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A person or group living without equitable access to, and use of rural or urban land with secure tenure as needed to fulfill one or more human needs and/or human rights (See: Landlessness below) due to any single, or combination of means and factors, including but not limited to:

  • Discrimination;
  • Dispossession;
  • Displacement, including forced eviction;
  • Denial (of use, access, etc.);
  • Scarcity of land;
  • Insufficient capability;
  • Damage or destruction of land and/or means of access.

Landless persons or groups may be variously characterized as:

  • Victims of landlessness (resulting from an act of crime or abuse of power and entitled to reparation),
  • Affected by landlessness (whether the perpetrator(s)/duty holder(s) known or not),
  • Vulnerable to landlessness (subject to policy priority and/or temporary special measures),
  • Potential producers on land deprived of land, whereas available land is deprived of its social function (see Social Function below);
  • Agents of remedy, in the sense that landless persons represent untapped potential for production and socially necessary labor on land.

Landlessness may result from causes involving:

  • Political tyranny, social injustice;
  • Conflict, occupation, war and colonization;
  • Natural disasters and climate change;
  • Failed land laws and policies;
  • Corruption and fraud;
  • Land grabbing;
  • Insufficient lands for suitable use;
  • Poverty and debt;
  • Forcible displacement/population transfer;
  • Corporate exploitation (land owners or users [e.g., farmers] expelled in favor of investment and global companies);
  • State acquisition/public purpose (e.g., for the sake of selling or leasing to generate revenue for the state or government);
  • Temporary measures prolonged (e.g., whereby acquisition takes place under the pretext of rehabilitation, conservation, development, or reconstruction, especially after natural disasters, wars and drought, and lands are not returned to their rightful owners);
  • Displacement or refugee crisis (as in the case of a refugee or asylum seeker’s well-founded fear of persecution or security threat);
  • Land degradation, whether due to mismanagement, desertification, contamination or climate change.

A landless person or group may need land for:

  • Cultivation and plantation;
  • Grazing as a function of pastoral livelihood and lifestyle;
  • Dwelling and cultivation;
  • Residence only;
  • Other forms of livelihood, including investment and trade.

Internationally codified human rights affected by landlessness may include:

  • Life,
  • Decent work,
  • Livelihood,
  • Adequate housing,
  • Adequate food,
  • Family,
  • Social security,
  • Highest attainable standard of mental and physical health,
  • Freedom of movement,
  • Water,
  • Property,
  • Freedom from discrimination,
  • Gender equality,
  • Fair trial/rule of law,
  • Self-determination.

International humanitarian law provisions and prohibitions include:

  • Evacuations only temporary (Hague, §§42–56; Geneva IV, §§27–34, 47–78)
  • Prohibited: discrimination, exploitation, causing loss or depletion of, or endangering natural resources in the occupied territory (e.g., Palestine, Western Sahara, Cyprus) (Hague, §§55; Geneva IV, §55)
  • Altering legal system in occupied territory prohibited (Hague, §43)
  • Population transfer criminalized (Rome, §§7,8)
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