ILC partners in Asia call for wider recognition of land rights as human rights
The magnitude and intensity of land conflicts in Asia have increased over the years, with the continued rise of land and agricultural investments and continued competing claims for scarce natural resources. In various instances, governments and private sector entities alike have facilitated the displacement of rural communities, the deterioration of the environment and agricultural livelihoods, and the loss of lives through land concessions and businesses ventures.
Land rights defenders who continue to oppose such developments have then been subject to physical and legal harassment, enforced disappearances, and even murder. Furthermore, the space for CSOs to demand accountability from the state and other stakeholders is being diminished.
It is within this context that 12 members of the International Land Coalition (ILC) Asia from 6 countries accorss the region have come together to discuss the promotion of land rights as human rights, and the need to protect land rights defenders. In a two-day meeting organized by the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC) held in Bangkok, Thailand last 26-27 February 2018, Asian partners agreed on common initiatives to pursue Commitments 9 and 10 of ILC’s People-Centered Land Governance (PCLG). Commitment 9 seeks to enact effective measures against land grabbing, while Commitment 10 aims to ensure the protection of land rights defenders.
Common initiatives agreed upon during the meeting include:
- The promotion of the adoption and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights through dialogues with National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), human rights agencies of the government, ILC members, and the private sector. Country Policy Briefs would also be prepared for advocacy work and popular dissemination;
- The monitoring of land-human rights cases within the country, documented in 6 country papers and 1 regional publication. Findings of from the cases and the publications would be presented to government human rights institutions, CSOs, and the private sector in several validation workshops. A regional consultation would also be conducted to mainstream the issues and the call to recognize land rights as human rights in a broader context; and,
- The formulation of a land rights scorecard for business investors.
To further pursue PCLG Commitments 9 and 10, the attendees also agreed to engage with regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Southeast Asian NHRI Forum (SEANF), and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) during the mentioned initiatives.
Representatives from the Thailand National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the present chair of the SEANF, attended the meeting and presented SEANF’s work on land rights. They also shared information on land rights issues in Thailand. Similarly, a representative from the OHCHR took part in the event to provide updates on dealing with land-human rights issues. The regional office of UN Habitat also participated in the meeting. All three organizations expressed openness to collaboration and cooperation with ILC members.
Prior to the conclusion of the meeting, a special discussion on the Rohingya refugee crisis was also conducted. More than being a humanitarian issue, the drivers and the effects of this crisis are also interspersed within land and natural resource conflict debates. The body explored possible regional CSO initiatives to address this pressing concern.
Participants of the two-day event are representatives from ILC member-CSOs in Bangladesh (CDA - Community Development Association, ARBAN - Association for Realisation of Basic Needs, ALRD - Association for Land Reform and Development), Cambodia (STAR Kampuchea), India (Ekta Parishad), Indonesia (KPA - Consortium for Agrarian Reform), Nepal (CSRC - Community Self Reliance Center), and the Philippines (ANGOC Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development , XSF -Xavier Foundation). Mr. Saurlin Siagian, ILC Asia coordinator, was also present during the meeting.
*story and picture by Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC)