Evolution of the International Law of Alienability: The 1997 Land Law of Mozambique as a Case Study


A fundamental right to sell land is implied by a recent surge of ownership and alienability references in international law. After decades of ideological controversy, several new documents suggest that the scope of the human right to property is gradually broadening. But a number of nations, including Mozambique, still impose restrictions on land alienability. This Note will use Mozambique as a case study to analyze strengthening international recognition of land alienability rights. While domestic alienability restrictions probably do not violate current international obligations, they may soon be incompatible with an evolving standard of private property ownership. But the case of Mozambique presents unique problems in considering the benefits of a private land market, including the historical influences of customary African law, colonialism, and Marxism, as well as legitimate fears over the adverse effects privatization could have on African development. In addition, the will of the people may be manifest by the democratically elected government’s decision to continue its alienability restrictions. Given these concerns, this Note concludes that it may not be prudent to invoke international human rights law to pressure Mozambique and similarly-situated nations to privatize land.