LIOH Statement regarding the World Bank’s 2019 conference on Land and Poverty

LIOH Statement regarding the World Bank’s 2019 conference on Land and Poverty

25 March 2019

From the 25-29 the World Bank is hosting its annual conference on “Land and Poverty Conference 2019”.  This conference is pitched as a platform for experts to gather and present on solutions to the world’s land issues, including those afflicting Myanmar’s people today.

We, the Land in Our Hands, [a multi-ethnic national network in partnership with civil society and community based organizations across Myanmar], firmly believes that the World bank is the wrong institution to be leading communities out of land related poverty at a global scale, and has a major conflict of interests as the Bank has arguably exacerbated land related inequality through its investments and structural adjustment programs.

Myanmar is facing a serious land crisis that has been built on decades of successive military government’s systematic and widespread land expropriations from the country’s people. The current semi-civilian government, led by the NLD, has followed in the footsteps of previous authoritarian dictatorships in attempting to corner land as an investment opportunity while ignoring the history of land expropriations and how they continue to fan the flames of inequality, conflict and poverty. 

Sadly, the NLD-led government’s land reforms are deepening the existing land tenure insecurities of millions of farmers across the country, and foreclosing opportunities for genuine federal democratic reforms and lasting peace.

The recently amended Vacant Fallow Virgin Land Management Law effectively designates 45 million acres of land in Myanmar as “untitled” or vacant land, leaving it open for investment – 82 per cent of this land lies in non-Bamar ethnic States. There is no such thing as vacant land in Myanmar, and by ignoring the diversity of existing land tenure systems practiced by local farming communities, this law will transform these farmers into landless criminals, deprive them of their livelihoods and strip them of their cultural heritage and identity. In response to this situation, 346 CSOs across Myanmar (https://lioh.org/?p=46); the ethnic political parties (https://lioh.org/?p=53) and war affected displaced community from Kachin (https://lioh.org/?p=61) issued statements calling on the Myanmar government to repeal the VFVL law.

Land conflicts that are now emerging throughout the country will worsen as foreign companies, supported by foreign governments and International financial institutions, rush in to profit before any meaningful or far-reaching political and economic reforms have taken root in Myanmar. The World Bank’s engagement in the Myanmar land issue will lead to an acceleration of land grabbing and compound the dispossession of local communities from their lands and resources; and further fuel conflict and rights violations including displacement in Myanmar.

Contact

https://lioh.org, landsinourhands@gmail.com, +95-9785175874

Download (English) (Myanmar)

The Oakland Institute’s Open Letter to World Bank’ s 20th Land and Poverty Conference

An Open Letter to the World Bank on its 20th Land and Poverty Conference

March 21, 2019

Ms. Kristalina Georgieva
Interim President, World Bank
1818 H Street NW
Washington, DC, 20433

End the Enabling the Business of Agriculture Program and its Land Indicator

Dear Ms. Georgieva,

As the World Bank’s 20th Annual Land and Poverty Conference gets underway, we urge you to immediately put an end to the Bank’s attack on land rights orchestrated though the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project.

The EBA project was launched in 2013 to push governments to adopt measures and policy reforms favorable to agri-business. The EBA ranks countries on the “ease of doing business” in agriculture. It identifies the “legal barriers” for agribusinesses and prescribes reforms to remove them. With the introduction of a land indicator in the project in 2017, the Bank is now asking governments to ease access to land for agribusiness and ranks countries on their “laws and regulations that impact access to land markets for producers and agribusinesses.” The scores countries obtain are intended to condition aid and investment money.

As detailed in our latest report, The Highest Bidder Takes It All: The World Bank’s Scheme to Privatize the Commons, the Bank claims that low-income countries do not manage land effectively and thus recommends the privatization of land and its sale to private interests as a means to achieve economic development. The EBA thus pressures governments to formalize private property rights; ease the sale of land for commercial use; systematize the sale of public land by auction to the highest bidder; and improve procedures for the expropriation of land. While the Bank claims that such policy changes will bring more freedom and equity to land access, our report clearly demonstrates that the land indicator instead represents an unprecedented push to privatize land and facilitate private interests’ access to the commons, to the detriment of billions around the world.

