Land of Sorrow: Human Rights Violations at Myanmar’s Myotha Industrial Park
Myanmar may soon face a land conflict epidemic as a result of the growing influx of investments and the consequent demand for land, unless laws and policies that adequately address land rights issues are urgently adopted and implemented.
The Myotha Industrial Park typifies Myanmar’s current economic development model, which seeks to incentivize investment in areas designated as “least developed.” The Myotha Industrial Park, developed by the Burmese company Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development (MMID) in Ngazun Township, Mandalay Region, is a glaring example of how Myanmar’s rural communities suffer harmful consequences and receive little or no redress as a result of large-scale industrial projects.
In the Myotha Industrial Park area, a combination of a flawed legal framework, unscrupulous authorities, and irresponsible investors produced a perfect storm in which more than 1,000 families from 14 villages lost their land – their sole source of livelihood – to make way for the project’s development.
The process of land confiscation from residents was not inclusive, contravened national laws, and failed to meet international standards related to good practices of consultation with affected communities. Villagers received compensation for only about half of the total land that was confiscated from them as a result of the authorities’ gross mismanagement of the land measurement process.
Many of the farmers reported that authorities significantly under-calculated their land, with calculations that, in many cases, accounted for only between 10% and 25% of the land farmers said they used. Farmers, local activists, and community leaders also accused authorities of corruption and claimed that government officers had asked farmers to pay bribes of up to 200,000 kyat (US$148) to measure the land accurately.
Despite considering the compensation unfair and inadequate, the majority (84%) of the families affected by the Myotha Industrial Park accepted compensation. In many cases, they reluctantly accepted compensation for some or all of their land after authorities and the project developer warned them that they would still lose their land and receive nothing in return if they refused. Farmers who hesitated or refused to accept the compensation reported that both the authorities and the project developer intimidated them and threatened them with arrest and imprisonment.
Farmers noted that compensation amounts did not reflect the market value of the land as of January 2013, when authorities first announced the land confiscation. Many of those who accepted compensation later regretted their decision because the amount they received was not sufficient to buy replacement land.
As a result of the development of the Myotha Industrial Park, land speculation caused land prices to soar to around eight million kyat (US$5,882) per acre in 2015, and to over 10 million kyat (US$7,352) per acre in 2017. This stands in stark contrast to the amount of compensation paid to farmers, who received as little as 500,000 kyat (US$368) per acre.
Numerous actions undertaken by MMID and government authorities as part of the development of the Myotha Industrial Park have contravened international standards, including the provisions of two conventions to which Myanmar is a state party. In addition, land confiscation procedures ignored important provisions of domestic legislation related to land acquisition.
In addition to being inconsistent with international standards and in violation of domestic legislation, the development of the Myotha Industrial Park has resulted in serious human rights violations against local villagers. Land confiscation and clearing to make way for the Myotha Industrial Park, coupled with the inability of farmers to purchase replacement land of comparable size in the area, has deprived farmers of their farmland and access to food, livelihood, and adequate housing.
The Myotha Industrial Park has also had a negative impact on the enjoyment of the right to work for local villagers. Among the stated aims of the Myotha Industrial Park was to create jobs and halt the migration of farmers from Myanmar’s “dry zone.” However, the reality is that farmers ended up working as hired day laborers to earn a living, often performing menial tasks such as construction, portering, or collecting firewood. They described themselves as “cheap hard labor” for the development of the Myotha Industrial Park. Many affected villagers have left the area after losing their land. In some cases, they moved to Mandalay to seek employment in factories there. Many farmers have incurred debt and borrowed money to make ends meet.
Violations of civil and political rights also occurred as a result of the development of the Myotha Industrial Park. At least 55 local farmers and villagers were arrested, detained, or faced criminal charges for attempting to oppose land confiscation and land clearance for the development of the Myotha Industrial Park.
Finally, the process for the establishment of Myotha Industrial Park has underscored the failure by the project developer, MMID, to conduct proper human rights due diligence, as prescribed by the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This included MMID’s failure to undertake meaningful engagement with the affected communities prior to the commencement of the project’s development.
MMID described the development of the Myotha Industrial Park as a “win-win situation for all” and claimed that the company had established a “good rapport” with the local communities. These statements are at odds with the situation that FIDH witnessed during four fact-finding missions conducted between November 2014 and April 2017. Villagers expressed anger, frustration, and sadness as they shared how the authorities and MMID had confiscated their land and destroyed their livelihood without providing them with adequate compensation.
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အစီရင္ခံစာ အႏွစ္ခ်ဳပ္ ျမန္မာဘာသာကုိ ဤေနရာတြင္ ရယူႏုိင္သည္။