and Economic Elites Continue to Steal
the Livelihoods of Rural People
As more and more farmers are losing their lands and livelihoods to
corrupt businesses long associated with the Burma army, the current
government is doing its best to preserve the interests of these wealthy
elites at the expense of disempowered rural people. With the onset of
the gold rush into Burma, these cronies of the military-backed
government are abusing their position to reap the financial rewards of
the potential flood of new investment while rural people, who make up 90
percent of the population, are losing their livelihoods.
One such example is from the village of Bwi Daw in Kachin State where
residents reported last week that local businessmen were
confiscating their land at gunpoint and subsequently destroying their
crops with tractors to make room for a fish farm. For these villagers,
there is no legal remedy, and they have now lost the ability to put food
on the table for their families.
Protests, however, are more and more common as land-grabbing is becoming
the most prevalent problem for people from all communities across the
country. On July 25 in Meikhtila District of Mandalay Division, three
farmers lay in front
of a tractor to protest the confiscation of their land by Kaungkin
(Sky) Co. without any compensation being paid. Mango and thanaka trees
have already been planted on their land. Such desperate and brave
actions are undertaken as they have no other choice. As Htay Htay Myint,
a farmer whose land was taken by Kaungkin, points out, “We do not know
how to do anything but farm work. Since we lost our land, which was
inherited from our grandparents, how can we survive? We would like to
request the president to help us.”
The president, however, adheres to the 2008 military-authored
Constitution. Article 37 of the Constitution, which forms the basis of
the law on land confiscations,
states that “the Union is the ultimate owner of all lands and all
natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the
water and in the atmosphere in the Union.” Furthermore, Section 29
allows the State to take over any land in the “national interest.” These
obstacles are compounded by the 2012 Farmland Bill that, among many
reinforces the concept that all land is owned by the State while all
decisions regarding usage of this land is to be decided by a
body composed of government appointees.
This state of affairs is particularly problematic when looking at some
of the current disputes between companies and farmers as those who have
a vested interest in the land they are confiscating can also be members
of Parliament, or MPs. The Zay Kabar Co.
launched a defamation
lawsuit against the chairman of the Peace and Diversity Party, Nay
Myo Wai, after he helped farmers organize a protest against their
land-grabbing. The owner of Zay Kabar is Khin Swe, an MP for the
military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The
absurdity of this situation only serves to further disenfranchise those
who have been working on these lands for generations.
Lawsuits and threats of prosecution are becoming a favorite method that
the government uses to intimidate farmers. On July 18, Pegu Division’s
security and border affairs minister, Thet Htun,
threatened to sue farmers who are continuing to plough land that has
recently been confiscated by the Burma army.
The government is keen to present itself as working towards the benefit
of farmers and their land rights and
Parliament during the week of July 23 that a committee will be
formed to investigate such cases. Yet if members of the government
themselves or their close associates are committing the abuses, how will
this committee bring any justice for the victims?
For this problem to be solved, there needs to be a strong legal
framework in place that protects people’s rights to their land from the
military elites and their cronies who are abusing their power for
financial gain as Burma opens up to more foreign investment. Disputes
must be solved by an independent judiciary, not by government members
who are confiscating the land themselves.
* Burma Partnership is a network of organizations throughout the
Asia-Pacific region that advocate and work toward realizing a movement
for democracy and human rights in Burma. Based in Thailand, it acts as a
link between groups inside the country and solidarity organizations
around the world.