Human Rights Groups Warn A “Frenzy” of Land Confiscation For Mining, Logging And Dams in Burma Destroying Lives

A number of regional human rights organisations have hit out at land confiscation in Burma by companies and individuals with links to the government.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has slammed a “frenzy” of land grabs in Burma by the government or government-linked companies, stating that abuses of power continue in spite of the country’s much heralded reforms.

AHRC, which has been monitoring and lobbying for human rights in Aisa for more than 20 years, said that reports of land confiscation continue to escalate.

“Reports of the number of cases and scale of “land confiscation”—a euphemism for theft by government authorities and army-linked cronies—continue to grow. At the same time, conflicts over land have escalated as farmers attempt to regain land taken from them in earlier years,” AHRC said, adding, “A consistent feature across these reports is the role that the courts and police have played in support of cronies and military interests.”

AHRC cited several examples, including a case in which five farmers were accused of upsetting public tranquility over holding a public demonstration after the loss of more than one thousand acres of farmland in 1997, which was taken by the Burma Army.

The farmers, from Thegon Township, held the public protest in Febuary after having sent more than 60 letters of complaint to 25 government departments with any “satisfactory response,” AHRC stated. Four of the men were charged under Burma’s draconian Section 18 of the Peace Assembly and Demonstration Law for protesting without official permission, AHRC maintained that during the course of their arrest police assaulted a number of the demonstrators leading to two women being hospitalised.

The farmers again launched a protest on April 23, this time burning coffin effigies of the military associates responsible for taking their land. The five were then arrested and charged under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, for “allegedly upsetting the public tranquility” by burning coffin effigies, AHRC said.

AHRC condemned Burma’s protest laws: “Rather than enabling people to gather and express their views freely and democratically, it criminalises people for organising public rallies without having first obtained permission from the authorities, who can approve or deny the holding of such events arbitrarily. Hence, anti-Muslim fanatics get permits to rally, while farmers fighting against the army and army-backed interests do not.”

AHRC also criticized prominent pro-democracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi for heading the rule of law committee, describing the body and other agencies tasked with monitoring corruption and land grabs as “hollow, meaningless and pathetic,” in the face of mounting reports of land grabs.

A report released by Karen Human Rights Group this month also noted growing reports of land grabs in South Eastern Burma following the signing of a ceasefire between the Karen National Union and the Burma Army in 2011.

“Since the ceasefire, villagers have begun to report increasingly about land confiscation for mining, logging, dams, infrastructure development and commercial agriculture. Land is confiscated by armed actors or the Myanmar government in collaboration with companies for those projects.” KHRG said.

KHRG cited Hatgyi Dam as one example of development projects inciting conflict and robbing locals of their land: “armed conflict broke out between BGF and DKBA soldiers over Hatgyi Dam in 2012, which caused villagers to flee and be displaced from their homes for a short period of time,” KHRG said by email to Karen News on May 14, “Because of land confiscation, tens of thousands of villagers have been displaced [Including Toh Boh Dam in Toungoo District] and communities face increasing water contamination and damage to land because of development projects.”

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