Human Rights

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ILC played a role in these changes. Continue reading the report to find out how.

Land Rights are Human Rights. When land rights are insecure, people are at risk.

It is a dangerous time to be a land and environmental defender. Many courageous individuals and organisations have put themselves on the front line against land grabbing, resource extraction, exploitation and pollution. They have been criminalised, harassed and threatened. Too many have paid the ultimate price.

Notable highlights

  • Creation of emergency funds for environmental and land defenders in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean
  • A Crucial Gap Report revealed shocking lack of country-reported data for land and environmental defenders
  • NES Nepal helped to emancipate and identify 355 ex-haliya families awaiting to be freed from agricultural bonded labour and redistributed unutilised land to landless households
  • Land Rights Now reached 8.5 million people through their global mobilisation to end the criminalisation of defenders and actively engaged 238,483 individuals with 7,100 messages of solidarity expressed.

Scaling up Protection for Land and Environmental Defenders

Over the past three years, the International Land Coalition has boosted its support for land defenders. Our Defenders Protection Funds provide direct resources to defenders under legal and physical peril in Africa and the Latin America / Caribbean region. Worldwide, we shine a spotlight upon defenders, amplifying their voices and bringing attention to their cause.

We also leverage our global presence, and the power of our network, to highlight the work of defenders worldwide. Land Rights Now, a joint campaign between ILC, Oxfam and Rights and Resources, raises awareness and generates support for those who protect the land and the environment: read more about our achievements in the indigenous peoples section.


Bernardo Caal is an indigenous Q’eqchi leader from Guatemala currently serving a seven year prison sentence. His crime? Defending the Cahabón River, one of the largest in the country, against two hydroelectric dams. Land Rights Now gave his case visibility, reaching 8.5 million people.
Case Study

African Emergency Fund

Launched on December 10th 2019 - International Human Rights Day - The African Environmental Defenders Emergency Fund plays a crucial role in protecting those who risk their safety and security to protect land and communities.

ILC was the founding supporter, and the human rights and environmental law nonprofit, Natural Justice, administers and implements the fund from Kenya. It was always envisaged that ILC’s “seed capital” investment would allow the fund to source additional donors and in 2021, this became a reality with additional funding partners coming on board (VOICE Global and the Dutch Government), meaning the fund could give grants and assistance to a wider base than just ILC members. ICCA Consortium are now partners, alongside other members of the African Activists for Climate Justice project - African Women Communications Network (FEMNET), Oxfam Novib, the African Youth Commission, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Often the grants are used on behalf of several defenders, or a community who are facing targeted attacks against them. The type of attacks vary from illegal or habitual arrests and detentions, or targeted lawsuits, to physical assault, harassment and intimidation. Grants can be used to pay legal fees or bail, or more general support for people who are under threat.

The leading type of support we have given is covering urgent and short term legal assistance,” says Eva Okoth, project manager for Natural Justice. “The second type is medical or psychological support for physical attacks and trauma. And increasingly, we are helping with temporary relocation and assistance in basic needs for communities who have been evicted.”

Alongside death threats and police intimidation, the fund has seen a growing trend of digital harassment. “Many campaigns are moving online and communities are turning towards technology for advocacy,” explains Eva, “which means they can be tracked, traced, hacked, and cyber-bullied. We’ve had cases of communities tracked and stalked without them even knowing about it. In others, they’ve been targeted for theft of equipment and laptops.”

An important part of the fund’s work involves training and capacity-building to resist such emerging threats, and also to sensitise communities about what their rights really are. This has been particularly crucial in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries where democratic space is shrinking and attacks on those who defend the land are becoming more prevalent. Other countries which have received grants include Kenya, Somalia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Senegal.

“The fund started as a rapid response initiative,” says Eva, "but one of our key successes has been moving away from being simply reactive. We are now providing preventive and long term support doing more in terms of capacity building, campaigns and advocacy. We are doing more in terms of research and collecting data. The type of cases we deal with in Africa are still underreported and by giving these communities and defenders platforms in regional and international processes to amplify these issues provides a further layer of protection.”


“NES members' role has been crucial in raising awareness among the Haliya people, raising their voice and making sure that the rehabilitation package reaches the Freed-Haliyas”.

Mr. Janak Raj Joshi
Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Land Management
Cooperatives & Poverty Alleviation.

