Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Weekly Highlights: Land Policies and Laws Must Reflect Rights and Interests of Vulnerable Communities


16 - 22 February 2015

Weekly Highlights

Land Policies and Laws Must Reflect Rights and Interests of Vulnerable Communities

Amid the various serious issues currently dominating the headlines about Burma – including the upcoming elections, the escalation in fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic armies, the recent crackdown on workers' protests, this year's student marches, and ongoing religious tensions – it is important that people do not lose sight of the land issue. Like other developing South-East Asian countries, Burma is grappling with the sticky and complex problems of land ownership, rights and use. As is often the case, it is the poor and marginalized communities who are most vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuses, particularly small-scale farmers in Burma's beleaguered ethnic regions.

This month Human Rights Foundation of Monland-Burma (HURFOM) released a report titled "Yearning to be Heard: Mon Farmers' Continued Struggle for Acknowledgement and Protection of their Rights" – a follow-up to their 2013 report "Disputed Territory: Mon Farmers' Fight Against Unjust Land Acquisition and Barriers to Their Progress." It argues that "continuing barriers to progress lie primarily in the country's broken land management system, the failures of recent land laws to secure the protection of farmers' land rights, the failure of government bodies and authorities to perform their responsibilities unbiased from military influence, and the total impunity of the military due to the independent structure of the courts-martial." A salient example of such impunity, mentioned in the report, is the confiscation of more than 2,000 acres of rubber plantation in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, over the past year. Regrettably, such land rights abuses betray the paltry extent to which the Burma Government is able to influence the Burma Army and rein in its illegal activities.

In order to prevent such abuses, reforms are necessary across the board: legislative, institutional and judicial. It was hoped that the National Land Use Policy (NLUP), a draft of which was publicly circulated by the Burma Government in October 2014, would be a meaningful and constructive first step. The temptation with policymaking tends to be to impose a simplistic narrative on such issues. Indeed, while the NLUP showed initial indications of trying to recognize and take account of the complex structural patterns at play, including the realities and idiosyncrasies on the ground, it unfortunately did not live up to expectations.

Complementing this report by HURFOM (an ethnic grassroots organization), is a report by Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, which released "The Challenge of Democratic and Inclusive Land Policymaking in [Burma]." This report responds to the NLUP and, as with the HURFOM report, places the emphasis on the perspectives of Burma's ethnic nationalities. The report says that "if the government is to make this step matter, then it must follow through. It must ensure that the issues, concerns, and aspirations expressed by those whose lives and livelihoods are most affected or threatened by forced eviction and dislocation, land confiscations and large-scale land deals, leave a substantial imprint on the policy that finally gets adopted." One of the principal criticisms of the NLUP is that it prioritizes profits over rights, serving to empower investors over small-scale farmers.

Land reform is one of the most vital policy areas for Burma and its reform agenda, particularly given that around two-thirds of the population of Burma eke out a living through agriculture-based activities. The NLUP represents an opportunity for the Burma Government to create an enabling environment for the people to have ownership over the development agenda for themselves and their communities that is sustainable for decades to come.

However, unless the Burma Government recognizes the rights and interests of local communities and small-scale farmers, consults with such vulnerable groups, and implements inclusive policies and proposes laws that reflect and safeguard those rights and interests, it will be impossible for it to claim that it is representing the people of Burma. In an election year, that should come as a serious concern to any government hoping to win a genuine democratic mandate from the electorate.

​As of next week, Burma Partnership's 'Weekly Highlights' will not include collated news articles. We will, however, continue to include relevant actions, statements, reports, and press releases, as well as our Weekly Highlights blogpiece analyzing key events of the week.


News Highlights

Two Red Cross convoys are attacked in northern Shan State as conflict continues between the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Burma Army

Meanwhile, tens of thousands are fleeing into China and other parts of Burma as the government declares a state of emergency and martial law in the area, handing power over to the Burma Army

In the main Kokang town of Laukkai, the Burma Army goes on a killing spree, murdering over 100 civilians

Inside Burma

Student protests decide to temporarily stop marching, pending developments in Parliament on the National Education Law

Fourteen activists are jailed for six months for protesting land grabs by the Burma Army outside City Hall, Rangoon

The signing of an agreement in Naypyidaw by the Karen National Union (KNU) was not part of official KNU policy, according to the KNU standing committee

Upper house of Parliament passes the first bill of the 'Race Protection' package, limiting mothers to one child every three years

A court finds a Kachin man guilty of defamation after he spoke out against the Burma Army soldiers that murdered his daughter


Migrant schools in Thailand are being forced to rethink education provision to migrant children as donors withdraw support

Kokang conflict creates popular support for the MNDAA in China based on ethnic affinities


Two freelance Spanish journalists are deported from Burma for covering the student protests

UK Government considering action over claims in the Amnesty International report on Latpadaung Copper Mine that the British Virgin Islands was used by the Canadian company, Ivanhoe, to avoid international sanctions


Min Aung Hlaing's Putsch
By Aung Zaw
The Irrawaddy

Latpadaung: Denying Evidence won't make it go away
By Meghna Abraham
Democratic Voice of Burma

Myanmar's Buddhist Terrorism Problem
By Usaid Siddiqui
Al-Jazeera America

Latest from the Blog

Yet another Derailment of the Burma Peace Train
By Burma Partnership



TAKE ACTION! Call on the Burma Government to immediately and unconditionally release the 14 members of the Michaungkan community who have been sentenced to six months in prison for taking part in a peaceful protests against land confiscation in their area

Thousands of workers from various factories in Rangoon's industrial zones on strike for better pay, despite warnings from local authorities

Statements and Press Releases

Amnesty International's Written Statement on Myanmar to the UN Human Rights Council, Ahead of the 28th Session of the Council from 2-27 March 2015: Human Rights Under Threat
By Amnesty International

Myanmar- Overturn Wrongful Conviction of Brang Shawng
By Fortify Rights

New Report: Eastern Burma Health Recovery Decades Away
By Health Information System Working Group

HURFORM Media Release - Yearning to be Heard: Mon Farmers' Continued Struggle for Acknowledgement and Protection of their Rights
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland

Transnational Institute: Towards a Healthier Legal Environment
By Transnational Institute


The Long Road to Recovery: Ethnic and Community-based Health Organizations Leading the Way to Better Health in Eastern Burma

By Health Information System Working Group

Yearning to be Heard: Mon Farmers' Continued Struggle for Acknowledgement and Protection of their Rights
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland

Towards a Healthier Legal Environment – A Review of Myanmar's Drug Laws
By Transnational Institute

Linking Women and Land in Myanmar: Recognising Gender in the National Land Use Policy
By Transnational Institute 

The Challenge of Democratic and Inclusive Land Policymaking in Myanmar: A Response to the Draft National Land Use Policy
By Transnational Institute

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