Amid the various serious issues currently dominating the headlines about Burma – including the upcoming elections, the escalation in fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic armies, the recent crackdown on workers’ protests, this year’s student marches, and ongoing religious tensions – it is important that people do not lose sight of the land issue. Like other developing South-East Asian countries, Burma is grappling with the sticky and complex problems of land ownership, rights and use. As is often the case, it is the poor and marginalized communities who are most vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuses, particularly small-scale farmers in Burma’s beleaguered ethnic regions.
This month Human Rights Foundation of Monland-Burma (HURFOM) released a report titled “Yearning to be Heard: Mon Farmers’ Continued Struggle for Acknowledgement and Protection of their Rights” – a follow-up to their 2013 report “Disputed Territory: Mon Farmers’ Fight Against Unjust Land Acquisition and Barriers to Their Progress.” It argues that “continuing barriers to progress lie primarily in the country’s broken land management system, the failures of recent land laws to secure the protection of farmers’ land rights, the failure of government bodies and authorities to perform their responsibilities unbiased from military influence, and the total impunity of the military due to the independent structure of the courts-martial.” A salient example of such impunity, mentioned in the report, is the confiscation of more than 2,000 acres of rubber plantation in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, over the past year. Regrettably, such land rights abuses betray the paltry extent to which the Burma Government is able to influence the Burma Army and rein in its illegal activities […]February 23, 2015 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Land Confiscation, Mon State, National Land Use Policy, Transnational Institute | Read more >>
For anyone who believes that the peace process in Burma is making progress, the recent escalation and heavy fighting in northern Shan State and Kachin State, as well as the Union Day deed of commitment signing farce, only goes to show that faith in the ability and commitment of the Burma Government to secure a sustainable peace deal is misguided.
Union Day falls on 12 February, and is the anniversary of the Panglong Agreement signed between General Aung San, and Chin, Kachin and Shan ethnic leaders, an agreement that promised autonomy to the ethnic regions. It has been a reference point for ethnic nationalities ever since, and is symbolic of the possibility of a federal union within Burma whereby the rights of ethnic people are protected […]February 16, 2015 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Army, Burma Partnership, Burmese Union Day, Ceasefire ethnic armed groups, General Aung San, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Panglong Agreement, President Thein Sein | Read more >>
In Burma Partnership’s 2014 end-of-year review, we identified the role of student unions in Burma’s political affairs as one of the more notable and inspiring developments of 2014: “Burma’s students were always at the center of major democracy movements throughout history – most notably in 1988 – and have now made a comeback.” Furthermore, we declared that “it is the students that represent the greatest hope for the people of Burma – and the greatest threat to the Burma Government. It is vital that their progressive voice continues to be heard.” Indeed, these forecasts have been borne out, as January 2015 has seen the student movement go from strength to strength.
The underlying catalyst for this burgeoning student movement – and wider public support for it – is the overwhelming conclusion that Burma’s so-called reforms have now hit crisis point. Objections started with more “big picture” accusations that the political reforms initiated in 2011 have proven to be fake, accusations that are now crystallizing into fears that the national elections slated for later this year will be fixed, postponed or cancelled. More recently, students have honed in on specific issues, most notably education reform, land rights abuses, and violent responses to peaceful protests on the part of the authorities. […]February 2, 2015 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Partnership, National Education Law, Peaceful Protest | Read more >>
The ongoing dispute between local villagers and the Burma Government and Wanbao, a Chinese mining company, over land grabs and environmental damage continues to rumble on as police shot dead Daw Khin Win as she was demonstrating against the controversial Letpadaung mining project in Sagaing Region. Meanwhile, the police continue to arrest and detain activists who speak out against such violence on politically motivated charges, underlining the dire need for legal and judicial reform and the complete lack of the rule of law in Burma […]January 12, 2015 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Arbitrary Detention, Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Chinese, Judiciary, Khin Win, Legal Reform, Letpadaung Copper Mine, National Reconciliation, Norico, Sagaing Region, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., Wanbao Mining Ltd. | Read more >>
After the 2010 elections and during the early days of the reform process, President U Thein Sein’s Government invited Burma/Myanmar diaspora communities, including exiled activists and political forces from different parts of the world who left the country for various reasons, to return to their motherland […]December 18, 2014 | By Burma Partnership and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and Equality Myanmar | Tags: Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Burma Partnership, Diaspora, Equality Myanmar, Exiled, National Registration Card, President Thein Sein, United Nations General Assembly | Read more >>
As we count down the remaining days of 2014, Burma Partnership takes a look back at what 2014 has offered. It has been nearly four years since President Thein Sein’s administration took office, and now is the time to digest all the developments during his presidency, to assess what the so-called reform process has really meant for the people of Burma thus far. And now is the time to properly examine this new political landscape and to determine who is who.
