"Myanmar is at a historic crossroads where rapid land polarisation means that a major rethink is needed of how land and associated resources are regulated and for what purposes. The good news is that there is a lot of thinking about and rethinking of land policy happening both inside and outside the corridors of state; many people are putting serious time and energy into thinking about what should be done, and at least for the time being, the political space exists for previously excluded voices to weigh in and be heard.
Both the NLUP and the KNU Land Policy are positive examples of what can be achieved when policy making processes are opened up and public participation and consultation is encouraged. Both policies have shown how it is possible to acknowledge and take steps to address the fundamental concerns and aspirations voiced by real people, especially those who have been most harmed by past policy and law. Both policies, for example, have taken on board the aspirations of many IDPs and refugees who want to return to their places of origin, or at least be given a chance to explore if that possible and if so under what conditions. Both policies have also taken on board the need expressed by many to take steps at the policy level to guarantee respect for the right to land of all, especially the most vulnerable and marginal and including the customary land rights of ethnic nationalities. The KNU policy goes further by recognising the importance of addressing existing land inequality through land redistribution and recognising the possibility of preventing serious land inequality in the future through a land size ceiling.
The NLD does not yet have (or has not yet made public) a detailed land policy, but only its election manifesto, which has several weak points with regard to land related issues and was also not part of consultation process. Ironically, the NLUP adopted under the previous government is far closer to the VGGTs than the NLD election manifesto. Those hoping for change in a better direction will likely have to struggle on. The future remains uncertain especially for ethnic nationalities whose right to land and tenure rights are not recognised by current laws, for landless and near-landless rural working people, and for IDPs and refugees who wish to return.
Yet there may still be some time and cause for hope that in the future, the new NLD government will unveil a more detailed position (and take actions) on land that take on board these and other good points found in the NLUP and the KNU land policy. After all, solving the land problem is tied to the country’s prospects for peace. In the end, moving forward meaningfully in the peace process and on the land front will require an approach that puts state-led initiatives at the service of community-defined and community-led processes of negotiation and collective decision-making, and opening political space particularly at the ground level for those most affected to debate and negotiate amongst themselves their own visions of the future. This can only be done with real public consultation, where the actual needs and aspirations of those who have been most affected in the past and will be most affected in the future are finally heard and reflected in law and policy.
Authors and Publishers
The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. For more than 40 years, TNI has served as a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world.
Founded in 1974 as a network of ‘activist scholars’, TNI continues to be a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.
The Online Burma/Myanmar Library (OBL) is a non-profit online research library mainly in English and Burmese serving academics, activists, diplomats, NGOs, CSOs, CBOs and other Burmese and international actors. It is also, of course, open to the general public.