• Indigenous peoples in Myanmar

    Indigenous peoples in Myanmar

    Myanmar’s population encompasses over 100 different ethnic groups. Myanmar has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but the country’s indigenous peoples are still facing a number of challenges, among others in relation to armed conflict, human rights violations and land rights.


There is no accurate information about the number of Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar, partly due to a lack of understanding of the internationally recognised concept of Indigenous Peoples. 

Myanmar has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but the country's indigenous peoples still face a number of challenges, including armed conflict, violations of human rights and land rights.

Maynmar has not signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), nor has it ratified ILO Convention 169. The country is part of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), although until now it has not taken into account many of the respective recommendations of the committees of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention Committee against Crime.

Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar

The government claims that all citizens of Myanmar are “Indigenous” (taing-yin-tha), and on that basis dismisses the applicability of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to Myanmar. Indigenous Peoples’ rights activists use the Burmese language term hta-nay-tainyin-tha in describing Indigenous Peoples, based on international principles; using the criteria of non-dominance in the national context, historical continuity, ancestral territories and self-identification. The government recognises eight ethnic groups as national races or taung yin tha: Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Mon, Burman, Arakan and Shan.

According to the 1982 Citizenship Law, ethnic groups who have been present in the current geographical area of Myanmar since before 1823 (the beginning of the first British annexation) are considered taung yin tha. However, there are more ethnic groups that are considered or see themselves as Indigenous Peoples, such as the Naga, that would not identify with any of those groups.

Main challenges for the Indigenous Peoples of Myanmar

One of the main struggles of the Indigenous Peoples of Myanmar is related to the consequences of armed conflicts, which steadily increased throughout 2016, particularly in the Rakhine State involving the ethnic Rohingya minority. Humanitarian support has been slow to authorize or has been completely blocked during combat periods, affecting Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities in the Shan, Kachin, Chin and Rakhine states.

Another ongoing struggle is related to the rights of Indigenous women. The Myanmar delegation stated at the 64th session of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee that women do not face "social barriers in education, employment and career advancement". However, in the 330 municipalities of Myanmar, no municipal administrator is female, and of 16,785 Village Tract / Ward Administrators, only 42 are women.

The delegation also defended the controversial Laws of Protection of Race and Religion that, if implemented, would violate the norms of the convention. The Committee urged the government to amend or repeal the set of laws, as well as preconceived constitutionally implicit ideas about the role of women in society.

Indigenous women in Myanmar face great barriers to accessing justice for gender-based violence, and the Committee highlighted the fear of reprisals from women in Indigenous and ethnic minority communities by reporting sexual assault or rape by armed forces. armed.

In spite of the continuous agrarian reforms in Myanmar, the opposing interests on land remained in 2017, characterized by the lack of free, prior and informed consent, inadequate compensation for relocation and the lack of transparent judicial resources.

To further aggravate the problem, there are 17 different departments that do not include armed ethnic administrations, related to land governance, which means that Indigenous lands and territories are still vulnerable to the state-sponsored cronyism that is so prevalent. as usual.

It is worth noting that military confiscation of land continues to take place purely in the pursuit of recreational activities.

Possible progress for the Indigenous Peoples of Myanmar

The sixth and final draft of the National Land Use Policy (NLUP), which was approved by the parliament in 2016, includes a chapter on the Land Use Rights of Ethnic Nationalities which refers to the customary tenure of the land and the mapping of the use of the land. Customary protections of land tenure are not limited to agricultural land, but also include practices of shifting cultivation on forest lands, as well as recognition of communal land tenure systems, such as shifting cultivation.

Myanmar organized two National Policy Dialogues on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2017, which brought together a total of 105 participants, including representatives of the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs of the Union, Ministers of Ethnic Affairs at the state and regional levels, representatives of organizations of indigenous peoples as well as representatives of the UN.

Chin State, Myanmar

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Photo by Signe Leth // IWGIA

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New land law threatens millions of livelihoods in Myanmar

Millions of people may soon become trespassers on their own land due to a newly amended land use law in Myanmar. The Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law covers almost a third of the country’s territory, most of which is located in traditional indigenous/ethnic areas. IWGIA is greatly concerned that the rapid implementation of the amended law may increase land conflicts and grievances rather than solve them. We therefore call on the government to immediately halt the implementation of the law.

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Indigenous World 2019: Myanmar

Myanmar’s diverse population encompasses over 100 different ethnic groups. The Burmans make up an estimated 68% of Myanmar’s 51.5 million people. The country is divided into seven Burman-dominated regions and seven ethnic states.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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