The Vacant-Fallow-Virgin Land Management Law originated from the vacant-fallow-virgin land management notification issued in 1991 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Military government) for the purpose of commoditizing land and to attract investments both for local & international businesses. It is also the notification set-up for facilitating land grabbing.
The government after 2010 general election continued to legitimize the previous land grabbing and human rights violations by transforming that notification into law in 2012. The law come out by direct order of MOALI Minister and without involvement of civil societies and land rights expertise. The Vacant-Fallow-Virgin Land Management Law 2012 (VFVL) meant to ease land grabbing under economic development and to be a tool for expanding land grabbing towards ethnic peoples’ area where armed conflicts are making difficult for confiscation.
The companies those are willing to invest, according to VFVL, can get the land up to 30,000 acres for 30 years (Section 10). The VFVL can be used to sue the farmers under encroachment (Section 27) and under disturbance (Section 28) which also enables the use of police forces for suppression.
Vacant-fallow-virgin land can be transformed into farmland (Section 34), allowing the land as collateral and commodity for leasing, mortgaging & selling (Farmland Law Section 9). That is challenging and undermining the livelihoods and live making of farmers however favoring the local & foreign business owners.
VFVL & the Farmland Law pressures individual land titling (to apply for land use certificate) that threatens rural agrarian societies where the peoples’ lives, cultural & customary practices, cropping patterns and ecologies are interconnected and inter-dependent. It challenges the presence of communal areas, culturally heritage areas and customary land management systems. And it makes permanent land loss for IDPs.
VFVL amendments were proposed during 2017 and adopted on 11 September 2018. The amendments criminalize both farmers and people who are helping farmers defending their lands. It even sets the short deadline for individual land titling – anyone using the so-called-VFV land without permission is liable for penalties either fine or imprisonment or both.
So-called VFV land, according to Land Statistics Department, are mostly from ethnic areas and 45 million acres of them (out of 50 million acres) remains unregistered. It’s not practical to grant land titling for such a huge amount of land within short period of time and there are many experiences of farmers who never get reply and traceable for their application status since many years ago. Though, the credibility of the land use certificate (legally granted) is also questionable according to previous researches. Nevertheless, uncountable farmers become criminals by the law since 11 March 2019.
LIOH believes self-determination, federal land governance and the peoples’ rights to land are the only means for peace and social justice. Good management practices are already existed amongst communities and indigenous peoples. Ethnic land policies, customary land tenure systems and community-led & managed projects have been in place – and yet to be recognized. There is a need of federal land law that is processed democratically and safeguards the rights of land of smallholder farmers, small scale land users, ethnic peoples, landless peoples an IDPs. The transition to federal land law needs to freeze the implementation of existing land-related laws; to avoid land intensive mega projects (including agri-businesses); to ensure resolution of land conflicts; and to abolish the most dangerous VFVL.
LIOH’s Statement regarding the State visit ofthe President of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
17 January 2020
Land in Our Hands (LIOH) is a multi-ethnic national network of civil society organizations working for land issues, peasants’ unions and allies.
We, LIOH, heard that the President Xi Jinpin of the People’s Republic of China, is having a State visit to Myanmar during January 2020 and investment agreements will also be made during the visit; thus release the statement regarding them as follows.
Land conflicts and forcible land grabbing in Myanmar remains unsolved and complicated till the present day. Existing land related regulatory & legislative frameworks and conflict settlement mechanisms do not have ability for solving those problems effectively and even legitimizing unjust land grabbing therefore creating more complications. It is threatening and making landlessness to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and ethnic peoples who are practicing customary land management systems.
Investment projects (especially under China-Myanmar Economic Corridor – CMEC) are directly related with land problems; many of them remains unsolved till now. Local communities are rising their concerns upon upcoming projects and agreements – [especially countless people who are at risk of losing their land even without compensation as they practice customary land tenure systems which are excluded from legal protection].
Moreover, the following are a few concluded findings on deciding, agreeing & implementing of projects under CMEC:
The decision making on the projects and agreements are excluding local communities, potentially affected peoples, ethnic political parties, ethnic armed organizations and civil society organizations.