Member Story

Meet Chandra Ram Lohar. Not long ago, Chandra was part of the Haliya system, an agricultural bonded labour practice which enslaved nearly 19,000 in Nepal. In 2019, NES Nepal identified 355 former Haliya families awaiting a rehabilitation grant from the government.

Nepal provides a striking example of how ILC member-led platforms can mobilise diverse groups to bring about dramatic change and transform lives.

Through our members, ILC has been active in the Himalayan nation for over a decade. In the years 2019-2021, the reforms advocated for by the National Engagement Strategy began to be implemented, impacting thousands of lives and making a radical change in the country’s direction on land and human rights.


The NES (which includes the Nepali Government’s land ministry, the Bureau of Statistics, the National Planning Commission, and Peoples Organisations together with a range of NGOs, civil society organisations and donors) contributed to the 2019 National Land Policy, which called for recognition of informal tenure and equitable redistribution targeting the landless.

The NES influenced the Land Act of 2019, which acknowledges the role of local land councils in controlling fragmentation of agricultural land and protecting natural resources. An amendment to the Act in 2020 provides for land distribution and legal registration for informal land users.


Through ILC members and partners engaged in the NES, people are finally being emancipated from the “Haliya” system, a form of bonded labour which has been imposed upon mostly Dalits, the so-called “untouchables” in the Hindu caste system. It is a form of agricultural bonded labour which entraps entire families to service debt.

By 2019, 11,000 of an estimated 19,000 families had been identified. The NES assisted hundreds with interim assistance to families awaiting rehabilitation grants from the government.

The NES succeeded in reducing the gender gap for women’s leadership and livelihoods. Among other initiatives, 10,000 joint land ownership certificates have been issued, adding women’s names on land titles alongside their husbands’.

Activities by NES campaigners have led to more recognition of land tenure among communities traditionally discriminated against, or neglected. Over 4,500 village-block households, 2,190 landless households and 955 tenants have received land ownership certificates through NES interventions.


ILC has also been fundamentally involved in putting data at the heart of Nepal’s land policy. Click here to jump to the Data section and find out more.

For the full picture on how ILC members and partners are contributing to change in Nepal click here.

Making land rights a human right

ILC has strongly advocated for having land recognised as a human right by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The CESCR is developing a general comment on Land and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, that will clarify the specific obligations of States parties relating to land and the governance of tenure of land under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. After a broad consultation within the land community, together with its members and a panel of high-ranking experts, the ILC secretariat drafted a contribution to the General Comment draft.

Demanding Greater Accountability from Governments and Businesses

Our coalition’s ability to connect diverse partners means defenders can learn from others and exchange knowledge. And our focus on human-centered data gives communities and policymakers the information they need to strengthen their demands and make decisions.

ILC’s support to the Alliance for Land, Indigenous and Environmental Defenders(ALLIED, formerly the Defend the Defenders Coalition) helped build a platform of more than 70 national and international human, environmental, and land rights organisations, many of which are ILC members, to scale up protection for land and environmental defenders and demand greater accountability from government and businesses.

During the pandemic, ALLIED researchers reported an uptick in threats, harassment and violence against defenders. Many governments had been less responsive and more absent in areas of land conflict. In many countries, the judiciary was suspended, surveillance heightened and emergency laws – enacted to contain the spread of the virus – were used to detain dissidents and limit activism and protests. Despite this, activities including evictions, demolitions, and extractive projects such as mining were allowed to proceed.

The research was conducted using public records and ILC’s LANDex global land index, demonstrating how data can be a responsive and powerful tool in the campaign for human rights. Find out more about LANDex and ILC’s information innovations in our Data section.

ALLIED also campaigned for the ratification of the Escazú agreement, the first binding environmental and human rights instrument in Latin America, which finally entered into force in April 2021.

A Crucial Gap: the limits of official data on attacks against defenders

In 2021, ALLIED partners released their report: A Crucial Gap: the limits of official data on attacks against defenders and why it’s concerning, confirming that 94% of states have not reported against SDG 16.10.1, severely undermining our ability to monitor the situation of land and environmental defenders. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) officially supported the report during the High Level Political Forum in 2021.

Overcoming a crucial gap: a collaborative approach to improving data on attacks against defenders

Written by Eva Hershaw, International Land Coalition and ALLIED Data Working Group and Marc Titus Cebreros, UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR)


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