By the time the reforms were announced, everything was already set in motion to ensure that the reform process was controlled and manipulated by members of the old military regime. Looking at the notorious 2008 Constitution, the institutionalized prescription of 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament for military representatives, the dominance of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the excessive power of the Burma Army and the National Defense and Security Council, and the growing investment of the State and affiliated business cronies in the media sector, it is not hard to conclude that a new system of repressive governance has been installed – by the same people who were once considered one of the most brutal and authoritarian regimes in the world.
However, it is important to remain hopeful. Although the new political landscape has contributed to the sophistication of old problems and the development of new problems, it has also offered Burma people new opportunities. One of the most inspiring aspects of the political developments in 2014 has been the reinstatement of the role of student unions in the country’s political affairs. Burma’s students were always at the center of major democracy movements throughout history – most notably in 1988 – and have now made a comeback. […]December 17, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: 2008 Constitution, Action Committee for Democratic Education, All Burma Federation of Students’ Unions, Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Parliament, Burma Partnership, National Defense and Security Council, National Education Bill, President Thein Sein, students, Union Solidarity and Development Party | Read more >>
The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) once again proved the futility of its existence with a deeply unsatisfactory investigation into the murder of journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, a.k.a. Ko Par Gyi by the Burma Army. Rather than providing meaningful avenues for redress for the victim and his family, the investigation report serves to act as a cover for the Burma Army, which is continuing to commit such human rights abuses throughout Burma’s ethnic areas.
Ko Par Gyi was a freelance journalist covering the conflict between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the Burma Army when he was taken into military custody. Five days later he was tortured before being shot to death. The marks of torture were obvious to Ma Thandar, Ko Par Gyi’s wife, when she viewed the dead body. After calls from human rights groups as well as the US State Department, for an independent investigation, President Thein Sein consequently asked the MNHRC to conduct an investigation, the results of which were released on 2 December 2014.
The MNRHC investigation report, however, does not address the key issues surrounding this case, is full of inconsistencies, and does not include key pieces of evidence. It does not provide any explanation of the signs of torture that were clear on his body. The report claims that there had been a fight in which the gun had gone off; however, according to forensic experts that Ko Par Gyi’s wife has spoken to, he had been shot five times, one of which was point blank through the chin, implying that he had been shot four times before being killed. […]December 9, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Army, Burma Partnership, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Extrajudicial Killing, Human Rights Violations, Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, Ko Par Gyi aka Aung Kyaw Naing, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission | Read more >>
Despite repeated calls from the international community, governments and civil society for an immediate halt to hostilities in Kachin and northern Shan State, on 19 November, 2014 the Burma Army fired several artillery missiles as “warning shots” onto the Kachin Independent Army’s (KIA) training academy in Laiza, Kachin State, killing 23 cadets and seriously injuring 20 others. Laiza is not only the KIA’s strong-hold. It is a city with over 20,000 civilians and a host to over 17,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Just days after the killing in Laiza, the Burma Army began firing shells near IDP camps. Some of the shells landed near a boarding school housing about 1,000 IDP children. These subsequent attacks near the camps threatened the lives of over 10,000 IDPs and raised much anxiety among the most vulnerable communities who have continuously fled the conflict. Fortunately, no one was hurt in these attacks, but many of the IDPs were forced to flee again in terror to the nearby jungle.
