Myanmar Ancestral Land to be Protected

Unregistered ancestral lands and those under shifting cultivation will be registered and protected from confiscation under a draft land use policy, a change land rights groups say would be a major step forward for tenure security.

The policy would mean that land could only be confiscated at the market price for public use, such as housing, industrial zones or Special Economic Zones, and not for normal business activities.

However, land rights groups have expressed concern as to whether the government has the capacity or will to implement the protections contained in the National Land Use Policy, which was released to the public on October 18, ahead of national consultations throughout November.

The policy states that traditional methods of agriculture, including taungya – shifting cultivation practised in upland areas – will be recognised, while disputes over ethnic lands will be administered by a separate mechanism according to traditional custom. Ethnic residents will hold decision-making positions in the dispute resolution mechanism, it says.

“It is very good to recognise the traditional land use methods. I would say it is the strongest point in the new policy,” said U Shwe Thein, head of the Land Core Group, a network of more than 50 land rights groups.

The clause appears aimed at ethnic minorities and it is unclear whether it will also be applied to the Bamar, the country’s main ethnic group. If Bamar are included in the definition of “ethnic races” then significantly more areas of the country will be off-limits to businesses seeking land concessions.

A member of the Land Use Allocation and Scrutiny Committee, which drafted the policy, indicated that Bamar would be considered an “ethnic race” but did not give a definitive answer.

But the policy may create conflict over the respect for traditional ethnic minority customs, as it also clearly states that gender equality will be practiced in all areas of land administration.

“Gender-related problem in land administration are mainly concentrated in ethnic areas, where a woman can lose her land to her parents-in-law if her husband dies,” said Daw Ohnmar Khine, a gender equality activist and coordinator of Food Security Working Group, a network of more than 80 agricultural and farmers rights groups.

She said it was important that women’s rights were given priority.

“If everything in the draft policy is properly implemented then … [it] will provide women with the necessary rights.”

The draft policy was released the Land Use Allocation Committee led by the Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry U Win Tun. It is scheduled to be finalised at a national workshop in December.

As The Myanmar Times has previously reported, land tenure advocates have criticised the short consultation period and called for it to be extended into next year.

They have also expressed concern at the government’s ability to enforce the policy equitably. The policy states that government departments and other stakeholders will be monitored for compliance and “respected locals” will be included in the monitoring mechanism.

“The clauses are good but it is useless if the policy cannot be implemented fully. We have some excellent policies in Myanmar that could not be implemented. So we should focus on the practical use and to solve the problems through practical means,” said U Win Myo Thu, the country director of EcoDev Myanmar, an environmental conservation and land rights group.

U Shwe Thein said he agreed implementation could be problematic.

“Ensuring that policies are enforced properly is still an issue,” he said.


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