Agreeing or signing the agreements for new projects while existing land conflicts unsolved poses the risks to both local communities and investors.
Armed conflicts widening in ethnic areas are obvious evidences of complicated land sector with many conflicts potentials.
Projects without transparency and lack of sufficient information are potential receiving public objections and potential of cultivating more corruptions.
Investments creating more conflicts would also damage bilateral diplomatic relations of two neighboring countries.
Therefore, we (LIOH) demand the following points, in order to maintain the good relations between two neighboring countries;
The peoples from project affected areas, ethnic political parties and ethnic armed organizations must be in the first place along the course of designing, agreeing and implementing the projects.
Existing & upcoming projects have potentials creating complications on existing land conflicts thus must be accountable for it and for resolution prior to agreements & implementation.
Customary land tenure systems must be recognized and IDPs’ land rights must be fully guaranteed.
Land rights are human rights – China’s investment projects must be responsible & accountable for not uplifting human rights violations.
The investments must also be responsible & accountable for affecting ecosystems – as evidences of investment related environmental & ecological defects are already existed.
The projects and the projects from the areas without above conditions must be on hold.
Since 2016 IDPs and refugees from different parts of the country, as well as the local frontline
organizations that support them came together to discuss their land issues related to return and
restitution in order to strengthen their advocacy on this issue.
Decades of war in Myanmar has resulted in the widespread displacement of ethnic nationality
communities and undermining of their human rights including their right to land. Refugees and IDPs
seeking justice, including the full and meaningful recognition of our right to land, face many
challenges. With these challenges in mind, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and refugee
communities from Mon, Karen, Karenni, Shan and Kachin States and from local civil society
organisations(CSOs) that provide support to them, came together to share the challenges and
experiences particularly regarding the IDP and refugee right to land and to deliberate on how to
respond through a strategy of working together in the near future.
In this joint position paper, we first outline the similar and different situations we are facing, before
proclaiming our basic principles and laying out our key demands. This position paper is a “living
document”; with it, we do not claim to represent all IDPs and refugees, but rather we aspire to reach
out, focus attention, generate discussion, and build political unity and momentum toward the full
and meaningful recognition, restitution and protection of our IDP and refugee right to land.
A Commentary by TNI on the Right to Land of People Displaced by War and Militarization
26 August 2019
Displaced people in Myanmar have been suffering layer upon layer of injustice over the past decades. Today the situation is as bad as ever.
“In Myanmar, people are suffering from the fighting, while the government is also trying to manipulate and divide the displaced people. Some people go back, some remain in the IDP camps. It’s like a hell in the country.” (Internally Displaced Person (IDP) meeting, 13 August 2019, Myitkyina)This is how one IDP, displaced since 2011, recently described the current situation in the north of the country. In both the north and the east of Myanmar, displaced people have been suffering layer upon layer of injustice over the past decades. Today the situation is as bad as ever. Ongoing conflict, militarization and business-oriented mega-projects continue to drive fresh displacements, while keeping those displaced previously from returning to their homes, farms, forests and villages. Since 2010, a raft of national laws and policies has been enacted regarding land, forests, conservation and investment. They do not, however, reflect the needs or the rights of people who have been displaced. There is currently no law that properly addresses the terrible situation confronting displaced people by recognising the right of IDPs and refugees to restitution based on their right to land. Instead, current government policy seems to be encouraging re-allocation of the lands of IDPs and refugees to business interests. Key areas include agriculture, mining, industry, infrastructure and even ecotourism, whether in the pristine islands in the far south or the majestic mountains in the far north. In particular, the 2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law – and its 2018 Amendment – pose a major threat to IDP-refugee lands and to the moral obligation to guarantee and ensure the right to return and restitution of displaced people,1 and to peace.2 The VFV law and its amendment are currently being used by unscrupulous individuals and business actors to claim and register IDP and refugee lands. The failure of the government and other key actors to put displaced people first has led to lengthy displacements, an additional trauma on top of the original trauma caused by conflict and loss of homes and livelihood. Meanwhile the nationwide peace process, which has never really picked up momentum under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, is now badly faltering. Fighting and militarized conditions continue in many parts of the north and the east as well as Rakhine State in the west. Intense skirmishes continue to regularly erupt. People living across the border in refugee camps, particularly in Thailand, are increasingly under pressure from authorities on both sides to return to Myanmar regardless of the many risks, while the international community is reducing humanitarian support to the population in these camps. At the same time, the Myanmar government is planning to close down IDP camps across the country, including in areas still affected by armed conflict and militarization. It is no wonder that displaced people liken parts of Myanmar at present to a kind of hell on Earth.
