A new policy brief has been released emphasizing the need for the Myanmar government to put in place simple, transparent mechanisms to ensure that land and justice is restored to farmers who were dispossessed of their livelihoods without due process or compensation.
According to the Parliamentary Land Investigation Committee, more than 500,000 acres of land in Myanmar was taken over by the military, government, and private companies between the 1980s and early 2000s. Other estimates put this number in the millions of acres. While some of this land was taken in accordance with the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, other land was taken without due process or appropriate compensation. Much of it went into large-scale agriculture projects.
Reports published by the now-defunct Committee suggest that these actors have released or given back over 400,000 acres to the State since 2013. Typically this is because the entity that acquired the land is no longer using it. Portions of the land, however, may still be under cultivation by tenant farmers or others to whom the company leased the land.
The release of land is important progress for which the government should be commended, but it does not mean that the land has been returned to the farmers whose livelihoods were displaced by these land acquisitions. At least 25 per cent of land grab or local land dispute cases handled by the network of paralegals with whom Namati works involves farmers trying to access and restore their rights over land that has been released. The process is complex. Interviews with government officials, researchers, community paralegals, and community members reveal that there is more confusion than clarity on the current mechanisms, official guidance documents, and approaches to release and return land to farmers.
The government of Myanmar recently announced they would resolve all land grab disputes in the next six months. The issues, however, are much too complicated – and much too important – to rush. Namati has produced a policy brief that emphasizes the need for the government to put in place simple, transparent mechanisms to ensure that land and justice is restored to those farmers and communities who were dispossessed of their livelihoods without due process or compensation.
The brief, entitled Streamlining Institutions to Restore Land and Justice to Famers in Myanmar, primarily focuses on the experiences of communities in Ayeyarwaddy Division in reclaiming land that was taken from them and later released to the government. Ayeyarwaddy Division was home to some of the largest instances of farmer dispossession of land under the previous government. Population density and conversion of land to aquaculture makes it host to some of the most difficult land grab cases to resolve. It is also where Namati has the largest number of paralegals, and therefore, extensive experience to draw upon.
Namati and partners assist farmers in Myanmar to claim their land rights through a community paralegal approach. Community paralegals are trained in relevant laws, community education, negotiation, and mediation skills to work with farmers to resolve a variety of land rights issues. Dozens of data points are documented as part of each case resolution process to illustrate how the legal framework functions in practice. It is this casework data that underpins this policy brief. Focus groups and interviews with paralegals, clients, and government officials provide further qualitative context and insights. We draw our recommendations from the lived experiences of communities in Myanmar.