In this issue, we focus on Legal empowerment: from local to global solutions
IIED legal tools newsletter
The Legal Tools newsletter is sent out every three months to keep you updated on Legal Tools for Citizen Empowerment, a collaborative initiative to strengthen local rights and voices in natural resources investments.
A dump truck operator stands gesturing in front of the vehicle he operates at a gold mine in Tanzania. (Photo credit: IIED/Brian Sokol/Panos Pictures)

Legal empowerment: from local to global solutions

Dear colleagues,

The rise of land-based investments has heightened the challenge of how to help empower rural people to make informed choices, exercise their rights and have their voices heard when dealing with the government or private sector. Legal empowerment practitioners – from lawyers to NGOs and grassroots groups – have pioneered different ways to help rural people advance their rights.

But while legal empowerment interventions often happen at the grassroots, the economic reality of transnational investments requires tailored approaches to the national and, possibly, international dynamics at play: by the time a business venture hits the ground, key decisions will have already been made at higher levels.

Collaborating closely with partners in Africa and Asia, IIED’s Legal Tools Team has worked to bridge local and global arenas for legal empowerment. A new report distils insights from a three-year grassroots legal empowerment programme in Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal. An analytical paper discusses how harnessing political economy analysis can help link the local to the global in legal empowerment interventions.

We have also generated evidence on international investment treaties and arbitration. A new report shows how community dimensions may be at stake in investor-state arbitration, and points to the limits of existing dispute settlement systems in considering community perspectives. A short essay takes stock of civil society experience with advocating on international investment treaties, and an open-access journal article on Democracy and International Investment Law calls for more effective mechanisms to facilitate citizen engagement with investment treaty making.

Meanwhile, legal empowerment practitioners have developed approaches to advance indigenous peoples’ rights by leveraging regional human rights systems, including in cases where there are tensions between indigenous land restitution claims and investment treaty protections. In addition, a two-year programme to explore the interface between industrial agriculture and biodiversity conservation in Borneo has identified concrete actions – spanning local to global) to harness legal instruments, and is the subject of a forthcoming report.

We hope you find these publications useful. Please get in touch if this work resonates, we would be delighted to connect! And if you are interested in receiving IIED’s newsletter from Legal Tools and other teams, please sign up at

— Legal Tools team


Agriculture is crucial to Senegal's economy, employing more than 60% of the population (Photo: Jelle Goossens/vredeseilanden, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Using legal tools to make agribusiness investments more accountable

The recent rise in agribusiness investments is driving pressures on land and bringing the rights of rural communities under serious threat. A recent IIED webinar examined approaches in Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal that are helping rural communities protect their rights and challenge investments that affect their livelihoods.

Our work

A water connection project built to link the Lobé river to the Kribi harbour, South Region, Cameroon (Photo: Thierry Berger)

LandCam: an exciting new opportunity to support land governance in Cameroon

Together with the CED and RELUFA, IIED launched LandCam in March, an ambitious new project to strengthen land and resource rights in Cameroon. Funded by the European Union, the project will pilot approaches on the ground and help citizens participate in ongoing law reform processes. To find out more, see our project page and project flyer

Strengthening women's voices in land governance in the context of agricultural and other natural resource investment

Building on our Gender, Land and Accountability project which ended in July 2016, IIED is starting the implementation phase of its new initiative to strengthen women's voices in land governance through legal empowerment in the context of agricultural and other natural resource investment in Senegal, Ghana and Tanzania. The project includes the development and/or upscaling of approaches on the ground to strengthen rural women’s voices in local land governance processes. Implementation in country is in partnership with IED Afrique [website in French] in Senegal, TAWLA in Tanzania and NETRIGHT in Ghana.

Pathways to accountability: new insights on legal empowerment

Our three-year project to support legal empowerment in the context of agricultural investments in Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal has now come to an end. The project supported local land charters in Senegal, grassroots committees in Ghana and arrangements to facilitate access to legal assistance in Cameroon. Funded by IDRC, it was implemented in partnership with IED Afrique, LRMC, CED and IIED. During the final six months of the project, we finalised the tools that had been tested, held a writeshop in Cameroon and disseminated findings through a report, webinar and blog.  

Assessing and addressing the impact of large-scale land acquisitions on ape conservation

We have also recently completed our project to assess and address the impact of large scale land acquisitions on ape conservation. Funded by the Arcus Foundation, the initiative supported two case studies in Borneo and Cameroon. In both countries, IIED's partners built an evidence base on the geographic overlap between agribusiness developments and areas of importance for ape conservation. In Borneo, Ridge to Reef and Living Landscape Alliance produced a fine-scale analysis of these issues in the Lower Kinabatangan region in eastern Sabah, while in Cameroon, CED analysed two recently allocated agribusiness concessions in or close to great ape habitats to assess the challenges of coexistence, identify key issues and draw lessons.

