Category Archives: land

Update on land disputes in Myanmar (Myanmar/Burma)

CSIS has an insightful new summary of the problems with land reform and protests now arising throughout Myanmar. Definitely worth reading in its entirety.

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Filed under Burma, land, Myanmar

Reject and Evict

With all of the celebrations over the NLD’s electoral victory, we get yet another reminder of the struggles Myanmar faces on the rule of law front. The Naypyitaw District Court rejected a petition filed by six residents who were sentenced to three months hard labor for refusing to leave their property after the Naypyitaw Development Committee ordered them to leave. According to DVB, the NDC allegedly plans to establish a gemstone enterprise in the area. The villagers already plan to appeal to the division-level court.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the sorts of conflicts that have come in the wake of economic development throughout Asia. In fact, these sorts of problems might prove even more intractable than the larger political stalemate, which seems to be easing. There really are only a few ways to resolve this tension. First would be to make the government more dependent upon its citizens (i.e., democratic) so officials have an electoral incentive not to seize assets. Second, convince government officials that protecting property rights and encouraging efficient investment in the land is more beneficial over the long-term than the short-term gains from seizure. Sadly, if history in Burma is any guide, elites often have very short time horizons regarding exhaustible natural resources such as gemstones.

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A test for Myanmar’s courts?

According to DVB, a group of farmers in Mingalardon Township is filing a lawsuit against USDP MP Khin Shwe. Khin Shwe was a business tycoon before entering the Hluttaw. The farmers accuse him of conspiring with local officials to seize 815 acres of land. The farmers were forced off their land in April 2010 and are now seeking compensation.

Just a year ago, a lawsuit like this would have been thought a hopeless cause. Now though, as Naypyitaw introduces radical changes to other areas of political life, this case could be a key test. So far, the reforms have not actually threatened to introduce accountability into the political system. Moreover, the judiciary has been a weak link in the reform process. I have yet to see any judicial reform program or serious move to guarantee judicial independence. If the courts provide the villagers with some relief – or even take the case seriously – it might indicate that judges received a signal that they can and should rule independently. Unlikely perhaps, but so was the thought of Aung San Suu Kyi in parliament just a year ago.

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Filed under Burma, judicial reform, land, Myanmar