Land grabs are a threat to the minorities and peasants in Burma

Burma: Reforms and peace process are intensifying human rights violations

Now that democratic reforms have been taking place in Burma (Myanmar) since April 2011, land grabs are becoming the most serious human rights problem. "Land grabs are a serious threat to both the peasants and the ethnic minorities such as the Karen," reported the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in Göttingen on Wednesday. Burma's parliamentary Land Investigation Committee ascertained that the army confiscated about 100,000 hectares of farmland for new industrial and agricultural projects during the last 6 months.

565 complaints were filed at the Land Investigation Committee since July 2012. "But the real scope of the land grabs in Burma is much more serious," said the STP's Asia-consultant Ulrich Delius. "Many members of the ethnic minorities are either unaware of the committee's existence or they do not dare to approach it."

While the democratization process continues in the cities, there is an investment boom in many of the remote rural areas of Burma, which is a threat to the minority groups. "In some regions, this boom has lead to more human rights violations than in the days of the open conflict between the Burmese government and the freedom of movement of the nationalities," said Delius. Forests are being cleared, dams and pipelines are being built and stretches of land are being confiscated for industrial projects – without any involvement of the local people in the planning process and without them being offered adequate compensations.

Investors often arrange for military units to secure new patches of land and expel the traditional inhabitants. "Thus, the truce in the minority areas may have brought peace, but there is no end to the human rights violations." The ceasefire agreement – which was signed in Karen State in January 2012 – has brought forth new human rights abuses, because the land rights of the Karen were not secured sufficiently.

In September 2012, Burma's Parliament adopted a new law on foreign investments – without regard to the protection of the minorities or their land rights – but a good deal of the land grabs is caused by Burmese investors, who are often closely connected to Burma's military.