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Ancestral territory to digital IDs: five property rights victories in 2018

by Rina Chandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 27 December 2018 01:00 GMT

Secure land rights can help improve food security, limit deforestation and tackle climate change, activists say.

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK, Dec 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The fight over land and resources was bloody in 2018, with governments from Brazil to the Philippines accused of failing to protect campaigners, and indigenous people battling to hold on to their homes and land.

Despite compelling evidence that shows secure land rights can help improve food security, limit deforestation and tackle climate change, authorities in many countries have been slow to act, activists said.

Meanwhile, urban homelessness is rising, prompting a top U.N. official to accuse governments of "collective amnesia" in failing to fix the affordable-housing crisis.

Despite that, the year saw some bright spots when it came to property and digital rights. Here are five:

1. Liberia: In September, the West African nation passed a landmark law, after four years of debate, that activists said would help communities fight foreign land grabs by giving them ownership of ancestral territory.

In a country where most of the population has no formal rights to their land, the state has signed away more than 40 percent of national territory in concessions for logging, mining and agriculture, according to rights groups.

2. Indonesia: President Joko Widodo in September signed a long-awaited decree on agrarian reform, which seeks to issue title to the landless and raise farm incomes.

The new law is seen as a major step forward in the country's land distribution programme, and a necessary measure to register all land by 2025, although activists said the plan failed to recognise the territorial rights of indigenous people.

3. India: The country's Supreme Court upheld the validity of a controversial biometric identity system in September, but flagged privacy concerns and reined in a government push to make it mandatory for everything from banking to telecom services.

Aadhaar is the world's biggest biometric identity project, with more than 1 billion IDs on record but analysts have expressed fears it could spawn a surveillance state and activists said system errors had seen large numbers of poor people denied welfare benefits.

4. South Africa: In October, the nation's top court ruled a platinum miner that struck a land deal with a tribal chief could not evict a group of black farmers living there.

Lawyers and land policy experts said the implications were far-reaching and could raise questions about other mining deals signed between companies and tribal chiefs, which have stoked social strife and conflict in the country.

5. Honduras: In November, a court convicted seven people for the 2016 murder of indigenous campaigner Berta Caceres, who led opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the ancestral lands of her Lenca tribe.

The seven men - who will be sentenced in January - face up to 30 years in jail, a rare conviction amidst violent attacks on land rights activists and campaigners around the world.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Robert Carmichael and Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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