The narrative of “reform” and the sweeping political changes that have been praised and funded by the international community is quickly coming apart at the seams. While the Burma Government continues to use its rhetoric of change and democracy to encourage international governments, donors and investors to continue funding the peace process and development projects, they made one of the most deadly targeted attacks in Kachin State since the ceasefire broke down in 2011. This attack raised serious doubts among the ethnic groups who have threatened to abandon talks aimed at achieving a nationwide ceasefire accord. These talks, ongoing for nearly two years, have proved to be thus far redundant, as the Burma Army obviously has no other goal than the elimination of all ethnic armed groups without committing to any genuine, structural reforms. […]December 2, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Civil Society Organizations, Crimes against humanity, Fortify Rights, IDPs, International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar Peace Center, Peace Process, President Thein Sein, United Nations, US Embassy Rangoon, War Crimes, Women's League of Burma | Read more >>
On 7 November, the International Human Rights Clinic (the Clinic) at Harvard Law School published a Legal Memorandum which establishes that certain Burma Army commanders are guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes under international criminal law. The Legal Memorandum submits its findings on the basis of a three-year investigation (the Investigation) into human rights abuses associated with a Burma Army offensive in Karen State, which was launched in late 2005 and continued into 2008 (the Offensive). The Clinic chose this offensive “because it was one of the largest in recent memory and was widely condemned by the international community.” The Investigation focused specifically on the conduct of two military units – Southern Regional Military Command (SRMC) and Light Infantry Division 66 (LID 66) – in Thandaung Township, Karen State.
Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) set out the legal requirements for an action to qualify as a “crime against humanity” or a “war crime,” respectively. The essence of a “crime against humanity” is that the act in question should be “part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Similarly, Article 8 stipulates that a “war crime” must be committed “as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes,” and must constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions 1949, which regulate the conduct of armed conflict […]November 11, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: 2008 Constitution, Bureau of Special Operations, Burma Army, Burma Partnership, Crimes against humanity, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Human Rights Violations, International Criminal Court, International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, Kachin, Karen State, Ko Par Gyi aka Aung Kyaw Naing, Ministry of Home Affairs, National Human Rights Commission, Peace Process, Shan | Read more >>
The Burma Government released its draft land use policy document and opened it up for consultations with the public. Despite this positive sign, the time for consultations is inadequate with no proper mechanism or space created for the meaningful participation of affected communities in order for their concerns to be reflected in the draft. The draft document itself has been heavily criticized for serving to further empower investors over small scale farmers.
Since the beginning of the reform process in 2011, land grabbing, a practice that the previous military regime engaged in regularly, has hit new heights as a flurry of investors seek opportunities in previously untapped markets and the Burma Government liberalizes the economy. A prime example of this is the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Project, a joint Thailand–Burma Government initiative that is seeking private investment to create one of the largest industrial zones in Asia. A report released by Dawei Development Association on 21 October 2014 highlights how 20-36 villages will be negatively affected. Concerns iterated by the local communities show that they have “lost farmlands and natural resources that are vital to their livelihoods, without prior information.” Furthermore “there was no meaningful consultation, and a deeply flawed compensation process.”
Land grabbing is often done with protection from the military, or by the military itself, for factories, infrastructure projects, mono-crop plantations, or military bases, and as with the Dawei SEZ case, usually without adequate or indeed, any compensation. It is a nationwide problem, both in ethnic areas, as documented by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland and Karen Human Rights Group, while in central Burma and delta areas, land grabbing is common place. Given that around 70% of the population of Burma is engaged in agriculture, and it is agricultural lands that are most often confiscated, it is one of the most pressing issues for Burma today […]November 4, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: 2008 Constitution, Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Dawei Development Association, Dawei Special Economic Zone, Environment, Farmers, Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Karen Human Rights Group, Land Confiscation, Land Law, Livelihood, National Land Use Policy, Thailand, Transnational Institute | Read more >>