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Legal action can defen threatened land rights of entire groups or communities. This page provides practical steps for taking legal action in land disputes.
Every country is different but the following groups may be able to take legal action:
Some groups of people may have particular difficulties asserting their rights:
Even if you are affected by a dispute over land, in many cases you can only bring a legal action if you have a sufficiently close connection with the land or the damage or wrong concerned (called “standing”in legal terminology).
To enforce your rights or make a complaint regarding land rights, you can take legal action against any of the following:
Your can check national contact points in a company’s home state under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
Solving a land-related problem may not require any court action. A local or national land office, land commission or cadastre may be able to formalise your land rights.
Registering your land or your rights over the land may give you more protection. It may also be a necessary first step before taking further, more effective action.
If you go to court and you are successful, the court may be able to do all or any of the following:
The best solution to your dispute may lie in a settlement resolving differences with your opponent before the matter ever gets to court.
Use of land is a complex subject so in any proposed settlement, you need to draw up clear agreements in writing on all important points.
Even if you do not agree a settlement or if the settlement agreed is not fully satisfactory, try to ensure your right to participate in future decision-making about the land in question. These issues should include:
Cases involving land problems may also involve corruption or suspicions of corruption (bribery or other improper use of influence) .
If so, the corruption itself or remedies for the corruption may invalidate contracts or concessions granted to foreign investors involved in the dispute.
Legal results of proving corruption could include:
Action may be easier in an investor-state court than in the courts of the host state.
Wikipedia RICO article on the United States Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). .
Examples of cases brought under these laws:
Prosecutions could possibly be brought in foreign courts (for example, under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or the United Kingdom Bribery Act 2010) in relation to land transactions for corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, or conspiracy to commit a criminal act abroad.
Prosecutions may result in a conviction and criminal sanctions but criminal investigations may also be effective in finding out facts and information which is not available publicly.
Sometimes, land is acquired in a way that is, or is said to be, lawful under local law (legal term: “doctrine of eminent domain”). You may be able to challenge the acquisition by:
You need accurate evidence about locations and boundaries of the land involved in your litigation.
Gather evidence such as mapping, photos, Googlemaps, drawings and plans. It is important that the maps describe not only the physical features of the land, but also document the land use.
In case of lack of proof of title or rights:
If you are unlawfully evicted from land or are threatened, it is important that you notify as many relevant people as possible with as much detail and evidence (film, photographs, and recordings ) as is available.
Inform a wide range of people about your cause: local authorities or police, representatives of the person or company responsible or of its parent company, directors, shareholders or insurers, the press, campaigning groups of NGOs and other.
This approach serves a number of purposes:
What to do if in danger of arrest or assault:
Further reading on land rights legal cases:
Ground-breaking win for indigenous people in Colombia: the Constitutional Court of Colombia finds in favour of the Embera Chamí people. Forest Peoples Programme, 2017.
Colombian Constitutional Court: Amparo action against an oil project license, 1997. A landmark case on indigenous land rights in Latin America.