Myanmar’s government “should promptly address illegal land confiscations, compensate aggrieved parties, and reform laws to protect people against future abuses”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in a new report.
Over the past 30 years, the Myanmar government and military officials have seized vast swaths of land from farmers “while providing them no or inadequate compensation”, the rights group said the 33-page report released on Tuesday.
“Widespread land confiscations across Myanmar have harmed rural communities in profound ways for decades,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.
Land confiscation in Myanmar became a major issue under the previous military government, with estimates of as many 800,000 hectares or more of land seized from farmers and other civilians without compensation. Farmers who protested the lack of compensation or refused to leave confiscated land often faced criminal prosecution.
The rights organisation criticised the land reforms carried out by Aung San Suu Kyi‘s government in recent years as ineffective, saying thousands of farmers’ claims remained unresolved.
“Hundreds of farmers across Myanmar, fed up waiting for the return of their lands or receiving compensation, have been prosecuted for organising and participating in public protests against the government or for trespassing by farming the land they claim,” the report said.
HRW called on Myanmar’s government “to stop arbitrarily arresting land rights activists” and immediately release all those who were awaiting trial for peacefully protesting against land seizures.
It also urged donor countries not to be “fooled by the flurry of proclaimed land reforms”.
“The Myanmar government needs to provide redress for victims of past unlawful confiscations and ensure that new laws safeguard the rights of farm families in the future,” said Robertson.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaq Htay could not be reached for comment.