IDPs and refugees uniting around their right to land
Amidst growing pressures on local communities and their lands, the Border Consortium and Transnational Institute have been helping displaced people (mainly IDPs and refugees from armed conflict) and the frontline organisations that support them to come together to build advocacy to defend and claim their right to land. Since 2016 several joint meetings have been organised, in Yangon and in Myitkyina, bringing together IDPs and refugees from five nationality states – Kachin, Shan, Kayah (Karenni), Karen and Mon – to share their experiences and aspirations, to analyse these according to human rights principles, conventions and agreements, and to build a joint position on their right to land.3 Now, the new land law amendments, especially VFV, and government plans to close all IDP camps in the country are really compelling people to try to speak louder to gain recognition and defend their rights. Displaced people – both IDPs and refugees – are realizing that they have no choice but to face up to the situation. Many increasingly are turning to their own resources and to each other to find common ground in their experiences and work together to build a united front and undertake advocacy in partnership. Recently, displaced people from the five states decided to make a joint position paper and launch it at a public event in Yangon. The group held separate briefings with the LIFT Fund Board and with the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) of political parties before holding a public event to introduce their joint position paper. At each event, a panel of speakers shared the trauma of displacement and the struggle for peace, recognition and justice, with five different people speaking each time from the five different areas. More than 130 people attended the public event at the Summit Park View Hotel in Yangon, coming from various embassies, UN agencies, international non-governmental organisations, political parties, civil society groups and the media. This public event demonstrated the extraordinary situation of displaced people: ordinary people who have been victimized by war and land-grabbing, trying to make good from destitute situations that are not of their own making but which they find themselves in nonetheless.
During the briefings the delegation told how, after they had been displaced by fighting, their lands were taken over either by the armed forces for encampments or by government authorities who reallocated their lands to companies for so-called “investment” or “development” projects. This was the pattern across all five states, whether the displacement occurred long ago or more recently. Replying to questions about what they want, the delegates were clear in stating that the lands from which they were displaced should be returned to them, but that there should be no return until their safety and security are guaranteed and their land and livelihoods can be restored. They also said that the VFV Law should be abolished; that their customary rights of ownership should be recognised; and that land should be recognised as owned by the people who live and work on the land. To ensure this, they said that a new law should be developed through an inclusive, bottom-up process that truly involves IDPs and refugees and recognises their right to land. This new law also needs to recognise that ethnic nationality peoples have long had their own customary systems of land ownership and management. The land law in Myanmar should therefore aspire to serve the poor and obtain the consent of all the people – not just the handful whose business interests are currently being served.