Perhaps most shocking is the EBA’s prescription that developing country governments, particularly in Africa, transfer public lands with ‘potential economic value’ to private, commercial use so that this land can be put to its supposed ‘best use.’ This ignores the fact that over 3.1 billion people – half of humanity – relies on land for their livelihoods, the majority in developing countries. Communally managed resources such as farmland, water, forests, and savannas are essential to the livelihoods of millions of family farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples and are generally also valued as ancestral assets with deep social and cultural significance.

Rather than providing solutions to poverty and promoting shared prosperity, as per the Bank’s mission, the recommendations put forth via the land indicator clearly prioritize the interests and agendas of the EBA’s main donors—the US, the UK and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation- and corporate advisors over the well-being of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples.

Previous Land and Poverty Conferences have focused on the need for evidence-based approaches to land governance. However, the EBA’s land indicator runs counter to prevailing research and evidence. For instance, a comprehensive study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) involving over 400 scientists and cosponsored by the World Bank and others, widely discredited the supposed benefits of capital intensive, industrial agriculture. The report urged a shift toward agroecological practices that are less dependent on capital and external inputs. The World Bank’s own research staff has debunked the economic efficiency argument that is used to favor the privatization of land and expansion of land markets. The study states that the creation of land markets ultimately leads to land concentration for industrialized agriculture and monocultures in large mechanized land holdings, which are less productive than family farms.

It is time that the Bank comes clean about its true agenda and quits pretending that it is working in service of poverty alleviation. The EBA and its land indicator do nothing to alleviate poverty. It encourages the expansion of large-scale farming, which results in dispossession and loss of livelihoods for the rural poor, while failing to bring promised economic development and food security. It leads to massive environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity while worsening the climate crisis through deforestation and industrial agriculture.

By making land a marketable commodity that must be offered to the highest bidder, the land indicator will shift land from being an essential source of livelihoods and the basis of resilient farming and ecological balance, to an increasingly speculated upon financial asset that will expand corporate agriculture.

Governments should be urged and helped to design food and agricultural policies that put family farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples at the centre to address the major challenges of hunger, environmental degradation, and climate change. Instead, the World Bank has launched an unprecedented attack on their land rights and their future.

Since 2014, the multi-continental, 280-organization strong Our Land Our Business campaign has demanded an end to the EBA program because of its bias towards industrial agriculture and agribusiness corporations. Given the serious threat that the new land indicator poses, it is time to terminate this harmful initiative now.

Sincerely,

Anuradha Mittal
Executive Director
The Oakland Institute

[Source:] https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/open-letter-world-bank-20th-land-poverty-conference

PSLF’s Statement on VFVL

Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) / Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) released a statement on the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) on 11th March 2019. The statement is claiming that the peoples living & making lives on the land are the original owner of the land thus no need to use the VFVL; reminding the peoples from Ta’ang area to claim back the lands grabbed previously; promising PSLF/TNLA would uphold land policy that protect the community from losing land and would take actions against those any individual or organization attempting to grab the land from its people.

[News Release] Myanmar: New land law could have disastrous impact on ethnic minorities

  • Law affects traditional communities who passed down land for generations
  • Revenues from resource extraction going to army and its allies
  • Alleged crimes committed in Myanmar must be referred to ICC

GENEVA (11 March 2019) – A UN expert has expressed grave concerns about the implementation of a new land law in Myanmar, affecting a third of the country, and the disastrous implications for traditional farming communities in ethnic minority regions.

“Today marks the day that thousands of people living in rural areas in Myanmar may be charged with criminal trespass if they continue to use their lands as they have done for generations,” Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She said the amended Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law fails to  recognise shared land ownership practices, such as customary tenure, and land belonging to IDPs and refugees of conflict that has been left unattended. “The Law does not sufficiently recognise this reality,” Lee said. “The Law affects so many people, and with land insecurity central to the cycle of conflict, poverty and denial of rights, it has the potential to be disastrous.”

