The Right to Land and Territory : New Human Right and Collective Action Frame

Resistance against the appropriation of nature, especially land, has been one of the key struggles of the transnational agrarian movement La Via Campesina (LVC) since its inception in 1993. The issue of access to land has become even more central after the food crisis of 2007-08, in a context increasingly marked by land grabbing and climate change. This contribution addresses one of the most significant dimensions of the contemporary agrarian question – i.e. access to and control over land and natural resources –, through a critical examination of the emergence of the “right to land and territory”, both as a collective action frame deployed by transnational peasant movements, and as a new human right in international law. After describing how LVC activists have used the human rights framework to formulate land claims (II), this article discusses a number of tensions that underlie the recognition and protection of land rights, either through institutional channels (“from above”)(III), or through the defense and control of lands and territories (“from below”)(IV). It ends with a discussion of the various frames that are deployed by La Via Campesina activists in ongoing land struggles, and of the possible impact of institutional progress on these struggles.

The author

Priscilla Claeys received her PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Louvain (UCL) in 2013 and is now a Postdoctoral researcher. Priscilla worked as an Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food from 2008 to 2014. She previously worked for a number of human rights organizations and development NGOs. Her research interests include transnational  agrarian movements, human rights, food sovereignty, the right to food, alternative food economies and the ecological transition.

The text

The ideas expressed in this article were first presented at the international Symposium “Property from Below’’ which was held at MIT on 28 February 2014 and co-organized by Balakrishnan Rajagopal and Olivier De Schutter. An earlier version of this paper  benefited  from comments by Laura Silva-Castañeda and Deborah Delgado-Pugley, and was published in French under “Droit à la terre et contrôle des territoires. Du rôle du droit dans les luttes agraires”, in Silva-Castañeda Laura et al (eds.) Au-delà de l’accaparement. Dynamiques d’exclusion et nouvelles stratégies d’accès à la terre. (Peter Lang, 2014). 

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013 - MSCA-COFUND) under grant agreement n°245743 - Post-doctoral programme Braudel-IFER-FMSH, in collaboration with the Collège d’études mondiales (FMSH).


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