Discussion paper looks at how land reform in Scotland can further realise human rights

The importance of economic, social and cultural human rights in the land reform agenda is highlighted in a new discussion paper published today Tuesday 8 May, 2018 by Scotland’s land reform body.

The paper ’Human Rights and the Work of the Scottish Land Commission’, is the fifth in a series of independent discussion papers from the Scottish Land Commission, aimed at stimulating discussion about making more of Scotland’s land.

The paper’s author, Dr Kirsteen Shields examines how a human rights-based approach to land use and land governance might enable Scotland to make better use of its land. She explores how The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 embodies an understanding of land as a national asset to serve the common good and illustrates how the Act has already advanced human rights in Scotland by

  • strengthening community rights to buy
  • improving transparency of ownership and
  • protecting the rights of tenants and small farmers.

She also considers four concrete examples that directly link to the four pillars of the Land Commission’s work and considers the positive human rights impact that land reform could make in each.

For example, Dr Shields draws on international experience to argue that redeveloping Scotland’s vacant and derelict land could progress human rights by creating space for affordable homes (progressing the right to housing) or community greenspaces (progressing the right to health).

And she illustrates how the Land Commission’s work can help improve human rights for tenant farmers by ensuring that the sector is better regulated and introducing new codes of conduct that clarify the rights and responsibilities of landowners and tenants.

Speaking about the discussion paper, Dr Shields said,

“Land reform has enormous potential to contribute to the realisation of human rights in Scotland….There was previously a common misunderstanding that the human rights dimension of land reform was the right to property.”

Dr Shields points out that these are “neglected areas of land governance that will require new legal pathways and real cooperation to navigate.”

Chair of the Scottish Land Commission, Andrew Thin, said,

“Human rights underpins all areas of the Commission’s work and it is inherent in Scotland’s framework for land reform.

“The emphasis on the realisation of economic, social and cultural human rights will run through all of our work over the coming years with a particular focus on tackling constraints in the availability of land for housing, addressing issues of land ownership, democratising land use decision making and creating a better functioning system of tenanted farm land.“