Quotes from the IDP-refugee briefings:
“Some IDPs are recent, others are from a long time ago. It started in 1974 with the Myanmar Army “Four Cuts” Strategy. Maybe people in the city do not know about this, but we will never forget. Since 1984 there are refugee camps in Thailand.” (Karen refugee, 21 August 2019) “In 2012 the VFV law was adopted. We are very worried about that. In our village of origin many businessmen have registered our land. We have no legal documents; we have our customary system. The government keeps saying it is a black area, and they refuse to come and demarcate our land, so we cannot get Form 7. They ask us to protect them if they would come and visit, but who should protect who?” (Kachin IDP from northern Shan State, 21 August 2019) “After the VFV law amendment, over 50 acres of land in Pruso were registered under the name of a Burma Army commander. These laws should be for the people, but now they benefit only a small group of people.” (Karenni IDP-refugee right to land defender, 21 August 2019)
‘’The main issue we now face is our land. Tissue banana plantations are threatening our land and our village. The Forest Department now designated our land as forest-land. These signboards only appeared after the banana companies came in; before that we had never seen them. The government also is very active with the VFV Law and is conducting a land survey. We have already lost our human rights and are living in displacement. Now we are facing additional problems with our land.” (Kachin IDP from Kachin State) “Land is important to secure our life and to feed ourselves. The Mon region has no active fighting but many landgrabbing issues and impacts from the VFV law. We have no VFV land in Mon area, but the government keeps on enforcing this law on us. Many government projects are planned in the villages of origin of Mon IDPs. Our key demand is that we cannot accept this VFV law. We do not have VFV land in our area.” (Mon IDP-refugee right to land defender, 21 August 2019) “In 2012 the government and the Karen National Union signed a ceasefire. From that time many international organisations said that it is already peaceful so IDPs and refugees can go home. There are many pressures on us to go back, and support to refugees is reducing. If we decided to go back: where to live? There are secondary occupants and Burma Army outposts. The government housing for returnees is too small and no land and no economic opportunities. If IDPs and refugees return, the Burma army should withdraw their outposts, landmines should be cleared and livelihoods provided.” (Karen IDP, 21 August 2019) “The authorities want us to go back. The Myanmar army outposts are still in our village. Who will guarantee fighting will not break out again? There is no durable solution yet reached in political dialogue.”(Kachin IDP, 21 August 2019)
Canary in the coal mine
One of the key demands of the IDP-refugee delegation is the following:“All authorities (Government and EAOs) should prioritize the restitution of IDPs’ and Refugees’ displaced lands in their villages of origin and take any and all necessary steps to ensure their safe, dignified and voluntary return and meaningful restitution, including access to decent and sustainable livelihoods and the basic physical, social and economic conditions necessary for them to reconstruct dignified lives in peace and in safety.”Almost certainly anyone in the country (or indeed in the world), who finds themselves trapped in the same situation, would make this very same demand and would be motivated by the same desire for real peace with justice and democracy from which their demand springs. It is possible that both government and business actors have been hoping that, over time, the IDPs and refugees in Myanmar will just disappear. But this is manifestly not happening. Instead, those displaced from their lands are becoming better organised and clearer and stronger in their advocacy. All they have ever wanted is to be fully and meaningfully recognised as having the right to fundamental human rights, including the right to land through restorative justice. IDPs and refugees should not be written off as unfortunate people who just happen to be on the wrong side of history and whose day will never come. On the contrary: they are the canaries in the coal mine – what happens to them is a signal to the rest of society of what possible fate lies ahead for all. If human rights cannot be guaranteed for the most marginalized and impoverished in society, it is a terrible indictment on the direction of political change in the country.
The Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) demands the members of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) to stop funding projects especially of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that result to landgrabbing and rural peoples’ displacement. On the occasion of the AIIB’s annual meeting this July 12-13 in Luxembourg, we stand with the rural peoples on their call for greater accountability and transparency, as well as justice for the violations of the people’s rights.
While AIIB asserted that it is a multilateral bank for the longest time, recent pronouncements show that it is ultimately a financing institution of the BRI with over 7,000 China-funded projects that focus on transportation, maritime navigation, energy, and trade spanning more than 60 countries in the Global South.
As a multilateral lender, AIIB has been consistently behind most of the BRI projects – as a co-funder or as a key lender. This will surely accelerate as AIIB President Jin Liqun declared to focus more on the bank’s own portfolio and sees the bank as a “twin engine” with BRI.[i] More than 60 out of the 87 member countries of the AIIB are part of the BRI. As it is, AIIB is currently bankrolling China’s expansionist lending strategy that ultimately impacts the most vulnerable in the Global South – the rural peoples.
Last month in Hong Kong, PCFS together with the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) conducted a forum on China’s BRI and its impact on the rural peoples. Discussions and accounts of the participants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America regions paint a dismal picture of the BRI projects’impacts to rural peoples and the right to food sovereignty. Numerous cases of rights violations such as displacement, landgrabbing, harassment, corrosion of traditions, and aggravation of fragility in regions have been reported.
