Burmese activists vow to intensify the fight for land

In a training on people’s rights and movement building, representatives from 12 farmers and indigenous peoples organizations vowed to intensify efforts to protect the Burmese peoples’ right to land.

The training was jointly facilitated by the Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) and PAN Asia Pacific in Bago township, Myanmar last August 14-15, 2019. It was hosted by the local grassroots groups Farmer Affairs Network and Ethnic Concern.

Participating organizations highlighted the catalyzed efforts of the current administration to create and amend land-related laws that significantly impact the small farmers’ and indigenous peoples’ access to land. One highlight includes a discussion on the abrogation of the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law—a land registration scheme aimed to secure land rights for investors. With the recent lapse of the deadline, farmers—mostly ethnic minorities—are being forcibly removed from around 20 million hectares of land for corporate interests.

“The amendment and introduction of the new VFV law is another oppression for the people. Those who fail to register their land will be criminalized, so it is a severe threat for the farmers,” according to Farmers Affairs Network representative Myo Thant.

The participants also highlighted the increasing presence of China and its Belt and Road Initiative projects in the country. The government recently announced the re-opening of Burma’s mining sites for incoming investors. Some organizations believe that the queue of foreign-funded projects is catalyzing the amendment of land laws and the opening of farmers’ land to investors. The USAID played a role in the VFV amendments.

The organizations underscored the rising human rights violations in rural areas that include rampant peasant killings. Especially in the northern states, the participants recounted that arrests, illegal detention, and harassment are the most used repressive tactics against farmers and land activists. At least 38 farmers are still in prison for standing their ground against land grabbers.

With growing uncertainty even after the recent re-election of the National League for Democracy in government, farmers and indigenous peoples are not backing down. Filled with renewed vigor to foster solidarity among CSOs and rural peoples, representatives of the organizations called on the Burmese people to intensify their fight for their right to land, freedom, and democracy. ###

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