Phoe Sein is a land rights advocate working in the dry and dusty central plains region of Bago in Myanmar. Aged 43, he is a young-looking man, with the exception of his teeth, which are stained red from a decades-long betel nut habit.
In 1996, Phoe Sein lost five of his family’s ten acres when a military officer marched into his field with a pistol and informed him that he was “trespassing on government land”. At the time, under the military rule of dictator Than Shwe, says Phoe Sein, “Everyone was afraid. So government took land very easily.”
Phoe Sein’s land – five acres on the west side of Shan Su Village was part of a 5,291acre swath that the military seized, leasing the land to Burmese sugarcane companies. When Phoe Sein protested that the land belonged to him, the officer raised his pistol. Naing looked at him and said, “If you shoot, I will die in this place and I will be remembered [by other farmers] as a hero. If you die here, you will be lost in the land.” Then he gathered his tools and walked back home.
The company came in with machines and cleared the land. Some local farmers became day laborers on the sugarcane farms. As years went by, the farmers fell into debt because of their shrunken farms. Children in the village had to drop out of school after year five, because the cost of school was out of reach.
It is a story that has been repeated cross in Myanmar. The military seizes land and signs deals with Burmese and foreign companies, leaving farmers impoverished or landless.
With elections and a change of government in 2011, there has been hope for change in Myanmar and the government recently released a draft national land use policy, which will be finalized at the start of 2015. However there are fears it will fail to address historic land grabbing by the country’s ruling elite, threatens to dispossess women and will leave thousands of farmers with insecure rights to their land.
Land in Myanmar is complex and important – over 65 per cent of the country works in agriculture. Recent government reforms have opened the door to protest and the claiming of redress, but not all of the trouble dates from military land grabs.
In Lad Panpin Village, in Bago, I talked to Nyo Gyi, a 43 year-old farmer whose main crops are beans and rice. In 2012 he learned that he was no longer eligible for the annual six-month loan from the Government Agricultural Bank that he and his family had depended on for as long as they could remember.
He was denied the loan because the government’s records classified his farm as state forest. Looking at the land, it is hard to understand how it could be classified as forest. The acres surrounding the village stretch out under the bleaching sun, dry and flat – barely a tree in sight. “We’ve been farming there for many years,” Nyo Gyi says. “Even in the ‘forest area’ there are no trees.”
Without government loans, farmers are forced to pay high interest rates to buy seeds. In 2013, Nyo Gyi’s yield was worse than expected because of drought, so he couldn’t pay his loan in full. Without being able to pay, and with high interest rates, Nyo Gyi is at risk of entering a crippling cycle of debt. Many farmers are experiencing the same problem.
The classification issue reveals how tenuous the farmers’ claims to their own land really are in Myanamr. Nyo Gyi was under the impression that he controlled the land he farmed. It was only when the land was designated a state forest that he realized this wasn’t true.
A new registration process, announced in 2012, has revealed the tangled web of confusion around ownership, control, classification, and use. The process lends itself to abuse. In one village, I talked to 26 year-old Thar Hla whose aunt, when she learned about the registration process, tried to register her nephew’s land under her name.
Without a land use certificate a farmer has no formal tenure and no ability to protect his land or his family’s livelihood, regardless of how long it has been understood to be theirs.
Meanwhile Myanmar’s opening up means the tourism industry is growing. Near Inle Lake, we passed happy tourists riding bicycles down a lazy road amidst new construction and bungalows enveloped in greenery. Across the street from a new flower-laden boutique hotel is Milethong village, a community that is seriously struggling.
Many of the farmers in Milethong lost access to their land because it has been seized by government and leased to developers to build hotels. Many Junta cronies own tourism businesses in the area.
“Problems have been there for a long time – but now because of the changes, farmers can do something. That’s why we hear their voice,” says Nay Tun, founder of the Civil and Political Rights Campaign Group (CPRCG). CPRCG was founded by a couple of activists in their late twenties. It employs lawyers, activists, and now, in partnership with Namati, the international legal empowerment organization, 30 paralegals like Phoe Sein across six of Myanmar’s 14 states and divisions.
