Legal tools: sharing lessons from innovation

Around the world, citizens' groups are taking action to change the way investments in natural resources are happening, to protect the rights of citizens and the environment for a fairer and more sustainable world. The Legal Tools for Citizen Empowerment initiative shares tools and tactics among practitioners.

Article, 09 October 2014
Law, economies and justice
A collaborative programme of work on renegotiating the law to promote fairer, more sustainable economies
A group of men having a discussion

Kalimantan, Indonesia: A community leader discusses resistance to a logging company building a large oil palm plantation. The banner in the background demands that the company return rights to the community (Photo: Rainforest Action Network via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Citizens' groups are using multiple levers to promote justice, sustainability and accountability in investment processes. These range from grassroots action to claim rights, engage in legal reforms and international policy debates, to mobilising international human rights bodies. It also includes making use of investor and company grievance mechanisms to scrutinising international investment treaties, contracts and arbitration.

Through approaches such as paralegal programmes, access to justice work, local by-laws and transnational advocacy, civil society organisations are enabling communities to register collective landholdings, claim their rights and to have a say in investments that affect their lives.

There is a need to share lessons from this experience – both the successes and the challenges still to be overcome. And in a carbon-constrained and time-pressured world, practitioners need new ways to communicate, interact and learn from one another without necessarily travelling the world to resource-intensive meetings.

What is IIED doing?

IIED works with practitioners who are developing innovative approaches to reflect on their experiences and share this learning with others. This includes:

  • Documenting and publicising lessons learnt, and
  • Convening lesson-sharing events.

To facilitate international lesson-sharing, IIED and its partners use multiple interlinked channels, including international workshops, webinars, practitioner write-ups and newsletters.


Webinars are online seminars that enable practitioners to share their experience, learn from each other and create new alliances. Examples of past webinars include:


The practitioner write-ups provide an opportunity to reflect on innovative experiences, and to share lessons with a wider community of practitioners who may be grappling with similar issues elsewhere, or may be inspired to take action. 

From spears to maps: the case of Waorani resistance in Ecuador for the defence of their right to prior consultation, Margherita Scazza, Oswando Nenquimo (2021), IIED report | en español

How collective action can influence the direction of a land reform: lessons learned from civil society mobilisation in Senegal, Philippe Lavigne Delville, Daouda Diagne, Camille Richebourg (2021), IIED Report | en français 

Résoudre les conflits fonciers par le dialogue: leçons aux marges d’une aire protégée du Cameroun, Michelle Sonkoue Watio, Romuald Ngono, Anna Bolin (2020), IIED Report

Rebalancing power in global food chains through a “Ways of Working” approach: an experience from Kenya, Elizabeth Kariuki, Mary Kambo (2019), IIED Report

A stronger voice for women in local land governance: effective approaches in Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal, Philippine Sutz, Amaelle Seigneret, Mary Richard, Patricia Blankson Akapko, Fati Alhassan, Mamadou Fall (2019), IIED Report

Advancing indigenous peoples' rights through regional human rights systems: the case of Paraguay, Maximiliano Mendieta Miranda, Julia Cabello Alonso (2017), IIED Report | en español

Improving accountability in agricultural investments: reflections from legal empowerment initiatives in West Africa, Thierry Berger, Lorenzo Cotula, Adrian Di Giovanni, Mamadou Fall, Mark Kakraba-​Ampeh, Samuel Nguiffo, Téodyl Nkuintchua, Eric Yeboah (2017), IIED Report

Connected and changing: an open data web platform to track land conflict in Myanmar, Catriona Knapman, Wai Wai Lwin (2016), IIED Report

Pillars of the community: how trained volunteers defend land rights in Tanzania, Godfrey Massay (2016), IIED report

Genre et foncier : l'expérience des consultations juridiques gratuites au Sénégal, Khadidiatou Kébé Diouf (2016), IIED Report (in French only)

Mainstreaming gender in Tanzania's local land governance, Nasieku Kisambu (2016), IIED Report

Community-based advocacy: lessons from a natural gas project in Mozambique, Alda Salomão (2015), IIED Report | en français | em Português

Asserting community land rights using RSPO complaint procedures in Indonesia and Liberia, Tom Lomax (2015), IIED Report | en français | en español

Bringing community perspectives to investor-state arbitration: the Pac Rim case, Thierry Berger, Saúl Baños, Marcos A. Orellana (2015), IIED Report | en español

Community-based monitoring of land acquisition: from the Buseruka oil refinery, Uganda, Bashir Twesigye (2015), IIED Report | en français

Advocacy on investment treaty negotiations: lessons from Malaysian civil society, Fauwaz Abdul Aziz (2015), IIED Report | en français

Catalysing famers' influence in shaping law reform: experience from Senegal, Ndèye Coumba Diouf (2015), IIED Report | en français

Legal advice for environmental justice: experience from eastern India, Sanjay Upadhyay, Suparna Jain, Enviro Legal Defence Firm (2015), IIED Report | en français

Sustaining legal empowerment in initiatives to support local land rights, Robin Nielsen (2012), IIED Report | en français

Legal empowerment in practice. Using legal tools to secure land rights in Africa, Lorenzo Cotula and Paul Mathieu (2008), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN/IIED Land Tenure and Resource Access in Africa Series

The reports listed above have been authored by one or more of the following organisations:

Additional resources

Blog: Legal empowerment as action research, Lorenzo Cotula (January 2022)

Blog: COVID-19 and the sites of rights resilience, Lorenzo Cotula, Elaine Webster (May 2020)

Between hope and critique: human rights, social justice and re-imagining international law from the bottom up, Lorenzo Cotula (2020), Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law


To more information, email