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23-29 July: Burma’s Military and Economic Elites Continue to Steal the Livelihoods of Rural People

July 30, 2012

Farmers in Wundwin Township Block Tractor © Public Affairs Network, MeikhtilaAs more and more farmers are losing their lands and livelihoods to corrupt businesses long-associated with the Burma Army, the current government is doing its best to preserve the interests of these wealthy elites at the expense of disempowered rural people. With the onset of the gold rush into Burma, these cronies of the military-backed government are abusing their position to reap the financial rewards of the potential flood of new investment while rural people, who make up 90% of the population, are losing their livelihoods.

One such example is from Bwi Daw Village in Kachin State where residents reported last week of local businessmen confiscating their land at gunpoint and subsequently destroying their crops with tractors to make room for a fish farm. For these villagers, there is no legal remedy and have now lost the ability to put food on the table for their families.

Protests, however, are becoming more and more common as land grabbing is becoming the most prevalent problem for people from all communities across the country. Last Wednesday in Meikhtila District of Mandalay Division, three farmers lay in front of a tractor to protest the confiscation of their land by Kaungkin (Sky) Company without any compensation being paid out. Mango and thanaka trees have already been planted on their land. Such desperate and brave actions are undertaken as they have no other choice. As, Htay Htay Myint, a farmer whose land was taken by Kaungkin points out, “We do not know how to do anything but farm work. Since we lost our land, which was inherited from our grandparents, how can we survive? We would like to request the president to help us.”

The President, however, adheres to the 2008 military-authored Constitution. Article 37 of which forms the basis of the law on land confiscations, states that, “The Union is the ultimate owner of all lands and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere in the Union.” Furthermore, Section 29 allows the state to take over any land in “the national interest.” This is compounded by the 2012 Farmland Bill that, among many other flaws, reinforces the concept that all land is owned by the state while all decisions regarding usage of this land is to be decided by a Farmland Management Body composed of government appointees.

This is particularly problematic when looking at some of the current disputes between companies and farmers, as those who have a vested interest in the land they are confiscating can also be MPs. The Zay Kabar Company launched a defamation lawsuit against the Peace and Diversity Party Chairman, Nay Myo Wai after he helped farmers organize a protest against their land grabbing. The owner of Zay Kabar is Khin Swe, an MP for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The absurdity of this situation only serves to further disenfranchise those who have been working on these lands for generations.

Lawsuits and threats of prosecution are becoming a favorite method that the government uses to intimidate farmers. On 18 July, Pegu Division’s Security and Border Affairs Minister, Thet Htun threatened to sue farmers who are continuing to plough land that has recently been confiscated by the Burma Army.

The government is keen to present itself as working towards the benefit of farmers and their land rights, and announced in Parliament this week that a committee will be formed to investigate such cases. Yet if members of the government themselves or their close associates are committing the abuses, how will this committee bring any justice for the victims?

For this problem to be solved, there needs to be a strong legal framework in place that protects people’s rights to their land from the military elites and their cronies who are abusing their power for financial gain as Burma opens up to more foreign investment. Disputes must be solved by an independent judiciary, not by government members who are confiscating the land themselves.

News Highlights

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi calls for greater rights for ethnic minorities in her first statement in Parliament

Inside Burma

88 Generation Students say they will soon meet with President Thein Sein

Labor NGOs meet Minister of Labor in Bangkok to convey their concerns over poor conditions for Burma’s migrant workers

Fighting continues in Kachin state; government proposes Laos to be the venue for next talks while refugees face extreme food shortages in Pangwa

Shan State Army North and the Burma Army clash for the 24th time since the signature of a so-called “ceasefire” while the Commander of the North Eastern Regional Command in Shan State threatens civilians in retaliation

Karenni National Progressive Party opens its first liaison office in Loikaw

New environment law, considered by many as too weak, undergoes final revisions

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank will open new offices in Rangoon on 30 July

Regional

Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and President Thein Sein agree to support Tavoy Deep Sea Port while Tavoy residents express worry

ASEAN calls on Burma to give an explanation for the communal violence in Arakan State

Pakistani Taliban threatens to attack Burma over violence against Rohingya unless the Pakistani government halts relations and closes embassy in Islamabad

International

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, will visit from 30 July to 4 August

EU urges Burma to let aid reach displaced people in Arakan State; UNHCR delivers aid to over 30,000 displaced people

US Ambassador says the US is “looking very closely” at issuing a presidential waiver to overturn a Congress-imposed ban on imports from Burma and that US$3 million in food aid will be provided for displaced people in Shan and Kachin States through the UN World Food Program

European oil firms to participate in Burma oil tender

Canada announces it will open an embassy in Rangoon; Canadian Minister of International Trade and a business delegation will visit Burma in September

Opinions

Why Burma’s Opposition is Playing With Fire
By Min Zin
Foreign Policy

Law Without Order in Myanmar
By Kim Jolliffe
Asia Times

How Companies Can Rewrite Burma’s Story and Avoid a Repeat of History
By Jeremy Prepscius
The Guardian

Latest from the Blog

A Long Way to Go for People in Burma’s Ethnic Areas
By Burma Partnership

Actions

TAKE ACTION! Write to Burma officials to call for an investigation into the killing of a 10-year-old child worker by her employer and the police’s efforts to cover up her death

Statements and Press Releases

UK Must Act On Arakan and Rohingya Crisis
By Burma Campaign UK

Karen Community Based Organisations’ Position on Peace Funds
By Karen Community Based Organisations

Myanmar: Pillay Concerned About Human Rights Situation in Rakhine State
By United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

This post is in: Weekly Highlights