Karen Groups Aim to Strengthen Customary Land Management System in KNU Areas

Hundreds of Karen representatives from 56 different groups gathered to strengthen Karen customary land management systems at a seminar held at Lay Wah, Karen State from May 29 to 30, 2019.

The Kaw Customary Land Seminar was attended by 519 people including representatives from local community and civil society, donors, INGOs, political parties, and officers of the Karen National Union.

The post seminar statement said, Kaw is the Karen customary land management system. This is land which is collectively used, managed, conserved and governed. These practices are based on the conservation of land, forest, water, and other natural resources, and emerge from a combination of traditional value systems and traditional/customary law.

Presentations at the seminar said there are 198 Kaw customary land systems in Kawthoolei (Karen areas under KNU administrations) and these customary land management systems successfully provided land protection and sustainable livelihoods, and are still relevant and applicable to the current situation.

Padoh Saw Nay Tha Blay, head of the Karen Agricultural Department said Kaw principle can be linked to federalism.

“Kaw management system allows regional self-determination over territory and we want to strengthen this and make more people aware of this system.”

The seminar statement explained the Kaw system “contradicts the Myanmar government’s land laws, as it allows for collective participation in political decision-making. Suppressing such customary systems hinders the peace building process, preventing the establishment of federalism. The Myanmar government’s land laws therefore must be abolished and accordingly rewritten.”

Saw Maung Koo, a villager from Papun Township whose areas is administered by the Kaw system said it is important for them.

“With the current political situation, it is important to strengthen our Kaw system. Our Karen people rely on our land and our lives depend on our forests and environment around us. We should have started to strengthen this system long ago.”

Saw Kyaw Swar, secretary of the Karen Affair Committee who attended Kaw seminar said the Kaw system is a way to have local governance and strengthening it will meet with refusal by the government.

“The system is in a way local governance and its approach is through land management and environment. This is a good time to discuss and to start preparation on the issues. I see that it will be difficult to implement the system right away as the peace process and political reforms in Burma have to be taken into account.”

The KNU and Karen environmental groups vowed to continue to strengthen and implement the Kaw customary land governance systems in line with the KNU’s land and forest policies within its administrative territories.

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