Urban Land Conflicts in Latin America and the Caribbean | Land Portal

Read the Debate Report Here.

In Latin American and the Caribbean region (LAC), millions of families lack access to land for shelter or live in insecure tenure under a constant threat of being evicted from their homes. Land conflicts and forced evictions are increasingly reported and a key issue in the advocacy agenda of civil society and grassroots organizations. Meanwhile, the causes and many forms such conflicts occurs are often ineffectively addressed by land policies; right holders and defenders, as well as duty-bearers, usually lack access to reliable data and information to identify, monitor, mediate and prevent this clear violation of the human right to adequate housing.

The LAC Cluster of Urban Civil Society Organizations, part of the Global Land Tools Network GLTN / UN-HABITAT, and the Solid Ground global advocacy campaign of Habitat for Humanity, together with partners such as the Land Portal Foundation and Habitat for Humanity Brazil organize the following online discussion on urban land conflicts in LAC region. The discussion will position the issue and gather information on the types of conflicts and its causes, the challenges and opportunities for change; besides familiarizing land stakeholders with existing land tools that enable the prevention and mediation of such conflicts. In parallel, the discussion will seek identify entry points, synergies and opportunities for collaboration for knowledge exchange and adaptation of existing tools, building on lessons learned across the region.

In this regard, we invite the participants to answer one or more of the following questions:

  1. From your experience, what are the main types and causes of land conflicts and threats of forced evictions in urban and peri-urban areas?
  2. What are the main challenges as well as opportunities to change this situation? Can you provide examples?
  3. Are you aware of any tool, policy or good practice that has helped increase access to land for shelter and tenure security, particularly of the most vulnerable groups of people?
  4. Do you know of, or have you ever participated in an initiative of collaborative mapping and open management of information on conflicts? Can you describe the experience, lessons learned and recommendations to practice?
  5. How do you think a database on urban land conflicts could be used for evidence-based prevention and mediation of such conflicts? What would be the possible strategies, the required resources, and even potential risk to be avoided?

Participants will have the opportunity to give visibility to local challenges, as well as good practices addressing the issue and the impact and signs of change related to such actions; The participantes will mutually to learn about similar challenges, initiatives and lessons learned across LAC region. Results of the discussion will be analyzed and transformed into a report that will be distributed widely among land governance stakeholders.



You can type your comment below and answer one or more of the suggested questions in English, Spanish and Portuguese, from January 23rd to February 10th, 2017.

You can also send your answers by email, or any text, videos, documents or reports you want to share with the network. If you have any question, fell free to contact us at SueloUrbano@habitat.org .

The discussion is being held simultaneously on the Land Portal platform.

The discussion will be facilitated by subject-matter experts from Habitat for Humanity and the GLTN’s Land Tools Urban Cluster in LAC.



Check out the first interviews with subject-matter experts on urban land conflicts:

– Anna Pont (Shelter Cluster International)

– Arturo Mejía (Equador)

– Francisco Sales (Ministério Público de Pernambuco, Brasil)

– Franklin Solano (Costa Rica)

– Robin Rajack (BID)


I stuggest that you include Kate Lines and Jack Makau:s monograph "Unity is Strength", see:  http://knowyourcity.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/10807IIED.pdf


The Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) has moved into a deeper and expanded space when it comes to tools developent and implementation. We are now focusing actions at country level where land tools will have to be tested, implemented and improved on the ground, contributing to positive changes in the lives of men and women in regard to secure tenure.

Land is a key driver of conflict and a bottleneck to recovery. Lack of secure tenure is one of the main causes of conflicts in urban areas, and land-related issues are often a key cause for relapse into conflict, leading to forced displacement, loss of livelihood or property, and accelerated migration. Acces to secure land tenure can go on for 20 years without a solution. Residents who fear displacement are less likely to invest in their homes or develop home-based businesses. In some areas, the delivery of basic services to households or entire settlements will not proceed without documentation of formal tenure rights.