The law, which comes into effect on 11 March 2019, requires anyone occupying or using “vacant, fallow, or virgin” land to apply for a permit to use the land for 30 years or face eviction and up to two years in jail. She called on the Government to immediately suspend and review the law.

Lee also raised serious concerns about natural resource extraction, saying it was the one area of the economy she received more reports of human rights abuse in relation to than any other.

“Military-dominated state-owned economic enterprises in natural resource extraction are the regulators, revenue collectors and commercial entities, and they are permitted to retain vast profits that bypass the Government budget with no record kept on how they are spent,” she said.

“Revenues from natural resource extraction needed for vital services and development being diverted to the military and its allies, undermines the civilian Government, democratic reforms, the peace process, sustainable development and the realisation of rights.”

The Special Rapporteur said the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corporation were active across many sectors, including natural resource extraction. “The full extent of their business operations and profits are unclear, but their main beneficiaries are most likely to be high-ranking military and ex-military officials,” she said.

Lee said armed conflict continued in northern Shan between ethnic armed organisations and in Rakhine State between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw, and civilians were facing rights abuses as a result. Lee called on all parties to end hostilities, and to ensure that they take precautions and protect civilians.

She urged the international community to continue to work for justice for victims in Myanmar. Given that the road to justice was long and uncertain, she said, it was paramount that victims’ needs were addressed. “There is much that Myanmar must do to deal with the past. Reversing the continued stance of denial, and shifting to recognition and acknowledgement would go a long way to bringing about an end to impunity that has long existed in Myanmar.”

Lee called for the situation in Myanmar to be referred to the International Criminal Court by the Security Council, or a state party or group of states parties. “Victims must not be forced to wait in the purgatory of international inaction,” she said, adding if it was not possible to refer the situation to the ICC, the international community should consider establishing an independent tribunal.

ENDS

Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. 

UN Human Rights, country page: Myanmar 

For more information and media requests please contact: Georgia Drake (+41-22928 9780 / gdrake@ohchr.org). 
For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org

https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24296&LangID=E

PPST’s Statement from its Special Meeting 03-2019

The Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement Signatory – Ethnic Armed Organizations (NCA-S EAO) released a statement from its special meeting (03/2019) happened during 5-7 March, 2019. The statement urged to review & amend the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) accordingly as it is opposing democracy norms and federal principles; and to stop enacting similar laws in the future.

[Primer] There is no Vacant Land

A primer on defending Myanmar’s customary tenure systems

This Primer promotes a deeper understanding and appreciation of Myanmar’s customary tenure systems, which are under threat from the government’s new land policies. It looks at the nature and origin of traditional land and resource use customs and the functions these fulfill in Mayanmar’s rural communities.

Summary

Across the world, the livelihoods and well-being of rural communities have, since time immemorial, been assured through their customary land and resource management systems. Myanmar is no exception, and these systems have been especially valued in ethnic upland areas. Although increasingly under pressure, these systems still widely continue more or less intact, and continue to retain social legitimacy.

Customary tenure systems involve rural communities asserting authority over their local land and resources within their village areas, allocating rights and regulating access and use according to traditional cultural norms. At the simplest these institutions are codified social norms around resource access, and as such have existed across just about every inhabited landscape in the world.

They often involve the coordination of farming activities like planting, harvesting and grazing. They are based on a strong local identification with place and ecological landscape, and have evolved dynamically over the long term, giving rise to unique cultural landscapes. They tend to be sophisticated, flexible, and practical in terms of combining common and private rights and responsibilities across diverse resources. Beyond individual villages, they can play a key role in agreeing to inter-village boundaries, and regulating across clusters of villages who gets access to what resources, when and how. They can manage disputes both within and between villages in ways which have cultural legitimacy and embody principles of social justice. Their effectiveness is reflected in how highly valued they are by the communities who rely on them, and they evolve as the social composition and economic needs of the communities evolve and change over time.

There is increasing recognition of the prevalence of these systems and the importance to rural communities who rely on them. A recent study estimated that as much as 65% of the world’s land areas is managed under customary systems (RRI 2015). Across rural areas of Asia, Europe the Americas, and Africa, a wide diversity of customary land governance systems have been documented and continue to function effectively, with varying levels of state recognition. There are a wide diversity of customary systems across Myanmar, which go by a range of different local terms.

