Criminal Law

Amended Land Law could criminalize Millions, Obstruct Peace Talks

Date: 21 January 2019; Type: Legal News; Source: Myanmar Times

With less than two months before the newly amended Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management (VFV) Law goes into force, millions in ethnic rural areas now face the risk of eviction while others across the country may lose their lands upon return.

Labelled by land rights NGO Land In Our Hands (LIOH) as “burdening and oppressive”, the amended VFV Law worries many, as more conflicts are likely to ensue and could tear the already divided country apart once enforced.

Enacted in September last year, the amendments to the VFV law passed in 2012 were intended to clarify land claims, improve land use efficiency and tackle land rights abuses by companies. Yet, a notice by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation issued last October 30, demanding those occupying vacant, fallow or virgin lands to submit applications for land permits appears to be advocating the opposite.

If the applications are not received by the March deadline, millions of people residing in the land inherited from ancestry as well as refugees displaced by conflicts will face evictions, up to two years of imprisonment and/or K500,000 fines, and be labelled as trespassers by the law.

The VFV law amendment has sparked a public outcry among civil society groups, farmers’ organisations and ethnic groups who claim it counters the National League for Democracy’s pledge to protect minority landowners and resolve land disputes.

“This law is inviting conflict,” said Pado Saw L Wah, the Karen National Union (KNU) chair of Taungoo district in Kachin.

Pado Saw L Wah’s concern is underscored by the law’s implications, including land conflicts and societal unsettlement that may be triggered as soon as the amendment goes into effect in March. 

The conflicts could impact ongoing peace negotiations. “The new law would impact seriously on the peace process that the government and ethnic armed organisations are engaging in,” according to a statement by LIOH and Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA). The statement, which called for an immediate halt in implementing the law, has garnered endorsements from 346 civil society organisations.

According to the amended section 22 (b) of the law, people residing on VFV land have to apply for 30-year VFV land use permits by March. If not, these people would become “landless criminals”. Yet, if they do so, they are voluntarily giving up legal rights and ownership of the lands to the government and accepting centralised control of the land by the state.

Even if the farmers seek to register, most of them lack the financial means to map out the area they own or show the administrative unit that they possess sufficient financial resources for registration. Besides, many of the potential victims live in highland areas where they cannot easily access the land registration service.

The ill-defined land area under the law presents another problem. An open letter by 41 civil groups published in November 2018 said: “the boundaries of VFV lands are not clear and millions of people do not know whether their lands are considered VFV land or that they need to apply for registration.”

According to the government’s estimate, the total area of VFV land reaches approximately 50 million acres. Occupying about one-third of Myanmar’s territory, VFV land also makes up 75 percent of the seven ethnic states: Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.

The amendment also fails to take refugees such as Internally Displaced People (IDP) owing to armed conflicts into consideration.

“We just want our land back,” said Daw Ywe Sont, a Kachin farmer displaced in Waingmaw township with other IDPs. Now that the government is set to implement the VFV law, hope for reclaiming their land is fading.

As of November 2018, more than a million of Kachin and Chin people were internally displaced, resulting in 172 IDP sites in Kachin and northern Shan, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Due to their vulnerable situation, IDPs and refugees need special measures to protect their housing, land and property rights,” said Jose Arraiza, Information, Counseling and Legal Assistance Specialist of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

U Thein Sein’s regime drafted the National Land Use Policy (NLUP) in January 2016 in view of safeguarding the rights of the often-marginalised communities in the ethnic borderland. Provisions included not only recognise and protect customary land rights but support the return of IDPs.

The 2018 amendment though, “contradicts key elements of the 2016 National Land Use policy, such as provisions on restitution or the land use rights of ethnic nationalities,” Mr Arraiza said.

As a result, experts now foresee a rise in land disputes. “MPs have explained that the amendment can be used to prevent land rights abuses by companies, but the VFV and other laws already had provisions for doing this which are instead widely used against farmers,” said Ben Hardman, legal deputy director of Earthrights International in Myanmar. “The reality is that the amendment means that from March 2019, many farmers and communities will automatically be trespassing on land they have used for generations.”

Evidence has shown that cases of land grabbing and lawsuits against powerless farmers have drastically increased since the first edition of VFV law, according to LIOH and MATA. And now, the amendment to the law is hastening “efforts to grab the land from ethnic people across the country” in favour of the creation of a land market for investors and speculators.

To raise public awareness of the legislation and the destructive consequences facing the Myanmar society, LIOH together with numerous other civil organisations have launched a campaign to call for the complete abolishment of the VFV law and respect and protection of ethnic communities since November 11 last year. The Myanmar Times understands that the government has reneged on a meeting with LIOH, postponing the meeting upon further notice.

