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.

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) joins the international clamor demanding the repeal of the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin (VFV) Lands Management Law in Burma

STATEMENT | 12 May 2019

Reference: Sylvia Mallari, PCFS Global Co-chairperson – secretariat@foodsov.org

Repeal the 2012 VFV Law in Burma!

Carry out a genuinely pro-people land reform policy!

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) joins the international clamor demanding the repeal of the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin (VFV) Lands Management Law in Burma.

Since its inception, the VFV Land Management Law has been used to facilitate large-scale landgrabs throughout Burma. It denies the Burmese rural peoples, which compose 70% of the county’s population, their customary and communal land rights by declaring all lands without official land titles as “vacant, fallow, and virgin,” in order to herald these lands for use of domestic and foreign investment. This has long been disputed in the country, yet the government of Burma has opted to bolster the law to fast track the turnover of these lands to corporate landlords.

The law was amended in September 2018, requiring land tillers to register for land use permits with 30-year validity within six months. Deadline lapsed on March 11, and now more than 20 million hectares of land – a third of Burma’s total land area – have become subjected to private interests. About 75% of the “VFV” lands are territories of ethnic minorities. And considering that 95% of the VFV land residents surveyed a month before the deadline of registration had no knowledge of the law, majority of the people in these areas are subject to penalties up to 500,000 kyats (US $328) of fine and/or two years in jail for “trespassing” the lands they customarily owned. 

There are, in fact, reports of local authorities filing charges against villagers for violating the VFV Land Management Law, and more are expected to arise with the amendment in implementation. These cases are ongoing despite the confirmation of a member of the ruling party National League for Democracy (NLD) executive committee that the law is yet to be enforced until the bylaws are completed. PCFS condemns the criminalization of occupying the land that the Burmese people have cultivated for decades even prior the law’s existence. The Coalition denounces such harassment that aims the massive displacement of rural communities.

PCFS slams the Aung San Suu Kyi-led Burma government for pushing this law and its impracticable amendments – a far cry from its promise of protecting the land rights of farmers. In fact, the VFV law was made stricter. Four years since NLD broke the country’s military junta, the government has opted to abide with the trends on land policies perpetuated by international and development finance institutions that undermine food sovereignty and deny the land rights of farmers and Indigenous Peoples. No plan to amend the law or even the constitution will be able to resolve landlessness in Burma if the development framework is to “draw more investment.”

We condemn the Aung San Suu Kyi government for implementing the VFV law. We call its attention to carry out a genuinely pro-people land reform policy that can not only alleviate the widespread poverty especially in rural areas, but also address the country’s peace situation. Burma is riddled with armed conflict with ethnic minority groups that seek liberation and self-determination. Given this context and with the VFV Land Management Law in order, the refugees – who are already made vulnerable by the ongoing civil wars – have no more lands to return to.

PCFS is one with the rural peoples of Burma in calling for the repeal of the 2012 VFV Land Management Law. We call our members, networks, and fellow food sovereignty advocates to support the struggle of the rural peoples in Burma in defense of their ancestral lands and natural resources! ###

. . . Download the statement here . . .

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.

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.

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

Mon Communities’ Statement on VFVL

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.

Mon Statement on VFV (1)
Mon Statement on VFV (2)

KNU (HQ) Statement on VFVL

Statement of KNU’s Position regarding Land laws of the Myanmar Government

The Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar has ratified and signed the amendment of The Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law, passed by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law No (24) on 11 September 2018. Other laws regarding land have also been discussed on that day. Regarding the laws mentioned above, the central land committee of the Karen National Union states its positions and concerns as follows:

  1. The Karen National Union has been managing and administering land at the Central, District and Township Levels according to the policy that was formulated and implemented in line with international standards of land, forest, social and human rights norms. The Karen National Union policy also reflects democratic and federal standards, protection of the lands of indigenous people and their rights. Moreover, the positions and concerns of the general Karen People regarding lands was collected and well-documented as a result of national political dialogue. Thus, all those positions and concerns must be included in political discussions and negotiations.
  2. The recent amendment of the “The Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law” merely concentrates on the centralist systems that has been formulated by the governments of the Myanmar from time to time. It shows no concerns to the rights of indigenous people or human rights norms, and it does not reflect the democratic and federal principles. Moreover, it contains huge contradictions to the positions and concerns of the Karen People as a whole and to the land policy of Karen National Union. It discourages peace building, trust building and the formation of the future Federal Union.
  3. The amendment of the “The Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law” is violating the agreements and contracts between Karen National Union and Government as follows: articles 9, 10, and 11 of the preliminary ceasefire agreements between the Government and the Karen National Union on 6 April 2012. Moreover, it violates the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which was signed by Government, Tatmadaw and Ethnic Armed Organizations, especially article 9 of Chapter Three on the Protection of Civilians and article 25(a-1) of Chapter Six.
  4. We call for the elimination of the “The Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law” that can produce disputes and conflicts. We encourage the review, amendment, elimination, and rewrite of other land laws that do not comply with the principles of democracy and federal standards. The enactment of controversial land laws could contradict the formation of the Democratic and Federal Union in accordance with the NCA. Thus, we encourage the legislative bodies to enact the law reflecting the NCA that encourages the formation of the Democratic and Federal Union.

In attempting the sustainable peace process in line with the political goals, for the well-being of the whole Karen population, the Karen National Union issues this statement on behalf of the Karen People whose interests suffered and were damaged. The Karen National Union will firmly stand and implement the policy and governance structure to comply with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

Contacts:

  • P’doh Mahn Ba Htoon (+66 (0) 61 345 0533)
  • P’doh Saw Nay Thablay (+66 (0) 86 911 0413)
  • Saw Thoo Kapee (+66 (0) 06 765 6615)

Download the Statement