An Analysis of the VFV Land Management Law

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.

Read full article here.

New Challenges and Strategies – In the Defense of Land and Territory (LRAN Briefing Paper Series No. 4); Accessible here.

LIOH’s Feedback on the Farmland Law amendments

The 2012 Farmland law does not protect either smallholder farmers or real farmers. Moreover, it cannot resolve the current land disputes. It is a law that encourages businessmen, companies and land confiscation. The Bill to amend the 2012 Farmland law will neither protect the farmers nor be effective at all. The current lands laws do not respect customary right to land in ethnic areas at all. Thus, a new farmland law must be developed instead of amending the 2012 Farmland law, that respects, protects and promotes the rights of small-holder farmers across the country.

Thus, while we welcome any initiative to revise the current Farmland Law, we feel very strongly that the nature and character of the currently proposed amendments are not what is needed. They fail to address the true weaknesses of the existing law and at the same time they move regulation of land even further in the wrong direction.

Thus, while we welcome any initiative to revise the current Farmland Law, we feel very strongly that the nature and character of the currently proposed amendments are not what is needed. They fail to address the true weaknesses of the existing law and at the same time they move regulation of land even further in the wrong direction.

Read the full LIOH’s position & feedback on the Farmland Law (English) (Burmese p.1-6; Burmese p.7-12).

Read . . . LIOH’s Statement on the Farmland Law Amendments

LIOH’s Comment on the Draft National Land Use Policy

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”

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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.

Read full document . . . English / Burmese