Unresponsive land governance, weak systems of land administration, land records and recurring tension between customary, a myriad of land tenure rights, and formal legal systems are some of the challenges that states and local stakeholders need to address. Eventhough, tools and experiences addressing urban land conflicts exist, the good practices, policies, legislation are not easily shared; their potential to transfer or scale up is not always documented; success and failures from previous experiences are not visible or properly documented; local information is hard to find or may not be accessible; information flow oriented to capacity development based on learning and for action is not enough considering the complexity, wide-spread, and magnitude of the problem of insecurity of tenure and urban land conflicts.

Accesible information for all, mapping evidences, knowledge exchange, polices and systems are key to overcome land conflicts targeting the most vulnerable families, and women. The New Urban Agenda is calling for action, means of implementation and follow up. And, initiatives as this E-debate will surely contribute to it.

On 2015, the GLTN launched the ‘Land and Conflict Forum: Developing an Issue-Based Coalition’ bringing together UN entities and non-UN organisations – GLTN Partners in particular – to establish an issue-based coalition on land and conflicts. We are exploring potential areas of collaboration, and linkages with existing initiatives.

WE would like to thank the Land Tools Urban Cluster – LAC, part of GTLN / UN-HABITAT, Habitat for Humanity’s Solid Ground Campaign, the Land Portal Foundation, and partners for organizing the e-debate platform, which is aligned and contrinbutes to the broader GLTN work on Land and Conflicts.

May we continue our learning together!

“Land” is not an isolated object. A set of variables and conditioning aspects define a framework that enables or, above all, limits access to land, especially to the most vulnerable groups [1].

“Access to land” [2], as an operational concept, recognizes that solid ground / tenure security is not an object (a thing), but rather a set of conditions that may or may not be fulfilled simultaneously, so as to guarantee a residential location in the territory to the occupants, and their possibility to inhabit an adequate dwelling and habitat for the time that autonomously decides to use the asset. In this sense, more than a state, solid ground is a continuum, as proposed by various documents prepared for Habitat III when defining tenure security [3] and adequate housing [4].

Based on the Scoping Study on Responsible Governance and Secure Tenure of Urban and Peri-Urban Land in LAC region, we propose a definition of urban land conflicts as “the measurable or documentable result of the existence of different interests over land property rights” [5]. Conflicts does not intrinsically mean violence as an immediate response; violence understood “as the intentional use of force and power resulting in injury of damage” [6]. It is important to highlight that since it is not hard to find the perception that the conflict exists only when it reaches moments of physical violence, leaving aside the tensions, differences and clash of interests of different sectors or stakeholders.

We hope that this debate will serve to collectively reflect the contexts in which land conflicts occur; to identify, learn and understand the different dimensions of the context, conflicts and stakeholders, the triggers and impact of such land conflicts on the population affected and on the city. This is fundamental for proposing concrete, feasible and acceptable alternatives for the different actors, especially for the claimants of tenure security and solid ground.

The methodology developed for the scoping study in LAC region has identified three structural characteristics: strong concentration of wealth (capital and land ownership), rapid urbanization (urban population growth and cities’ footprints), and weak regulation of land market, high land speculation and weak or inexistent territorial planning.

International documents and agreements on adequate housing and land  governance, including the New Urban Agenda, sets forth a series of principles; institutions such as UN-HABITAT / GLTN, Habitat International Coalition, among many others have generated and implemented tools for that support the prevention and mediation of land conflicts that are worth sharing.

We invite you to join the online forum and contribute to the debate. And, above all, to move together with us towards a framework for collective action, contributing to public policy making building on the regional common aspects, and those relevant to local and national contexts. 

[1] Metodología para el estudio de los conflictos por acceso a suelo seguro para la localización de Vivienda de Interés Social, Habitat para la Humanidad Internacional, región América Latina y Caribe HFHI/LAC; Roman, M, Solano, F.; 2016

[2] Responsible Governance and Secure Tenure of Urban and Peri-Urban Land: a Framework for Dialogue and Action in Latin America and the Caribbean. HFHI/LAC (2016)

[3] Naciones Unidas (2015). TEMAS HABITAT III. 9 - TERRENO URBANO Nueva York, 31 de mayo 2015. (Spanish).