Ongoing policy engagement

Outside of our programmatic work, we have continued to contribute to national and international policy events. In May, Principal Researcher and Legal Tools team leader Lorenzo Cotula contributed to a regional training on the legal dimensions of agricultural investments, organised by UNECA's Land Policy Initiative with government officials from a number of African countries taking part. In June, Senior Researcher Philippine Sutz attended the LANDac International Conference 2017, where she presented work carried out by the team under the LEGEND programme, including an analytical paper on legal empowerment in agribusiness investments.


We are very pleased to announce that Brendan Schwartz has recently joined us as a Senior Researcher in the Legal Tools Team. Brendan will be driving IIED inputs to the LandCam project in Cameroon, bringing in his extensive experience in the region – where he has worked for many years in close collaboration with LandCam partners CED and RELUFA –,  and his keen knowledge of social and environmental dimensions in law-related topics. 

Publications and briefings

Our research

Community perspectives in investor-state arbitration
Community perspectives in investor-state arbitration

This report examines whether and how investor-state arbitral tribunals consider community perspectives, interests and rights in their settlement of investment disputes. Based on information from online global databases, it identifies 20 arbitrations where some form of community action was part of the facts of the case and was reflected – albeit partially and cursorily – in publicly available case documents. The analysis highlights the need to rethink arrangements for settling investment-related disputes.

First released 14 June 2017, revised 4 July 2017
Legal empowerment in agribusiness investments: harnessing political economy analysis
Legal empowerment in agribusiness investments: harnessing political economy analysis

Increased private sector investment in tropical agriculture has created both hopes and fears for rural livelihoods in low- and middle-income countries. One of the major challenges is in empowering rural people to make informed choices, exercise their rights and have their voices heard when dealing with the government or private sector. This paper explores how political economy analysis can help practitioners make sense of the issues, and distils insights from practical experience on how legal empowerment initiatives can rise to the challenge.

Land investments, accountability and the law: Findings from comparative socio-legal research in West Africa
Land investments, accountability and the law: Findings from comparative socio-legal research in West Africa

Drawing on comparative socio-legal research in Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal, this article explores how the law enables, or constrains, accountability in land investments. It develops a conceptual framework for understanding accountability; examines national law in the three countries, in both statute books and practice, and based on common concepts and methods; and articulates recommendations for policy and practice. 
Democracy and International Investment Law
Democracy and International Investment Law

The expanding reach of international investment law and the negotiation of major economic treaties between democratic polities have prompted new debates about the relationship between democracy and the international investment regime. This article develops an analytical framework for understanding that relationship. It concludes that there is a gap between formal rules and citizen action in promoting democratic oversight, and significant scope to develop more effective mechanisms to install democratic governance in the creation and implementation of international investment law.
Civil society and investor-state dispute settlement
Civil society and investor-state dispute settlement

International agreements to promote foreign investment, including both standalone investment treaties and investment chapters in trade and investment agreements, have attracted extensive public attention in recent years. One area of particular controversy has been the effect of investor-state dispute settlement arrangements provided for under investment treaties. These mechanisms allow businesses to sue governments over state conduct that adversely affects them, and have raised concerns about the balance of public and private interests in international economic governance. Their potentially far-reaching implications fuelled extensive civil society advocacy in 2016.

Lessons from the field

Improving accountability in agricultural investments: Reflections from legal empowerment initiatives in West Africa
Improving accountability in agricultural investments: Reflections from legal empowerment initiatives in West Africa

A recent surge in agribusiness plantation deals has increased pressures on land in many low- and middle-income countries. Since 2014, an initiative in Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal has worked to help rural people harness the law in order to have greater control over decisions that affect them. This report presents the results of that work, summarising insights from first-hand experiences with helping rural people exercise their rights and, ultimately, claim their own future.

Connected and changing: An open data web platform to track land conflict in Myanmar
Advancing indigenous peoples’ rights through regional human rights systems: The case of Paraguay

Over the past few years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled against Paraguay in three cases that refer mainly to violations of the territorial rights of indigenous peoples. This report describes the experience of Paraguayan organisation Tierraviva in working with communities from the Chaco region to communities to advance their demands for the restitution of their land.

This report is also available in Spanish.

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