A threat to the right to land. Without adequate environmental and social assessment in the regions and countries, AIIB has been co-funding multiple BRI projects that are opaque and inaccessible to the public. As mentioned above, these include megadams, large roads, ports, and energy plants that often result in landgrabbing and displacement.
Today, China is the fastest growing landgrabber in the world. With over 5.6 million concluded deals and 12.7 million in the past decade alone,[ii] the BRI is fast becoming one of the key drivers of rural peoples ruin in the Global South.
In Cambodia alone, around 370,000 hectares under 42 ELCs have been granted to Chinese companies, including the 36,000-hectare sugarcane plantation of Guangdong Hengfu Sugar Group Co., Ltd. in the province of Preah Vihear. Thousands of farmers and Indigenous Kuy peoples are being displaced to produce sugar for export.
In the Philippines, the China government funded New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project in Quezon worth USD 374 million. It was pitched to be funded by the AIIB, and is set to displace thousands of farmers and Indigenous Peoples while tens of thousands more affected.
A threat to the right to food. Securing China’s position in the global agricultural trade is at the heart of the numerous BRI projects in agriculture. In a span of 14 years, China has invested USD 98 billion in agriculture[iii] –75% of which were in the last five years.[iv] According to a study by GRAIN, China has “gone on massive shopping sprees, buying up operations in global production chains like pork in the US and soybeans in Brazil, and gaining greater control over the global seed industry by taking on majority ownership of the Swiss-based seed giant Syngenta.”[v]
These agricultural land deals include large agro-industrial parks in Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. The pressure of Chinese imports in Brazil’s soybeans is one of the key drivers of the catalyzed destruction of the Amazon forest and the ejection of farmers and Indigenous Peoples in the region.
In Sri Lanka, the BRI Colombo Financial District, which AIIB funds some of the periphery projects,[vi] has dramatically reduced fishers’ access to their waters and decimated their fish catch. Beach erosion from offshore sand extraction for the reclamation project is displacing whole villages of fisherfolk.
The large-scale acquisition of farmlands and establishment of agro-industrial parks in Kazakhstan is a threat to the regional food sovereignty. Central Asia largely relies on the said area for grain and grain production. With China buying and controlling the agricultural production and supply chain in the region, rural hunger and malnutrition will not be abated.
A threat to biodiversity.According to World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong, China’s BRI will affect hundreds of already threatened animal species. This includes endangered tigers, giant pandas, saiga antelope, and much of the biologically richest real estate on the planet – some 1,800 important bird areas, key biodiversity areas, global biodiversity hotspots and global 200 eco-region.
The push of China’s BRI, with the full backing of the AIIB, will continue to adversely impact the rural peoples of the Global South. We call on the members of the AIIB to investigate and pursue the impacts of the projects funded by the multilateral bank. We call on the members and networks of the PCFS to actively engage their governments on AIIB funded project and demand for transparency and accountability. Finally, we reiterate our call that decisions and plans on infrastructure should be founded on the right of rural communities to decide their needs and development priorities. ###
The First Community Forest Forum was held in Hpa-an District, Karen State, Kawthoolei from July 1 to 3, 2019; contributing to forest conservation as well as the global warming and climate change solution. There were 244 participants in total including indigenous peoples, representatives from civil society organizations, Kawthoolei Forest Department (Central, District and Township levels) and representatives of community forest committees.
During 2011 to 2019, 151 community forests have been established in 7 Districts within Kawthoolei; altogether 244,588.03 acres in total area. The forum set out 18 missions regarding community forest and also urged the government to halt the one-sided projects and activities (such as amending land related laws, specifying national park and expanding the conservation areas) those undermine the community practices and affect the livelihoods of indigenous peoples.
How the Myanmar Government’s Repressive Land Laws are Catalyzing Conflict and Insecurity: An Analysis of the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law
By Saw Alex Htoo and Frank Scott
Burma’s (Myanmar since the junta changed the country’s name in 1989) generals continue to hold sway over key areas of government, and though direct military rule has transitioned into ‘democracy’, political power remains concentrated in the hands of the army or Tatmadaw. The army, and effectively the government, which was established through the controversial 2008 constitution, have long been in pursuit of absolute control over land and natural resources. Such situation has long been a key catalyst for the country’s protracted civil war, which has driven millions of civilians from their land and homes in the past decades. Widespread armed conflict has been accompanied by oppressive laws aiding in the dispossession of smallholder-farmers of their land and livelihoods, particularly in ethnic nationality areas.