The recognition, understanding and study of common property and customary systems has been enjoying a remarkable renaissance around the world in recent decades. Academic research has demonstrated that customary systems are highly effective in enabling land and resource use that supports social well-being of ethnic communities. This is partly for economic reasons – because it can be highly efficient in delivering land and resource governance and management at relatively low cost with little conflict – and partly for social reasons – that they reflect reciprocal social relations over material resources.

However these systems are almost always misunderstood by outsiders, who without direct experience of them rarely seem to grasp the now all too unfamiliar concepts of local self-management, shared property (land and resources held in common) and social reciprocity (for instance labour exchange, and collective cropping). Negative judgements are frequently indulged in (‘unequal’, ‘anti-women’, ‘feudalistic’, ‘outdated’) with little basis in evidence, or time being taken to understand them properly.In fact, most of the criticisms levelled against customary systems are more applicable to state-based private land systems: where land ownership tends to be unequal, where few if any women have land titles in their names, where control is remote and inaccessible and bribe-seeking common, where taxation and input costs can drive farmers into debt bondage, landlessness, even suicide, and lastly where the systems tend to be static and inflexible over time.

In fact, most of the criticisms levelled against customary systems are more applicable to state-based private land systems: where land ownership tends to be unequal, where few if any women have land titles in their names, where control is remote and inaccessible and bribe-seeking common, where taxation and input costs can drive farmers into debt bondage, landlessness, even suicide, and lastly where the systems tend to be static and inflexible over time.

Misunderstanding can have serious consequences – policies commonly fail to represent these systems correctly, recognise their value, or protect their key elements. Misrepresentation has been common around the world, as customary systems have been over-ruled by colonial land administration centralisation:

How far these [mis]conceptions arose from ignorance or were deliberate has long been debated, every decade of persistence favouring the latter.

Alden Willy, 2006a

In Myanmar, these systems have begun to be eroded and undermined in recent decades, and many customary villages and village clusters are now either in crisis or feeling profoundly threatened. War, militarization and land and natural resource grabbing have already displaced many villagers and communities from their customary lands. Myanmar’s long-running military dictatorship ignored communities’ rights and treated community land and resources as ‘land at government disposal’, and in 2012 the government officially re-labelled them as ‘Virgin, Fallow and Vacant’. The Tatmadaw (Myanmar national army), as well as some other armed groups in the country, have summarily appropriated land and resources for themselves or their business partners, overriding village authority using menace or actual violence.

Although many customary systems have been able to persist, they are often hanging on by a thread. And as the country struggles towards democracy, economic development, and peace, new threats to customary lands and resource systems loom even larger. At the moment there is not yet even any statutory category through which to acknowledge customary systems and village land and resources held in common, and key influential actors appear to be preventing such recognition from attaining legal status.

At the same time urban-based administrators seem to be envisioning large scale ‘modern’ economic enterprises across Myanmar’s lands, in plans and visions that seem to imply that customary village resource management systems are either an impediment to ‘development’ or don’t even exist.

In reality, most of the land being labelled ‘vacant’ or ‘virgin’ land is actually customary village property, so implementing this law amounts to unjust appropriation of village property without acknowledgement of pre-existing rights or claims and thus violates several international norms and conventions. The third category – ‘fallow’ lands – at least recognises that the land is under use, but then reallocation of an already utilised resource seems all the more blatantly unjust.

