Secure land rights are critical for promoting poverty reduction, strengthening food security, empowering women, and encouraging the responsible and climate-compatible use of natural resources. Protecting land rights is also crucial for the realization of other human rights, and can help alleviate the growing commercial pressures on land that exist around the world. While there is increased recognition of the need to support both stronger land rights protections and more responsible business conduct in land-based investments, lawyers and others who work on these issues confront a particularly thorny set of challenges in 2017 and beyond. What are some practical approaches to protecting land rights and assisting communities, businesses, and governments in the context of land-based investments? What challenges are posed by international investment regimes, by climate change realities, and by a Trump administration? What international norms, frameworks, and mechanisms will be key in championing land rights and human rights in these contexts?
CCSI and Columbia Law School’s Social Justice Initiatives hosted a joint presentation by Beth Roberts of Landesa and Sam Szoke-Burke of the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment that provided a brief overview of the state of land rights around the world, and of the particular challenges associated with large-scale land-based investments (LSLBI). The discussion explored strategies and opportunities for engaging a variety of stakeholders, including the private sector, governments, civil society, and international bodies, to protect human rights and address climate change in the context of LSLBI. It also provided an opportunity to discuss land-oriented legal careers in the fields of international development and human rights.
About the speakers
Sam Szoke-Burke is a legal researcher at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment. He focuses primarily on land and agricultural investments, and also specializes in the intersection of human rights and international investments. Prior to joining CCSI, Sam worked as a legal consultant for the Land, Environment and Development project at the Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia, where he represented various indigenous communities in legal claims relating to mineral exploration, ancestral land claims and forced resettlement, amongst other projects. He has also worked with various human rights and public interest organizations in the US and Australia, and clerked for Justice Anthony Cavanough, head of the Judicial Review and Appeals List, at the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia.
Beth Roberts joined Landesa as an attorney and Land Tenure Specialist in 2015, where she is housed under the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights. She has a background in international development, nonprofit management, and private legal practice. She has experience in legal reform and implementation, customary tenure, women’s land rights, UN advocacy, and designing and drafting guidance documents for governments on large-scale land-based investment (LSLBI). She also worked with the Ghanaian government on the most recent draft of their Land Bill, currently awaiting parliamentary review.