On 11 September 2018, in the latest push of government to consolidate control over the country, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Parliament) passed amendments to the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law (VFV Law), imposing criminal penalties on rural people for continuing to use land that the government has deemed vacant and fallow or virgin. According to the amendments, after 11th March 2019, farmers will face up to two years in prison and a 500,000 kyats ($300) fine if they
continue to use the land, even if it has not yet been
leased to anyone else.
The 2012 VFV Law, and 2018 amendments, provide a legal mechanism for the Myanmar Government to confiscate land in rural areas across the country, constituting a massive statutory land grab. The most pervasive impacts of this legislation will be in ethnic areas where, according to government statistics, there are about 35 million acres, or 75 percent, of the country’s vacant, fallow and virgin lands.
Civil society organizations across the country are calling for the VFV Law to be abolished, and for a democratic federal land law to be drafted and passed as part of an inclusive and participatory legislative process. Endorsed by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), ethnic political parties,and local communities, these calls spearheaded by Burma’s ethnic civil society networks form part of a longstanding campaign for the legal recognition and protection of diverse customary land tenure systems administered by ethnic communities across the country. It is argued that the full recognition of customary land tenure rights will be a crucial foundation upon which genuine, federal peace can be built.
“Kaw” Customary Land Seminar
“Our Customary Land, Our Life and Our Future”
May 30, 2019
The “Kaw” Customary Land Seminar, held from May 29th to 30th, 2019, at Lay Wah, in the Karen
National Union (KNU) administrated area of Hpa-an District was attended by 519 representatives
from 56 organizations, including: local community and civil society representatives, donors, INGOs,
political parties, and leaders of the KNU. The seminar discussed the problems and challenges facing
“Kaw” customary land systems and the ways in which they can be strengthened and promoted,
collaborating with other stakeholders.
“Kaw” are Karen customary land management systems. This is land which is collectively used,
managed, conserved and governed. These practices are based on the conservation of land, forest,
water, and other natural resources, and emerge from a combination of traditional value systems and
traditional/customary law. Therefore, these practices are inherently linked to the preservation of
Karen culture and beliefs and local biodiversity and ecosystems protection.
Therefore, the collective preservation of land, forest, water, natural resources and the environment
inherently requires the preservation and maintenance of Karen “Kaw” management systems. We must
have well-developed and well-maintained “Kaw” management systems which address the challenges
of the current political situation. As a result of this, the KNU land and forest policies include a full
recognition of “Kaw” land management systems, and have set up and begun implementing policies.
Importantly, the “Kaw” (Customary) management systems have never been influenced by any
external authorities; they are a deeply entwined set of land management practices, strong local
administrative justice mechanisms and traditional beliefs which holistically come together. These
beliefs and practices are representative of a comprehensive traditional relationship to land, from
which has emerged a strong set of land management and governance practices which we call “Kaw”.
According to research conducted between 2015 and 2018, it was found that there are 198 “Kaw”
customary land systems in Kawthoolei. Community-based research focused on three “Kaw” found
that these customary land management systems successfully provided land protection and sustainable
livelihoods, and they are still very much relevant and applicable to the current situation.
The current Myanmar government’s Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law and other land laws fundamentally undermine the authority of Karen “Kaw” customary land systems. These systems, in contrast with Myanmar government land laws, allow for collective participation in political decision-making. Suppressing such customary systems hinders the peace building process, preventing the establishment of federalism. The Myanmar government’s land laws therefore must be abolished and accordingly rewritten. In addition, we strongly oppose the current survey law (draft) which will hinder the peace building process while posing threats to the maintenance of “Kaw” Customary land systems.
Therefore, in order to have strong and effective realization of “Kaw” customary land governance
systems, as independently allow to be governed and in line with the KNU’s land and forest policies,
we make a firm commitment to continue to strengthen and implement the “Kaw” customary land
governance systems within our administrative territories.