Reallocating land and related natural resources without recognising and settling the pre-existing rights according to a due process is widely understood as intrinsically unjust and it particularly goes against the norms agreed to by many of the world’s governments in the 2012 FAO Tenure Guidelines (FAO 2012), to which Myanmar is a signatory. Indeed, much of Part 3 of these FAO Guidelines – especially section 9 in its entirety – is devoted particularly to spelling out when and how the rights of indigenous peoples and communities with customary tenure systems must be fully recognized and protected from reallocation, eviction and any legislative or administrative initiatives that would facilitate these. Yet this is happening widely, particularly in ongoing conflict zones and promoted by powerful military and commercial interests in the Myanmar government. The inescapable conclusion must be that it is part of a hostile economic, political and military strategy, and along with other recent notorious actions of the Tatmadaw, infringes the Geneva Conventions 1949, which states:

… Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Geneva Convention IV Article 33

In January 2019 seven United Nations special Rapporteurs for protection of a range of human rights addressed their concerns over the VFV Amendment to the Government of Myanmar:

‘we are concerned that this law may be used to illegally dispossess land users of their land without due process or adequate notice, undermine their human rights, and have a dispropoirtionate impact on poor, rural and minority communiteis, ethnic nationalities and indigenous peoples’ 

Internationally there is increasing emphasis across multilateral organisations and fora on the fundamental importance of proper protection and recognition of rights and tenure, and the adherence to basic norms of good land and resource governance (FAO 2012), as a basis for development. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, to which Myanmar is a signatory, state:

Sustainable development goal 1 – End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

  • Target 1.4 by 2030 ensure that all men and women, particularly the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership, and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, …

Sustainable development goal 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

  • Target 3 –By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.

Sustainable development goal 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

  • Target 7 – give women equal access to economy resources as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property.

In most customary tenure systems the ownership and control referred to in the UN SDGs is already assured, and it is assured collectively.

Where a local system is working reasonably well and is not subject to significant outside pressures that stress the system beyond its ability to adapt and mediate conflicts, outsiders should not interfere.

Freudenberger 2013

Despite all these norms and principles Myanmar’s Government has been interfering in and undermining these systems, and therefore undermining its own international commitments as well as the achievement of these development goals. A new amendment to the VFV law 2012 passed in September 2018, making continued occupation, without official permission, of land which is not municipal, private or state (i.e. land which is de facto customary) a criminal offence.

Yet there still remains no provision to clarify the pre-existing and as yet unrecognised, mainly customary, community rights. Customary systems and the wellbeing of those who depend on them are now gravely threatened by this law.

Few outside of ethnic areas fully appreciate what the customary tenure systems actually are, how they work, and how centralised authorities, statutory policies and jurisdictions undermine them in practice. It is time to recognise customary resource systems in law, and acknowledge these systems as the foundation of wellbeing in many rural areas. But in order to protect ethnic well-being and ensure post-conflict recovery, it is essential that these customary tenure systems are understood. This primer seeks to clarify the issues, improve understanding of customary land tenure systems and explore what should be done.

The non-recognition of the customary tenure systems of Myanmar’s ethnic groups is one of the key drivers of ethnic conflict in the country. It is related not only to respect and support of socio-economic and political systems of ethnic groups, but also closely related to the right to land for IDPs and refugees. Without addressing these issues, the prospects for national peace and development are grim.

The primer is divided into 6 sections. First, it examines the key elements of these systems and how they function. Second, it considers their prevalence and continuity around the world. Third, it considers their characteristics, importance, and relative pros and cons. Fourth, it look at the changing conditions and fifth at current policy dynamics affecting customary systems. Last, it offers some recommendations.

Download Full Primer (English).

Ethnic Literature & Cultural Development Organizations released statement on VFVL

Ethnic literature & cultural development organizations held a workshop reviewing the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) in Lashio of Shan State (Northern Shan). Together with Kachin, Ta-ang & Shan Literature & Culture Development Organizations, 62 participants representing 25 organizations participated in this workshop happened during March 5, 2019. A statement come out from that workshop demanding to cancel the VFVL, to recognize customary tenure practices and to ensure the land restitution for displaced persons by armed conflicts.

SSEYF’s Statement on VFVL

Shan State Ethnic Youth Federation Leading Committee (SSEYF) released statement on the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) on March 5, 2019. The statement has raised 6 demands;

  • To abolish the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law
  • To recognize & respect ethnic customary land management systems & rights
  • To draft the law that guarantee management, decision making, ownership & interest of farmers and local peoples
  • To ensure the land laws making process is democratic & human rights based
  • To remove the charges completely from farmers those are currently facing on trial under VFVL
  • To give the lands back to original owners