National Land Use Policy of Myanmar: Our Response and Recommendations
“The land use policy will have significant impacts on all land use types in the whole country including small-scale to large-scale land users. It is important to balance land use for country’s economic development and promote social justice with equitable tenure rights and control of land, forests, fisheries, water and associated natural resources, for all, with special emphasis on women, youth, poor, vulnerable and marginalized peoples”
This report analyzes and provides feedback on the draft National Land Use Policy (NLUP) of Myanmar made public on October 18, 2014. It is based on eight consultation workshops organized across the country by Land in Our Hands (LIOH). LIOH is a farmer network of more than 60 community based organizations (CBOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) dedicated to promoting, protecting, respecting, and fulfilling the land tenure rights of small-scale farmers and fisherfolks, particularly rural women and ethnic communities. LIOH welcomes the unprecedented opportunity to take part in this very crucial land policy making process at time when Myanmar is at a crossroads.
The success of Myanmar’s reform process is tied to resolving the country’s land crisis, and at the same time, there is a need to protect communities’ lands from confiscation in this climate of increased foreign investment. The NLUP will play an important role in addressing both of these concerns, and the current draft contains several promising aspects. However, LIOH has also identified many serious flaws in the policy-making process and the policy itself, and this report is our way of offering a sincere and forthright response to the draft NLUP, including specific recommendations.
Of the utmost concern is the undemocratic process by which the NLUP has been drafted. Although drafting of the policy began in late 2013, it was not made publicly available until October 2014. At this time, the Myanmar government planned to collect feedback in just 17 consultations of 3 hours each within 18 days in 14 states and regions. The short time frame meant local communities were ill prepared to provide feedback on a long, and technical document. It is this flawed consultation process that prompted LIOH to hold its own consultations, analyze the draft policy, and provide its own feedback. We recommend that the government of Myanmar further extends the deadline for public comment and publicizes the draft NLUP widely in local languages online and through the media, both independent and state-owned.
The content of the draft NLUP also falls short of following international norms and best practices as outlined in the United Nations Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. It does not prioritize small-scale farmers, minority ethnic peoples and other poor, vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society, nor does it provide sufficient measures to prevent them from being dispossessed of their land and livelihoods. Instead, the policy prioritizes and gives special privileges to business investors, which could spark more land grabs and create more land problems within the country.
LIOH recommends that the policy must be re-drafted to reflect the overarching principles of human dignity, non-discrimination, gender equality, holistic and sustainable approach, rule of law, good governance, and free prior and informed consent. Furthermore, the policy should detail clear answers to the following questions: Whose rights, what rights, what purpose, and who gets to decide?
Specifically, the NLUP must respect ethnic land policies, outline a dispute mechanism with local participation, include a mechanism for redistributive land reform, and recognize the right of returning refugees to restitution of their land and property. Furthermore, the land classification system must be revised, and the people using the land must be involved in the classification process. The categories of “vacant, fallow, virgin land” and “permanent taungya” are unacceptable to people in ethnic territories. The NLUP must also include truly bottom up decision-making and participation in survey assessment, zoning, and information creation and management. It must protect the specific rights and needs of women, and protect the right of ethnic communities to practice shifting cultivation. The policy must also implement safeguards to protect the land tenure rights of communities threatened by project concessions, following the UN Guidelines on Development Related Evictions and Displacement. Lastly, the NLUP should provide for a clear, impartial, and independent monitoring process to evaluate the policy and recommend improvements.
Time should be taken for the National Land Use Policy to be re-drafted with the full inclusion and meaningful participation of representatives of small scale farmers, ethnic groups, women, youth and other people and communities who will be most effected, as well as parliamentarians and independent experts.