Since the passage of the Farmland Law in 2012, over 300,000 acres across the country have been restored to farmers. Many with the assistance of paralegals trained by Namati and CPRCG.
But a great many past land grabs remain unsolved. “With the prevalence of past land injustices, some of which are decades-old cases, the new land policy shouldn’t just regulate future land use,” says Laura Goodwin, Namati’s program director in Myanmar. She is also concerned that because current land regulations only allow one name on a land use certificate women face the threat of dispossession. “We’ve seen that 83 per cent of registrations are in a man’s name, despite the fact that many women hold documents like tax records showing the land they maintained in the past,” says Goodwin. “There also needs to be recognition of community land rights – shared commons areas that millions rely on for livestock grazing, firewood, and other resources.”
By collecting information on the thousands of land cases handled, Namati and CPRCG have more data on the land registration process than the government itself. It is using that information to advocate changes that will make the process more equitable for women and responsive to the outstanding land grabbing cases from the past.
“The Burmese government created five drafts of the National Land Use Policy this year before making a draft public,” says Goodwin. “Without a longer period for public consultation Myanmar’s land laws are in danger of making permanent the injustices of the past and creating new ones for the future.”
In order to protect their identities, the names of some farmers were changed in this article.
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Last updated January 30, 2013.
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Welcome to the namati.org website (the “Site”) and the Legal Empowerment Network Forum (the “Forum”) operated by Namati, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Namati”, “we”, “us” or “our”). We share your concern about the protection of your personal information online.
This Policy describes our privacy practices and sets out your obligations and ours with respect to your use of the Site and the Forum. This Policy applies only to the Site and the Forum and does not necessarily apply to our offline collection of information.
Namati may collect and retain two types of information about Site and Forum visitors: (i) personal information that individual visitors voluntarily provide when interacting on the Site or Forum or on certain other occasions (such as via forms or in emails); and (ii) tracking data, which is data that is automatically collected from every Site and Forum visitor as they use and browse the site.
We may, from time to time, store and archive the information you submit to or through the Site and Forum. The information that we gather may include your name, title, and address, telephone number, email address, credit card number or other elements of personal information. In addition, if you contact us, we may keep a record of your correspondence, including any information contained therein.
You may decline to provide any personal information, but please realize that you thereby may be unable to register or to participate in activities or services offered on the Site and/or Forum.
In addition to the information you submit to or through the Site and Forum, we also may collect and store data from and about you gathered in the course of your use of the Site and Forum. We call this “tracking data.”
Such tracking data may include, but is not limited to, information regarding the number and frequency of visits to the Site and Forum, the websites that you access before and after you visit the Site and Forum, the software and operating system used to access the Site and Forum, and your IP address and Internet service provider.
Our use of your Information involves various forms of communication with you, including:
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Personal information you submit via your member account, other than information provided or content posted by you to public areas of the Site as described below, is deleted from Namati’s records following the deletion of your account. However, such information may continue to be retained by third-party service providers to which it has been disclosed for one of the reasons listed above. Any financial records will be kept in accordance with Namati’s data retention policy.
Your Information is stored on Digital Ocean servers in New York, USA, and WPengine servers located in Texas, USA. When you provide personal information to us, we request your consent to transfer that personal information to the USA. The USA does not have an adequacy decision from the European Commission, which means that the Commission has not determined that the laws of the USA provide adequate protection for personal information. Although the laws of the USA do not provide legal protection that is equivalent to the EU GDPR, we safeguard your personal information by treating it in accordance with this Policy. We take appropriate steps to protect your privacy and implement reasonable security measures to protect your personal information in storage. We use secure transmission methods to collect personal data through our website. We also enter into contracts with our data processors that require them to treat personal information in a manner that is consistent with this Policy.
We have put in place appropriate security measures to prevent your personal data from being accidentally lost, used or accessed in an unauthorized way, altered or disclosed. In addition, we limit access to your personal data to those employees, agents, contractors and other third parties who have a business need to know. They will only process your personal data on our instructions and they are subject to a duty of confidentiality.