[4] Naciones Unidas. (2015). TEMAS HABITAT III. 20 – VIVIENDA. Nueva York, 29 de Mayo 2015. (Spanish). TEMA: EL PAPEL EN LA VIVIENDA.

[5] Adaptado de Lombard, M.(2012). Land tenure and urban conflict: A review of the literature. Global Urban Research Centre Working Paper #8. THE GLOBAL URBAN RESEARCH CENTRE (GURC). THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER. UK.

[6] Idem.



•          Land dispute

•          Investment Dispute

•          Water Dispute

•          Pasture Dispute

•          Crop destruction

•          Mechanized farming 


•          Lack of Information

•          Sensitivity

•          Transparency

•          Corruption

•          Lack of Information Dissemination Mechanism


•          Knowledge platform 

•          Some Experiences on the ground at local level

•          Community Based Conflict Early warning system at local level

•          Link between conflict and climate change

•          Country willingness


- Publication on land and peace in Sudan



Community Based Conflict early Warning System (CBCEWS):

The system was developed by Sudan Peace Building and development Project (World Bank Funded Project):

The system is providing warning about the types of violent conflict related to Natural resources in particular Land tenure and use.

The system is composed of the following:

1.         Institutional committees at  community and state level called Peace building and conflict Management Committees (PCMCs)

2.         Equipment including computer, Printer, Internet Modem

3.         Phones

4.         Manual for Sending warning messages about the potential conflict

5.         Office as institutional home for the hard system

6.         M&E and reporting focal point



1.         provision of early earning information about potential conflict

2.         Transparency


•          Institutional instability

•          Political sensitivity

•          Capacity and knowledge gaps

•          Engagement  of CSOs

•          Mistrust at community level


Pleasure to share with you a film about Resource Based Conflict and peace building ​




Dear colleagues,

We would like to thank everyone who took the time to follow and participate in the 1st week of our e-forum. We hope that many of you will still do so in the remaining time, when we will move from this introductory phase to focus on the good practices and innovative tools improving access to land and tenure security across the LAC region.

It has been very interesting to hear from those people and organizations addressing urban land conflicts in over 10 countries, underpinning that this is indeed a regional and perhaps global phenomenon challenging human rights, particularly of the most vulnerable.

We also want to thank the experts who shared their views through videos: Anna Pont, Arturo Mejia, Francisco Sales, Franklin Solano, Robin Rajack and Ronaldo Coelho and Fernanda Costa.

The summary below brings together the key issues and highlights from the contributions we have received so far, simultaneously in Spanish, Portuguese an English, both through Suelo Urbano and through the Land Portal platforms.

SOCIAL IMPACT – The contribution from Mr. Oumar Sylla (GLTN / UN-HABITAT) highlighted some of the key causes and potential impact of land conflicts, such as the lack of tenure security leading to forced displacement, loss of livelihood or property, and accelerated migration, affecting home-based businesses and basic services delivery.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES to address the issue were also mentioned by Oumar, like accessible information, mapping evidences and knowledge exchange.

He calls attention to the importance of e-foruns like this, and suggests the connection with the GLTN’s Land and Conflict Forum that brings together UN and non-UN organizations to establish an issue-based coalition on land and conflicts, since 2015. This seems to be an opportunity for the people and organizations working with or challenged by urban land conflicts to join this global initiative and to position certain aspects of land conflicts in LAC contexts, such as intra-family conflicts, patrimonial violence against women and market evictions. These issues may be less pressing than war and disasters, which are perhaps more common in other parts of the world, but they certainly challenge the right to an adequate standard of living of millions of families in LAC countries.

>> At the end of this e-forum, we will share with all contributors and with GLTN a list of participants and organizations working with land conflicts in LAC region that could be interested in further continue exchanging and in the GLTN Land and Conflict Forum.

