Video: Farmers Kicked off their Land in Burma

Burma’s government should urgently act to end the unlawful seizure of land in Karen State, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Officials regularly charge villagers with criminal trespass if they refuse to leave land, and in one case, police torched a village. Militia commanders have also used threats, force, and arbitrary arrests to intimidate farmers and take land, particularly in areas still contested by ethnic Karen armed groups.

The 65-page report, “‘The Farmer Becomes the Criminal’: Land Confiscation in Burma’s Karen State,” documents human rights violations by militias, police, and government officials in Karen State for the confiscation of land from ethnic Karen farmers, many of whose families had farmed the land for generations.

Transcript

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
In Burma, 70 percent of the people make their living through farming, so land is the key to their livelihoods.
 

U Se Thein
Farmer

It’s been many years. My grandparents passed away a long time ago. I have been work here on this land for almost 30 years.

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Karen state is fertile area on Burma’s border with Thailand. With Burma’s democratic opening, the area is attracting mining, tourism, large scale agricultural development and also industrial zone development. And as a result of that, local officials and crony capitalists are pushing people off land they’ve cultivated for generations.

 

U Ne Win
Farmer

They tricked us into signing the paper saying we agreed to move from our lands for their industrial zones and said if we continued working, they would charge us with trespassing on the land.

 

“Saw Tin Aye”
Lawyer

The government usually surveys the land, draws a new map, and confiscates the land for development projects. They don’t use the land themselves. They sell to cronies. They bully the farmers.

Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

In some cases, police or border guard official are using threats or force to take people’s land and drive them out of their homes. Farmers who continue to work the land will certainly face trespassing charges. Farmers who organize protests and participate in protests will face arrests and lengthy court battles. Land grabs like this are happening in much of the country. The government says that they promoting development and that villagers don’t have a legal right to the land. As Burma open up to economic opportunity and investment, the government needs to make sure that development projects benefit everyone, and that farmers are not left without land and livelihoods.

 

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