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.
In a public announcement on the 30th of October, the government of Myanmar stated that anyone currently using Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) land without permission from the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Central Committee must apply for a permit by 11 March 2019, or they will be considered trespassers. The offense is punishable with up to two years imprisonment and/or 500,000 Kyat (313 US dollars) fines.
Photographer: Signe Leth
Many flaws in the current law
The VFV land management law was formulated under the former quasi-civilian government in 2012 to allow the government to take possession of unregistered land across the country. Last month, the current government enacted their own amendment of the law, granting the Central Committee powers to take action against those who use vacant land without first obtaining the committee’s permission.
However, the boundaries of VFV lands are not clearly defined and there are millions of people who do not know if their land is considered VFV land or if they even need to register their land. And if they do know, many may face several hurdles including a lack of access to administration services.
“We fear that millions of people will be affected by the enactment of this law as many are not made aware of this process and will have difficulties with applying for the permissions within the given timeframe,” says Ke Jung from SHANAH organisation.
A study published by Namati in March 2019 support this statement as the report found that;
1. Most farmers are unaware of the VFV law and the new amendment - 72% of respondents did not know the substance of the law and only 3% could be considered knowledgeable about the law. Only 1% of farmers are aware that customary land is excluded for the definition of VFV land.
2. Farmers do not know the time constraints imposed by the law - only 9% of farmers interviewed are aware the 6 month grace period to apply for their land.
Photographer: Signe Leth
The law can ignite old conflicts
In 2011, Myanmar’s military dictatorship was officially replaced by democracy. Since then, the scale of land rights conflicts has been decreasing, with stakeholders opting for a peaceful resolution to their grievances. Most significantly, in 2015, a nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was reached with the majority of the country’s ethnic armed groups. This was an important step forward given the sensitive nature of land rights and Myanmar’s long history of oppressing indigenous peoples and other minorities. However, millions of people remain displaced and many fear that these displaced persons may now face steep penalties for using land in their current locations and lose rights to lands in their places of origin.
“Land rights are fundamental for most indigenous peoples’ livelihood, and we fear that the limited timeframe for the current process will make indigenous peoples trespassers on their own land and potentially reignite old land disputes” explains IWGIA’s Senior Advisor on Land Rights in Asia, Signe Leth.
IWGIA calls for a halt of the implementation immediately
As a consequence of the rushed implementation of the VFV land law, IWGIA has signed and shared a letter of concern with diplomatic missions. This letter includes the four following recommendations:
1. Prevent the imprisonment and eviction of innocent individuals and communities; immediately halt the implementation of the 2018 amended law
2. Halt the allocation of all VFV lands to the private sector
3. Consider abolishing the VFV land management law altogether
4. Consult with farmers, ethnic nationalities and civil society organisations to establish a just and effective land governance framework in line with the National Land Use Policy.