CONCEPTS – Maria Luisa Zanelli, from Habitat for Humanity, proposes the notion of land conflicts as the recognition of different interests over the same piece of land, highlighting that land conflicts do not start and may not always reach an actual physical confrontation and eviction. When dealing with land conflicts, particularly when focusing the opportunities for prevention and mediation, it is key to address a set of variables and conditions that threaten the tenure security of urban dwellers.

CAUSES – Miguel Mandamiento (Peru), Gabriela Pignataro (Uruguay), Magdalena Alvarez Garcés (Ecuador), Francisco Javier Reyes (México), Luis Callirgos, Luis Santibañez (Chile) discuss the causes of land conflicts, including the gap between the occupation of the territory and the implementation of planning and management land tools; the need for technical judicial tools; and a set of economic, social, cultural and environmental aspects that tend to prioritize access to land to certain groups / social strata in detriment of others, usually lower income and more vulnerables.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS – Luis Santibañez (Chile) mentions the importance of having land policies that enable various forms of tenure beyond private individual property, such as rental and the re-utilization of obsolete, abandoned buildings and land.

THE RURAL AND URBAN INTERCONNECTES DYNAMICS – The contribution from the Foundation of Displaced People of Colombia (FUNDESCOL) reveals some of the aspects of the interface between urban and rural settings by pointing out the eviction of entire rural communities by powerful elites, leading many families into urban poverty.

BRAZIL – We have had several contributions from Brazil, which is a focus point of this debate.

A Webinar hosted on January 25th (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLhhiKXdqWA ) provided an interesting analysis of the types and causes of land conflict in Brazil, and presented an innovative tool being designed by the National Forum of Urban Reform and currently being piloted by Habitat for Humanity Brazil – it is an a mobile application / app to build a database of land conflicts through crowdsourcing.

GENDER GAPS – Terezinha Gonzaga (Brazil) brings to the debate some interesting aspects of urban land conflicts such as the disproportionate struggle of women and women-headed families in fulfilling their land and housing rights; advances in the legal and regulatory frameworks, such as the Statute of the Cities and the notion of the social function of land and city – although implementation is still and issue; the experiences pushed and influenced by the social movements.

REAL STATE DEVELOPMENT AND PUBLIC INTEREST – Another contribution from Brazil is the Museum of Evictions, an initiative focused on a low-income, informal community of 700 families in Rio de Janeiro, that was evicted due to real estate development before the World Cup and the Olympic games, similarly to many other communities across the country. Even though the justification that supported such developments was often related to the public interest and the preservation of natural environment, later the same areas were occupied by upper-middle class real estate developments.

RIO DE JANEIRO AND LAGOS – In reaction to the Museum of Removals, the colleague James Tayler from South Africa, now in Nigeria, shares about land conflicts in Lagos, very similar to what is going on in Brazil, where the poor are squeezed out by middle class real estate needs and other development. He shares about the cases of informal settlements completely built on water – a really clever solution to the problem of lack of available land for settlement; the forced eviction that left 30.000 people homeless overnight. By talking to the people on the ground, he noticed a strong feeling of solidarity and an interest in reaching out and learning more about communities facing similar challenges around land and tenure, in addition to the difficulty of grassroots in understanding technical language, which challenges adaptation of lessons learned to local situations.

THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA – The Museum of Removals addresses the role of the mainstream media in such land conflicts, manipulating the public opinion and legitimating the interest of the developers in clearing the city centers from the informal settlements. What the Museum is trying to do is to build a counter-narrative that challenges mainstream media about the low income / informal settlements, using the internet as a key tool, contributing to keep the memory of communities under threat of evictions. “The opportunity we see in our work is to demonstrate that the knowledge of the history of the people is one of the most powerful instruments of resistance.”

MAPPING TOOLS – The post from the Museum of Evictions also shares about collaborative mapping initiatives, such as the #DroneHackademy and the Popular Slum Upgrading Plan.