The National Land Use Council and the VFV Land Management Central Committee under the agriculture ministry could not be reached for comments.

Notice: The Publishers of Asean LIP acknowledge the permission granted by the relevant official/ original source for the reproduction of the above/ attached materials. You shall not reproduce the above/ attached materials in whole or in part without the prior written consent of the Publishers and/or the original/ official source. Neither the Publishers nor the official/ original source will be liable for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage caused directly, indirectly or incidentally to errors in or omissions from the above/ attached materials. The Publishers and the official/ original source also disclaim and exclude all liabilities in respect of anything done or omitted to be done in reliance upon the whole or any part of the above/attached materials. The access to, and the use of, Asean LIP and contents herein are subject to the Terms of Use.

Get ASEAN LAW ALERT

Legal updates by e-mail. It's Free.

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Tax Academy offers Online Courses for BIR, BOC Employees

MANILA, Jul 18 (PNA) - The Philippine Tax Academy (PTA) has completed the development of 14 competency-based mandatory online studies required for new hires at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) as well as refresher courses for existing BOC employees, the Department of Finance (DOF) announced in a statement on Thursday.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

PRRD to only face PH Court

MANILA, Jul 17 (PNA) - President Rodrigo Duterte has no intention to face the international tribunal stressing that he would only answer to the Philippine courts.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Court cautions Najib against posting Statements on his Trial

KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 18 (Bernama) - The High Court here today cautioned Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak against posting any more statements in social media pertaining to his SRC trial or risk being cited for contempt of court.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Bank Muamalat: 'Court did not find us Guilty of Union-Busting'

KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 18 (Bernama) - Bank Muamalat Malaysia Bhd today said it was never found guilty of union-busting or had breached any law.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Labour Ministry opens Automation Center

BANGKOK, Jul 17 (NNT) - On efforts to push the Thai industrial sector into the 4.0 era, human resources must be capable of operating technology and automated systems, especially in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development project. To achieve this goal, the Ministry of Labour has established a human resources development center on automation and robots at the Institute for Skills Development 3, located in Chonburi.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Guidebook on Parliamentary Constituencies launched

KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 17 (Bernama) - Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof today launched Wakil Kita di Parlimen, a 228-page guidebook containing relevant information on all the 222 parliamentary constituencies.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Students among Plaintiffs in Lawsuit over Sungai Kim Kim Pollution

JOHOR BAHRU, Jul 17 (Bernama) - Thirty-four students are among 171 individuals who are suing the Johor state government, Menteri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian and 10 others over the pollution in Sungai Kim Kim near Pasir Gudang last March.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Mandalay Region Hluttaw approves New High Court Judge

Mandalay Region Hluttaw was unanimously appointed a new regional high court judge on the second day of the second session of the hluttaw after being nominated by the regional chief minister.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

DOJ forms Special Team to probe Kidapawan Broadcaster's Slay

MANILA, Jul 12 (PNA) - Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said he has ordered a special investigation team to look into the killing last Wednesday of radio commentator Eduardo Dizon who was gunned down on the way home in Kidapawan City, Cotabato.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

New BSP Deputy Governor sworn in

MANILA, Jul 12 (PNA) - Francisco G. Dakila Jr. received his oath of office as Deputy Governor for Monetary and Economics Sector (MES) in ceremonies administered by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin E. Diokno on Thursday.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Chief Justice heads Penang Honours List

GEORGE TOWN, Jul 12 (Bernama) - Chief Justice Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat heads the list of 877 recipients of state honours and honorary medals in conjunction with the 81st birthday of the Yang Dipertua Negeri of Penang Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Prosecution failed to serve Summons on Shahrizat's Children, Court sets new Mention Date

KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 12 (Bernama) - The Sessions Court here today set Aug 5 for mention of a lawsuit filed by the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) against two children of former Women, Family and Community Development Minister Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in connection with several offences allegedly committed by their company.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Free Legal Service to be provided for the Poor

Legal aid groups will provide free legal services to poor people and those in need of legal assistance across the country in an effort to support the rule of law and restore public trust in the judiciary.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

Bill to increase Sabah State Seats to be tabled on July 17

KOTA KINABALU, Jul 11 (Bernama) - Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal is confident the Bill for the additional 13 seats, to increase the number of state seats from 60 to 73, will be approved when it is tabled in Parliament on July 17.

Read More

INDUSTRY UPDATES

SolGen asks SC to dismiss Writ of Kalikasan Suit on WPS

MANILA, Jul 9 (PNA) - Solicitor General Jose Calida on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to dismiss the petition filed against government agencies, which seeks unspecified action on the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

Read More