for Life, Sierra Leone)

The event in the context of the 10th anniversary of the UN Tenure Guidelines (VGGT) reflected upon the achievements and challenges of the VGGT in times of multiple crises. The FriEnt break-out session focused on the VGGT’s impact in conflict settings. How can the VGGT help to transform land rights form a source of conflict into a chance for peace - from a constrainer to an enabler?

In times of multiple crises, such as conflicts, the Covid 19 pandemic, climate change and rising food prices worldwide, the pressure on land as a resource continues to grow. The 10th anniversary of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) is therefore a good time to underline the relevance of equitable land access.

The event on the 28th of November was co-organised by Welthungerhilfe, German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) / Land Matrix Initiative and International Land Coalition (ILC) and provided space to reflect upon the achievements, challenges and potentials of the VGGT. The break-out session organised by FriEnt focused on the relationship between land rights and conflict.

For this FriEnt invited a representative of an Africain civil society network from Sierra Leone and a GIZ-representative from Benin who both presented insights from the application of the VGGT and challenges from the work in their respective country contexts, where land is a conflictive and politically sensitive topic. As discussants, a Member of the German Parliament (Bundestag) and a representative from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) reflected the shared results and discussed possible political implications for the future with the speakers and the audience

The guidelines' achievements for conflict transformation

The VGGT provide one of the most relevant, internationally recognized, and legitimate framework to address sources of conflicts around land, forests, and fisheries. Several chapters address mechanisms that are relevant for conflict management and transformation, e.g.:

  • Chapter 3's recognition of local customary and informal tenure rights and identification of safeguards helps to protect legitimate land rights of local tenants and ensures inclusive governance

  • Chapter 5 provides mechanisms for the resolution of disputes over tenure rights also addressing transboundary matters of inequality (de facto or perceived) in access to land. Inequalities in land tenure between societal groups (e.g., pastoralists and farmers, or residents and refugees/IDPs women and men, etc.) can thus be addressed and transformed

  • Chapter 6 deals with responses to climate change and emergencies and especially addressing emerging conflicts in respect to tenure of land, fisheries and forests and helps to prevent human rights violations, which are a source of social conflict or consequence of violence and structural injustice

  • Chapter 4 provides regulation for restitution, redistributive land reforms and compensation duties, and therefore can, if applied properly during and after conflicts, help to prevent new and renewed escalation of violent land conflicts

What does this mean in practice?

The VGGT have provided an important framework for concrete policy & legal projects that address sources of conflicts around land, forests, and fisheries. These have helped to:

  • Push for new land laws (e.g. Customary Land Rights Acts in Sierra Leone) to protect legitimate land rights of local tenants and ensure inclusive governance;

  • Address and transform inequality (de facto or perceived) in access to land and land tenure of and between societal groups;

  • Map conflicts around land and to contribute to conflict resolution;

  • Set up grievance & redress mechanisms for loss of land, also to large scale agribusiness;

  • Give legitimacy to CSOs to get involved in land dispute resolution including with private sector actors.

The way ahead - recommendations for reinforcing the VGGT's potential

Dealing with land rights and tenure systems alone does not automatically lead to peace. Respective measures must be designed and implemented in a conflict sensitive way and on the basis of continuing conflict analyses.

In order to reinforce the VGGT’s potential for dealing with land related conflicts future work on their basis has to:

  • Avoid silo-based approaches – integrate land management/governance/registering and conflict sensitive/conflict management approaches; ensure links: "VGGT + Gender", "VGGT + food security", "VGGT + social stability”, ”VGGT + human security”;

  • Hold responsible private sector actors and their financiers (e.g. DFIs) and integrate VGGT principles and conflict sensitivity into their operational frameworks and policies;

  • Increase efforts of engaging women, youth and marginalized groups into discussions on tenure governance and rights;

  • Ensure a long-term commitment on national & international levels to ensure implementation of needed reforms; and allocate finances for implementation;

  • Extend application and support of VGGT to other countries;

  • Include the VGGT into the elaboration of new and implementation of existing German National Policy Guidelines as, for example, the Guidelines “Crisis prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding” of 2017, in the field of peace, security, climate, energy and alike.

The results of the exchange were fed into the high-level political panel on the 30th of November. Panellists from Sierra Leone and Liberia strongly advocated for a continued financial and political engagement of the German government to ensure land rights for the local population. In view of increasing demand for land for industrial carbon offsets the VGGT have to be included into concepts for nature based solutions and the COP 28. An integration of the VGGT across political sectors, including climate, energy and trade, is needed to fully use the transformative potential of land rights.

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