A UN expert has expressed grave concern over implementation of a new land law in Myanmar that has disastrous implications for traditional farming communities in ethnic minority regions and would affect a third of the country.
“Today marks the day that thousands of people living in rural areas in Myanmar may be charged with criminal trespass if they continue to use their land as they have done for generations,” Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday.
She said the amended Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law fails to recognise shared land ownership practices including customary tenure and land belonging to IDPs and refugees of conflict that has been left unattended.
“The law does not sufficiently recognise this reality,” Lee said. “The law affects so many people, and with land insecurity central to the cycle of conflict, poverty and denial of rights, it has the potential to be disastrous,” she said, according to a UN press release issued in Geneva.
The law, which comes into effect on March 11, 2019, requires anyone occupying or using “vacant, fallow, or virgin” land to apply for a permit to use it for 30 years or face eviction and up to two years in jail. She called on the government to immediately suspend and review the law.
She also expressed serious concern about natural resource extraction, saying it was the sector of the economy she received more reports of rights abuse than any other sectors.
“Military-dominated state-owned economic enterprises in natural resource extraction are the regulators, revenue collectors and commercial entities, and they are permitted to retain vast profits that bypass the government budget with no record kept on how they are spent,” she observed.
The Special Rapporteur said the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corporation were active across many sectors, including natural resource extraction. “The full extent of their business operations and profits is unclear, but their main beneficiaries are most likely to be high-ranking military and ex-military officials,” she said.
Lee said armed conflict continued in northern Shan between ethnic armed organisations and in Rakhine State between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw, and civilians were facing rights abuses as a result. She called on all parties to end hostilities and ensure that they take precautions and protect the civilians.
She urged the international community to continue to work for justice for victims in Myanmar. Given that the road to justice was long and uncertain, she said, it was paramount that the victims' needs were addressed.
Lee called for the situation in Myanmar to be referred to the International Criminal Court by the Security Council, or a state party or a group of states parties. “Victims must not be forced to wait in the purgatory of international inaction,” she said, adding, if it was not possible to refer the situation to the ICC, the international community should consider establishing an independent tribunal.