Land Ownership: Community Rights Under Threat

The claims by Indigenous peoples to the land on which they farm, graze animals, hunt and live are often unrecognized, tenuous, and vulnerable. Despite their historic use of the land, they often lack legal security. The exploitation of natural resources located on traditional community land is one of the most frequent problems for Indigenous communities. And “commons” land may be sold by governments into private hands. The absence of clear ownership rights has many consequences.

GIJN/NAJA Guide for Indigenous Investigative Journalists

This guide is created to encourage Indigenous investigative journalists and to provide empowering tips and tools. Developed collaboratively by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) and the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), the guide explores eight key topics. The entries include background information, examples of investigative work, suggestions for stories, and resources for information. The chapters include:

Data Journalism on Indigenous Communities
Land Ownership: Community Rights Under Threat
Investigating Criminal Justice
Exposing Exploitation and Corruption
Covering the Climate Crisis
Investigating Murdered or Missing Persons
Indigenous Data Sovereignty
Getting Documents, Dealing with Whistleblowers, and Staying Safe

In conjunction with the introduction of this guide, a training/networking program is being held for Indigenous journalists from eight countries at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Hamburg, Germany, September 26-29, 2019. This guide was written by GIJN Resource Center Director Toby McIntosh.

Investigative Journalists Unearth Property Stories

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Full Property Guide
Research into property records has played a major role in uncovering corruption. The following sampling, mostly from 2018, shows the variety and importance of investigative reporting in this area. Tracking Official Corruption
“Millionaires Among the Nominees” is a story by the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) based on investigating the property holdings of 121 Bosnian politicians, highlighting the assets of the 10 richest ones. CIN reporters compiled information about the candidates’ property from land records and from asset declarations, combining them into a CIN database of “politicians’ assets.”

Sometimes it’s about tracking down expensive homes owned by public officials and corporate executives, as was done on several occasions by journalists in Armenia. “Skirting Disclosure Laws: Armenian Officials and Their Assets in the Czech Republic” describes a probe conducted by Hetq Online, published by the Association of Investigative Journalists, which also wrote: “Undue Influence?

Land and Property Ownership: A Story Beneath Our Feet

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Full Property Guide
The lack of transparency about property records gets little media attention. It’s just not sexy enough for most journalists, as several land policy experts have lamented. Specific conflicts over land ownership, between local communities and corporate interests, for example, may make national headlines. But the underlying causes of such controversies — including power imbalances, corruption, weak land rights laws and hazy records — go underreported. The lack of accurate records is one of the key problems and the source of widespread insecurity about property rights, experts say. The scope of the undocumented land problem is dauntingly huge.

Land Ownership Records: So Useful, but Challenging to Find

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Finding out who owns land can be tough. While property registration systems exist in almost all countries, the quality and availability of the information vary widely. World Bank experts estimate that only 30 percent of the world’s population has a legally registered title to their land, a widely quoted figure that Bank officials stress is a rough estimate. See also our guides to great stories based on land records and resources to help report such stories.What’s more, property records are often incomplete or inaccurate. “Fewer than half of the world’s countries (and just 13 percent in Africa) have registered or mapped the private land in their capital city, let alone beyond its borders, and public land is often not registered at all,” summarized World Bank land expert Klaus Deininger in a 2018 blog post.