Expropriation of private land rights involves two contradictory interests: there is a public need for land; and landholders expect security of tenure and protection of their private property rights. A satisfactory expropriation policy must strike a balance between these interests. Legislation must therefore only authorize the government to expropriate land rights for a clear and limited public purpose under the supervision of an independent body. The author argues that Ethiopia's rural land laws have defined the public purpose for the expropriation of rural land rights in different ways depending on the nature of the landholders. For peasants and pastoralists the public purpose requirement is defined vaguely and broadly, whereas for investors the concept is limited to projects implemented by government. The author argues that the protection of private property rights and security of tenure are further undermined by a legislative failure to authorize affected people to appeal to an independent body on the basis that the public purpose requirement has not been satisfied.