We have put in place procedures to deal with any suspected personal data breach and will notify you and any applicable regulator of a breach where we are legally required to do so.
You should be aware that any information provided or content posted by you to public areas of the Site, including but not limited to interactions on the Site and information posted to the Member Directory (via your profile), the Resource Library, and the Forum, may be read, collected or used by other visitors of the Site, who may not need to log in as a member to view the information. Namati is not responsible for the third-party use of any information provided in such manner. By participating in the use of the Site’s interactive features, you consent to Namati’s use or disclosure of any content that you submit. For more information on posting content, please see our Terms.
The Forum uses data about your posts and other activity to make automated decisions about whether your posts are spam.
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Namati is concerned about the privacy protection of children who access the Internet and this website is not intended for children and we do not knowingly collect data relating to children. Accordingly, the Site and Forum are not intended for use by anyone under the age of 16, and we do not knowingly collect information from anyone under 16 years of age without the consent of a parent or guardian.
We reserve the right to disclose any information to comply with any law, regulation, decree, judgment, order, subpoena or any other governmental order (“Order”) without any obligation to contest or verify the accuracy of such Order.
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The section titles in this Policy are for convenience only and have no legal or contractual effect. The Site, the Learning Site, the Forum, and any third-party services they use, may be subject to additional terms and conditions regarding privacy and use of information. Your use of the Site and the Forum is subject to those terms and conditions, which are incorporated into this Policy by reference. In the event of an inconsistency between this Policy and any additional posted conditions, the provisions of the additional conditions shall control.
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You can access, remove, update or correct your information in your Site profile and your Forum profile.
You can also access, remove, update or correct your information, and raise any questions or concerns regarding the Site or the Policy, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailing:
Namati Data Protection Officer
1616 P Street NW, Suite 101
Washington, DC 20036, USA
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You have the right to:
Request access to your personal data (commonly known as a “data subject access request”). This enables you to receive a copy of the personal data we hold about you and to check that we are lawfully processing it.
Request correction of the personal data that we hold about you. This enables you to have any incomplete or inaccurate data we hold about you corrected, though we may need to verify the accuracy of the new data you provide to us.
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Object to processing of your personal data where we are relying on a legitimate interest (or those of a third party) and there is something about your particular situation which makes you want to object to processing on this ground as you feel it has an impact on your fundamental rights and freedoms. You also have the right to object where we are processing your personal data for direct marketing purposes. In some cases, we may demonstrate that we have compelling legitimate grounds to process your information which override your rights and freedoms.
Request restriction of processing of your personal data. This enables you to ask us to suspend the processing of your personal data in the following scenarios:
Request the transfer of your personal data to you or to a third party. We will provide to you, or a third party you have chosen, your personal data in a structured, commonly used, machine-readable format. Note that this right only applies to automated information which you initially provided consent for us to use or where we used the information to perform a contract with you.
Withdraw consent at any time where we are relying on consent to process your personal data. However, this will not affect the lawfulness of any processing carried out before you withdraw your consent. If you withdraw your consent, we may not be able to provide certain products or services to you. We will advise you if this is the case at the time you withdraw your consent.
You will not have to pay a fee to access your personal data (or to exercise any of the other rights). However, we may charge a reasonable fee if your request is clearly unfounded, repetitive or excessive. Alternatively, we could refuse to comply with your request in these circumstances.
We may need to request specific information from you to help us confirm your identity and ensure your right to access your personal data (or to exercise any of your other rights). This is a security measure to ensure that personal data is not disclosed to any person who has no right to receive it. We may also contact you to ask you for further information in relation to your request to speed up our response.
We try to respond to all legitimate requests within one month. Occasionally it could take us longer than a month if your request is particularly complex or you have made a number of requests. In this case, we will notify you and keep you updated.
If you live in an EEA Member State, all of which have adopted the EU GDPR and national , you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority about this policy and its application. The European Commission has a list of EU national data protection authorities here:
If you live in the United Kingdom, you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority, the ICO, about this policy and its application:
The Policy was updated in July 2022 to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations.