Amid increasing cases of land disputes in Burma, the country’s Parliament on September, 2018 ratified a controversial land law. The new law has been opposed by civil society and human right groups and the Karen National Union.
The KNU released a statement on December 15 calling for the elimination of the newly enacted “Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law (VFV)” pointing out that it is not in line with the principles of democracy or federal standards.
The KNU statement said that the VFV law contradicts the KNU’s land policy and it violates the accords made in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, especially Article 9, Chapter 3 on the protection of civilian and Article 25 (a-1) of Chapter 6. The KNU urges the government to review, amend, eliminate and rewrite the land law to make it comply with recognized principles of democracy and federal standards.
Padoh Saw Nay Thablay, a member of KNU’s Central Land Committee and head of the Karen Agriculture Department spoke to Karen News.
“This Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law is new. It came out during the peace process after 2012. This is intentional, they [government] consider ethnic people’s lands as Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin. They will take legal action if we fail to register during the given time. It isn’t in line with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, it will harm trust between both sides if it is not repealed. It will also harm the country’s peace process.”
According to the Protection of Civilians Section (f), Article 9 of Chapter 3 in the NCA signed by the ethnic armed organizations and the government on October 2015, the agreement states local lands cannot be seized or taken by force.
Chapter 6 Section 25 (a), states that ethnic armed organization who signed the NCA agreed to negotiate in their areas during the peace process and implementation period on their respective ceasefire region development and security matters.
The Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law was approved on September 11th, 2018, by the Union Parliament. The Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Central Committee announced people working the land need to register with respective committees during a six month period from the approval of the law.
Padoh Saw Nay Thablay explained if local people don’t register as instructed or if the respective committee doesn’t approve of the registration, vacant, fallow, and virgin land can be seized according to the law.
“It is very strict law when it commands to be done within six months. It shouldn’t be like this. You will be charged if you don’t register. Then you can be jailed. Land may be seized. Vacant, Fallow, Virgin lands are clearly located in ethnic lands. It shouldn’t’ be done this way.”
The KNU recently stopped attending official peace process meetings, but indicated they will continue to find solutions according to NCA principles to repeal the recent Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law and to establish Land management law that is in line with what Karen people want.
The KNU signed the NCA along with other seven ethnic armed organizations in 15, October 2015. The KNU’s Land policy is opposite to the Vacant, Fallow, Virgin Land Management Law, the KNU has instead only individual land ownership, ancestor land, customary land and communal land law and these laws are managed at the respective central, district and township levels.