Myanmar farmers face arrest under ‘disastrous’ land law

Millions of Myanmar’s farmers face arrest and eviction after the deadline for applications for permits to remain on their land expired on Tuesday, local media reported.

According to local media, the permits are necessary due to a controversial law amended by the country’s parliament in September.

“It requires those occupying or using land legally considered vacant, fallow or virgin to apply for a permit to use it for 30 years or face eviction and up to two years in jail.

“The government classifies about 50 million acres, a third of Myanmar’s total land area, as vacant, fallow, or virgin land,’’ it added.

According to Human Rights Watch, the law creates incentives for authorities to seize lands that have been passed down for generations through informal land tenure practices.

By challenging local practices, the law also invites private companies to stake competing claims and raises the potential for land conflicts.

“Township officials, land department officers, and their cronies are about to have a field day of land grabbing,” Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson told dpa.

In her presentation to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, Yanghee Lee, the human rights special rapporteur for Myanmar, said the law failed to recognise the inability of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people to stake their claims before the deadline.

“With land insecurity central to the cycle of conflict, poverty and denial of rights, the law has the potential to be disastrous,” Lee added.