Tenure and Investment in Southeast Asia

Date: October 3, 2017


This document provides an empirical picture of the causes and effects of tenure-related disputes between private sector actors and local peoples across Southeast Asia. It demonstrates that disputes in Southeast Asia are often more intractable and more violent than in any other region examined. The most common reason for these disputes is forced displacement, but factors like environmental damage, cultural abuse, and compensation also figure.

The analysis is based on an investigation of 51 case studies across Continental and Maritime Southeast Asia. These “new cases” are compared with a global average derived from the IAN Case Study Database’s 237 cases after 2001 and outside Southeast Asia. The aim is therefore to provide greater insight into the way that tenure rights and governance are impacting the private sector at the macro-level.

This high-level view is complemented by separate papers on Continental and Maritime Southeast Asia, each of which profiles the case studies in depth and provides a more nuanced view of how tenure-related disputes develop and how they can be resolved.

  • Key Findings
  • Related Materials

Key Findings

  • Only 6 out of the 51 recent cases of land-related conflicts in Southeast Asia have been resolved. Almost three quarters (74 percent) have lasted more than six years, creating spiraling costs and considerable uncertainty.
  • In Southeast Asia, 47 percent of cases involved violence, with 18 percent resulting in fatalities. These levels were slightly greater than those found elsewhere around the world, in which 44 percent involved violence and 15 percent resulted in fatalities.
  • More than three quarters of these conflicts (76 percent) started before operations began, which typically reveals a lack of initial good-faith negotiations with the affected communities. In comparison, a little more than half of African conflicts (56 percent) started before operations began.
  • Displacement of local peoples—forcing entire communities to leave their customary lands—was the primary driver of almost half of these disputes (45 percent). In comparison, displacement was the primary driver in almost two-thirds of African disputes (63 percent).
  • On average, the Southeast Asian conflicts examined were just 33 kilometers from a national border, compared with 61 kilometers in Africa. Border regions typically have less oversight from governments and third-party observers, presenting a greater level of investment risk.
  • Almost two thirds of the disputes (65 percent) led to significant material impact for project backers, either as a result of direct action or regulatory intervention, compared to 52 percent in the rest of the world. Almost three quarters (71 percent) of the cases involved legal action.


Related Materials

Press Release [PDF]

Factsheet: Tenure and Investment in Southeast Asia  [PDF]

Report 1: Tenure and Investment in Southeast Asia: Comparative Analysis of Key Trends [PDF]

Report 2: Tenure and Investment: Maritime Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia) [PDF]

Report 3: Tenure and Investment: Continental Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) [PDF]