SUDAN – Finally, we received a contribution from Mohyeldeen Taha (Sudan), providing a more rural perspective on land conflicts, who also shared the following video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0oKiViZ46vpSlkxeHBMbWtrSmc/view

All the material (documents, videos, and other) submitted to the Forum will be uploaded to the Suelo Urbano library (https://www.suelourbano.org/bibliotecas/ ). Anyone registered in the platform can also share documents and other resources.

We greatly appreciate your engagement in the e-forum and are looking forward to a vibrant discussion over the coming weeks!


In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, internal migratory movements in the 1980s populated the outskirts of the city with dozens of informal settlements. Thousands of people moved onto unclaimed land, constructed houses, and began communities. The process of registering and titling land in Honduras is labyrinthine, and few settlers were even aware of the possibility of legalizing their land holdings until wealthy developers arrived threatening eviction. In several cases, business opportunists noticed swaths of unregistered land, and went through the legalization process, making themselves the de facto owners of land where entire communities lived. Some showed up with bulldozers, others asked for rent. The majority of these conflicts were due to the fact that, despite living in their homes for over a decade (which makes them eligible for ownership by Honduran law), individuals did not have legal title to their home.


Land disputes often became protracted battles where multiple people claimed ownership of the same plot of land. Meanwhile, inhabitants of that land lived in limbo, first paying off one claimant, then another, and never receiving legal recognition of ownership. To create security for the people trapped in the middle of land disputes, disputed land was valued, and the inhabitant of that land was given the opportunity to pay that amount into a bank trust, receiving legal title once the land was paid. Those who claimed ownership then battled over the money in the trust, not the land itself. In that way, legal battles over property did not threaten the livelihood of individuals.


Civil society organizations such as the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) are working to reform the speed, efficiency, and quality of the land titling process. An estimated 80% of land in Honduras remains unregistered, and the process of legalization can take up to six years. In addition, frequent turnover in the Property Institute limits standardization and streamlining of procedures. AJS created a manual for the land titling process with best practices and standardized procedures, which was refined and adopted by the Property Institute. AJS also audits titles before they are delivered, catching errors such as misspelled names or duplicate registrations that would invalidate the title. In this way, they increase the capacity and quality of the Property Institute to deliver titles, slowly but steadily legalizing the tenancy of vulnerable groups across the country.

For Spanish speakers, find an interesting contribution from Mr. Gunther Hernán Gonzales Barrón, Superior Judge of the Court of Justice of Lima – Peru: THE HUMAN RIGHT TO THE CITY: CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS; available here and at our Open Library.

Hello! This second summary brings the contributions received frm Honduras, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina and Brasil.


INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY – from the Honduran context, Katerina Parsons shares about the threats and expulsions of individuals who, despite living in their homes for over a decade (which makes them eligible for ownership by Honduran law), did not have legal title to their home. In some cases, multiple people claim the same plot of land, while the people living there may have to pay off more than one claimant and never receive legal recognition of ownership.

In one of the experiences she shares, the land is valued and the inhabitant may pay the amount into a bank trust, receiving legal title once the land was paid; “those who claimed ownership then battled over the money in the trust, not the land itself. In that way, legal battles over property did not threaten the livelihood of individuals.”

The contribution also mentions the work of the Association for a More Just Society (AJS), strengthening capacity and quality of the Property Instituto to deliver titles.


WOMEN AND INFORMED ADVOCACY – From Peru, Luz Maria Sánchez Hurtado emphasized gender issues in the context of land conflicts, and brings to the discussion opportunities and examples of empowerment and capacity development of women for informed advocacy.

Women map and identify the needs of their communities, organize public events and dialogues with authorities to present proposal, prepare letters of commitment to solicit the attention of the authorities. Besides these tools, women’s action also follow a strategy such as the creation of a management committee to follow up the commitments made by the authorities; and if they authorities don’t meet their needs, the women activate their networks to initiate mobilizations at national level.


REGIONAL DATABASE – Sara Maria Sanchez introduces the situation in Paraguay, and shares about her experience with the first pilot detection plan for vulnerable settlements in Greater Asunción. She also highlights the potential of having a regional database of land conflicts, which could help identify common features in one or more countries, a patterns of location, dimension, impacts, etc.


