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.
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.
“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.
All of the large dam projects built in Myanmar have had severe and negative impacts on peoples’
lives, as a growing body of evidence clearly shows. We, Land in Our Hands (LIOH) network,
oppose efforts to construct large dam projects, and call for the far-reaching damage to peoples’
lives caused by existing and under construction projects to be fully addressed.
The Ayeyarwaddy River is a major artery of Myanmar’s cultural heritage. We oppose any acts
that attempt to place a financial value on the Ayeyarwaddy River, the Myitsone and the larger
river basin, whether it is calculated in kyat, dollars, euros or yuan. The Ayeyarwaddy is not for
Plans and actions which support the conversion of the Ayeyarwaddy River and the Myitsone into
electric megawatts are insulting to ethnic peoples residing in these areas, and continues to drive
the country further from national reconciliation and sustainable peace.
We clearly warn that the five-year government does not have the authority to decide the future
of societies living at the Myitsone or along the Ayeyarwaddy River and its basin.
We demand that the current government completely abolish the Myitsone Dam project, and the
other 6 dams in the cascade, within its remaining 2-years term.
We denounce the Myitsone project proponents, including the Chinese Government and its State Owned Enterprises, for their attempts to force the project forward in a clear sign of disregard for the will of the people of Myanmar. We demand the immediate abolishment of Myitsone Dam project and the full restitution of land and livelihoods to those who have already suffered displacement and dispossession.
LIOH Statement regarding the World Bank’s 2019 conference on Land and
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.
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.
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.
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.
New Mon State Party and Mon peoples released a statement after land law review workshop happened during 25-26 December, 2018. The statement highlights the VFVL undermines Mon customary land tenure practices; is not aligned with human rights norms, democracy norms & federal norms; is not supporting current peace process; and thus to be abolished.