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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/14/14

Failing land policy in Burma

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This photo was taken on March 12th 2012 and shows over 400 villagers from Shweygin and Kyauk Kyi Townships protesting the Shweygin Dam in Nyaunglebin District/ Eastern Bago Region. [Photo: KHRG]
This photo was taken on March 12th 2012 and shows over 400 villagers from Shweygin and Kyauk Kyi Townships protesting the Shweygin Dam in Nyaunglebin District/ Eastern Bago Region. [Photo: KHRG]
(Image by Zin Linn)
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The earlier time under consecutive military regimes, there were widespread confiscation of land from small and poor farmers in rural Burma (Myanmar) for development ventures and natural resource extraction projects. Regrettably, the rate of confiscation appears to be continuing unrestrained under the existing quasi-civilian government. The unfair practice may step up because of a latest legal structure that guarantees less protection towards destitute farmers than before, as well as escalating foreign investment concerning military conglomerate and cronies.

At the same time, conflicts taking place out of land utilization are mounting not only in natural resource extraction sectors but also in underprivileged people's neighborhoods. Those matters have caused more aggressive violence in several unusual cases. As the President U Thein Sein Government gains recognition right through the international sphere, villagers in country's rustic parts are being displaced and their lands confiscated due to development projects which give little compensation to them.

Myanmar remains a mostly rural country, in which the majority of the population relies on small farms for their livelihoods. Regrettably, the rate of landless farmers has been on the rise for several years. Then, the row of land confiscation seems to be rising now and again.

The local inhabitants repeatedly suffer serious extra human rights abuses, including forced labor, environmental degradation, bodily terrorization and improper detention, and maltreatment of livings along with land confiscation. And their capacity to prevent these impacts is hinder by the lack of information on respective projects and legal barriers made by the authorities get in the way to regain the location.

The issue of land confiscation has been continued to be one of the largest problems the country has to address. The inflows of foreign investment, the liberalization of the market, and lack of rule of law including both proper legislation and self-determining courts, have resulted in land confiscation on a prevalent degree. The government has taken action to this rising problem with insufficient laws. It is currently viewed more as a barrier than a part of the answer. This land confiscation issue has had an effect on both urban and rural communities across the country and has been carried out by the government, its military and crony businesses.

Land grabbing cases are direct violation of several international standards, such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The domestic laws designed to combat land confiscation have grave weakness. Moreover, in many occasions, those laws are legislatively supporting and backing up land confiscation. Furthermore, harsh restrictions have been made for the parliamentary commission assigned to investigate illegal land confiscation cases.

A current case occurred at Thamee Kalay village in Bago Region. The villagers of Thamee Kalay were forcibly driven out in first week of this month. The villagers have asked the authorities to allow them to continue taking shelter at a Buddhist monastery in Bago Region as their school children have to sit their final exams, some of the villagers told.

As reported by Eleven Media, the villagers were said to have been living on land owned by the armed forces in Thamee Kalay Village, Hlegu Township, Yangon Region. Their houses were destroyed on February 4, and they are now taking shelter at the Aung Theikdi monastery in Bago Region. The appeal came after the authorities sent the monastery abbot a letter on 6 February warning that the expelled villagers must depart area immediately. According to media sources, the journalists are not allowed to access Thamee Kalay Village, where some army units are reportedly sitting in position.

These villagers, who also are the citizens of Burma, have no one to depend on concerning currently expelling by the local authorities. Besides, there is no law that can protect their right to live in their own country.

The Karen Human Right Group (KHRG) said in its report -- "Losing Ground: Land conflicts and collective action in eastern Myanmar'- which concentrated on the most challenging and burning human rights issue, especially about land-grabbing violence by military and administrative authorities, reported by the villagers throughout eastern region of the country.

Eastern Myanmar remains highly militarized. As investment actors more and more join together with local and national authorities to get hold of land in eastern part of the country. The local communities know that asking for getting back of their own land brings prearranged threats.

On the other hand, Chapter 1, Article 37 of Myanmar's 2008 Constitution mentions over who owns the country's land. It states that, "the Union [State] is the ultimate owner of all the land, and natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and within the atmosphere within its territorial boundary."

President U Thein Sein government including all levels - from local level to cabinet level authorities - is responsible for taking the right decisions in addressing this serious question of omnipresent land confiscation. A government should think about the suffering of its people as precedence. Millions of ethnic people have been expelled from their homes to make way for development projects such as hydro-power dams, reservoirs and sea ports. However construction and engineering companies close to the government enjoy profits from those projects.

According to the study of Karen Human Rights Group's ground records collected between January 2011 and November 2012 in seven geographic research areas in eastern Burma indicates that natural resource extraction and development projects undertaken or facilitated by civil and military State authorities, armed ethnic groups and private investors caused not only confiscation of native villagers' land but also forced dislocation without official consultation and compensation. In addition, the authorities even give no notice to the project-affected groups of people.

Although the President U Thein Sein Government of Myanmar (Burma) gains credits from the international sphere due to present reform process, villagers in country's rural and ethnic areas are being displaced and their lands confiscated to make way for development projects. To deserve those international credits, President U Thein Sein should chew on the ongoing land grabbing cases that produced thousands of landless farmers.

Several political analysts consider that land grabbing should be immediately stopped or another farmers' protest may be taken place in near future. The government needs to observe the basic principles that land grabbing can pave the way for grievous consequences to folk peoples, communities, eco-systems and the climate. Thus, the government ought to keep land in the hands of local communities and implement genuine agrarian reform in order to ensure impartial access to land and natural resources.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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