VIOLATIONS TO THE RIGHT TO THE CITY – The contribution from Natalia Peresini, Argentina, presents the a research methodology and findings from two projects: “Urban conflicts and violations to the right to the city in Córdoba Argentina (2012-2014) and “Prioritized detection and proposition of strategies of urban conflict resolution and violations of the right to the city in Córdoba capital” (2014-2016). The research sought to locate, characterize and understand urban land conflicts, in order to contribute to the proposal of strategies to overcome such violations through visibility and better understanding the phenomenon.


HUMAN RIGHT TO THE CITY – we also received an work in progress from Mr. Gunther Hernán Gonzales Barrón, Senior Judge of the Court of Justice of Lima, Peru, available here. The document addresses the problems of urbanization, the United Nations conferences related to urbanization phenomenon; the market as a supposed “solution” to the problem of the cities as well as it’s insufficiency; planning as a solution, culminating with proposals for the new human right to the city.


LAND REGULARIZATION IN BRAZIL – It is worth mentioning the concerns brought about recent changes in the urban and legal frameworks for land regularization in Brazil. The following is an excerpt from an article of Luciana Bedeschi and Paulo Romeiro, available here:

"At the end of last year, the national government issued the Provisional Measure MP 759/16, supposedly aimed at facilitating the land regularization of urban and rural lands. The analyzes of the urban and rural question of the MP, however, show that, behind this proposal, there is an attempt to commercialize the territories occupied by agrarian reform settlements and urban informal settlements, amnesty to high-level irregular occupations, in addition to the sale of public land with no social or collective criteria. (…) What is being promoted as an attempt to reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency in the management of public assets, in practice hides the possibility of transfer public assets, land and natural resources to the private sector disregarding the current social and collective criteria”.


Thank you very much for the interesting contributions. We continue the debate until February 24th, seeking to identify further stories and synergies between local challenges and innovative experiences, towards the creation of a Regional Working Group for informed advocacy and action.


There is still time to join – leave your comment here.


Dear Land Colleagues

I won't go around the houses again on why land issues need to be solved to help reduce conflict but wanted to try to connect some of these comments with the earlier debate on land acquisition and acquisition.

One of the major triggers for serious land conflict usually arises on dispossession without adequate process, dispute resolution and ultimately fair compensation. We (RICS) have been working on some in-depth research looking at the issues around the valuation of unregistered land and whether land registration is necessary for the establishment of land value (and by extension fair compensation). Our researchers, Dr Mike McDermott & Dr Franklin Obeng-Odoom, have carried out case studies, in Accra - Ghana, Jakarta - Indonesia and for the interest of this group Lima – Peru and are preparing to present at the forthcoming World Bank Land & Poverty Conference. It makes interesting reading and really starts to challenge the orthodoxy that title registration and formalisation is necessary for to establish land value, effective transfer and the arrival at fair compensation levels during expropriation. Formalisation of title was found to have an effect albeit a smaller than anticipated effect on land value. Land value is also a key component of land transfer processes and we have been working with 30 other land & property organisations to form the International Land Measurement Standard (ILMS) Coalition. The coalition has agreed that ILMS will offer strong, principled standards in the public interest, focusing on key minimum land information required to make the process of transaction easier and less risky while strengthening tenure security, land rights, investment, government revenue and economic development. There is a strong link between tenure security, land value, land transfer, acquisition and fair compensation (or for that matter taxation) and one of the most important is a seamless transition of basic, accurate land data elements. The concepts of Fit for Purpose can be applied to all of these stages. The latest RICS Land Journal http://www.rics.org/uk/news/journals/land-journal/land-journal-marchapri...  features a number of articles including one on the SDG’s and one on the ILMS initiative.

Valuation of unregistered land is a really important subject area and is, we believe, key to urban development, infrastructure development and the New Urban Agenda, it will also help with conflict issues during acquisition projects. Apart from the RICS research UN Habitat/GLTN are also producing a new guide (tool) on this subject – and a workshop at the World Bank conference.

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