There are few scholarly organizations in the world with the history and prestige of the American Society of International Law (ASIL). For this reason it was particularly gratifying to be able to help develop an event co-hosted last night by ASIL that included a panel discussion moderated by Serena Grant, Head of Legal from the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Despite a surprise snow storm, over sixty guests, representing many of Washington’s development agencies and Thomson Reuters partners, explored the intersection between human rights, economic development and land rights as part of Thomson Reuters support of the World Bank’s 2014 Land and Poverty Conference.
Having begun my career in rule of law and good governance promotion, it was not until I began to recognize the connection of land to the development issues that I also began to question why it was so difficult to develop a shared approach on an issue as cross-cutting as land. One need only search the internet for words such as “land rights” or “land grab” to understand the complexity of developing international norms, national legal frameworks and responsible corporate policies to satisfy local community aspirations expressed through international and national civil society organizations. During last night’s event, Arvind Khare, Executive Director of The Rights and Resources Initiative eloquently demonstrated these challenges and set the tone for our aptly titled fireside chat.
The cross-cutting nature of effective land management makes it imperative that all of us that are committed to mutually beneficial international development seek to build opportunities to explore the good work and new tools that have developed in recent years. As the human rights movement before it, there is momentum building in international law and domestic legal frameworks to reflect both voluntary guidelines and inherent rights.Gabriel Thoumi highlighted new corporate policies and successful investment strategies by companies such as Calvert Investments that are emerging which demonstrate recognition of the way in which effective land policies can enhance international brands and also provide attractive returns on investment.
The work of the World Bank and USAID to highlight land rights and also facilitate the deployment of new land management tools such as Thomson Reuters Aumentum in countries like Afghanistan, Jamaica, Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda deserves special recognition for being far ahead of other traditional and non-traditional donors in recognizing the intersection between land rights and all other development objectives.
Where there is a need to settle a dispute involving one or more of these issues, Herbert, Smith, Freehills LLP is doing good work. Laurence Shore attended last night and outlined well the complexity of balancing investment treaties and host state obligations when faced with land disputes.
It is my hope that the distinguished guests and diplomatic corps who attended this event left with a better understanding of what can be achieved through sharing diverse perspectives on a development agenda of such critical and timely importance.