A group of 39 families in Thilawa, Myanmar is facing an aggressive land grab. A wall has been constructed around the homes of these families, cutting them off from surrounding areas, threatening their land rights and their livelihoods. The families, in partnership with local community-based organization Thilawa Social Development Group (TSDG), have organized to resist this land confiscation.
On June 10, the township and village General Administration Officials arrived with 150 police officers, many prisoner transport trucks and the fire department to oversee the construction of a wall across land that the families still owned. Villagers were intimidated by and deterred from protesting because of the heavy police presence. People living inside this area are essentially trapped, as they are fenced in. Those families who farm land inside the barrier have been cut off right at the time when they need to begin cultivating it for seasonal farming. They cannot make a living without their land.
On July 3, these 39 families sent a letter to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) requesting an investigation into this aggressive land confiscation operation. Villagers repeatedly tried to contact the Chief Minister of Yangon Region, but he refused to meet with them both on the day of the incident and on the following Monday, June 12.
“We feel that they are ignoring our rights and treating us like less than human,” said local farmer Ko Than Win, whose land falls in this area. “The way this happened, with no agreement, with so many police to intimidate us, it’s just not right.”
TSDG representative Phyo Wai said, “This should not be happening in the name of ‘development.’ If it is causing this much harm to the local communities, it is wrong.”
Villagers impacted by Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) have already voiced concerns internationally that developers and governments have not respected their land rights. Large-scale industrial development in Myanmar is being pushed through at the expense of frontline communities. This instance of land confiscation violates the recent Myanmar presidential directive.
“Under the presidential decree, there is supposed to be no land confiscation until land disputes are settled,” said U Mya Hlaing, leader of TSDG. “Instead of protecting us, the government is perpetuating the problem.”
Both EarthRights International and TSDG are concerned that these events reflect a broader disregard for land rights in the Thilawa area, including Thilawa SEZ, and across Myanmar. Land grabs such as these are frequently carried out in the name of development in Myanmar. ERI and TSDG support the affected families, as this case points to systemic problems with inadequate compensation and consultation with communities impacted by development projects.
The aggressive manner in which the government took the land, the lack of proper consultation and agreement, and the continued refusal to address the situation demonstrate that economic gain for some is more important than the human rights of the people living in the Thilawa area. The affected families continue to call for a just resolution. They are still waiting for a response from the MNHRC and for relevant government agencies and concerned parties to address these issues.
The 39 families are asking the following:
- We want to continue living and farming on this land as freely as before. We have depended on this land for our livelihoods for a long time. If we move, we will face many challenges related to new land, housing, food and livelihoods.
- If this project will benefit our country and we must be moved, we want a place that is not far from this land and that allows us to continue our livelihoods.
- We call for just remedies in all cases of wrongdoing against our communities.
- The company must take responsibility for all problems with this land grab and solve these problems according to current laws and regulations.
- We believe that the government has a responsibility to protect us from harms stemming from this and other development projects.
Thilawa Watch has produced a short video about this case, watch here.