Housing, Land and Property Rights and Development Briefing Paper for UN Special Procedures, Geneva offices Jan 2011 (BEWG Submission)
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Sunday, 06 March 2011 13:23

Housing, Land and Property Rights:  (Download Full Statement with Map ~1.8M) (Download Text Only ~.1M)

The Burmese government (SPDC) wields extraordinary power over Burma’s population, housing, land and property (HLP) through constitutionally guaranteed state ownership of “all lands, and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere”1.2 In predominantly ethnic and contested areas of Burma, State sanctioned development projects pursued through militarization; foreign direct investment; unilateral government action without impact assessment, local stakeholder consultation or independent monitoring; and land and resource expropriation provide the SPDC with even further HLP control. Authoritarian and economically driven government control 3 of HLP comes at the expense of HLP rights for individuals and communities and results in human rights abuses and the direct contravention of Burma’s international treaty obligations.

BEWG community consultations in areas of Burma under firm government control demonstrate that land and community forest tenure pathways, while open to anyone, are only accessible to well financed and connected individuals and companies. Even if obtained, land leases overwhelming favor private companies; ignore traditional land ownership boundaries; actively ban traditional agricultural practices; and offer little recourse against future land confiscation. In short, a land lease in Burma does not confer HLP rights.

State-sanctioned development projects and the impacts: State sanctioned development projects occur in all areas of Burma on land expropriated from its traditional owners and leased to the highest bidder. Immediate human rights violations resulting from the armed pursuit of State development projects include forced labor, arbitrary killings and beatings, rape, torture, arson, forced conscription, illegal and arbitrary confiscation of land and property, arbitrary taxation, forced farming, the destruction of entire villages and restrictions on movement. Downstream impacts from projects include polluted water sources, destruction of ecological systems, death of key subsistence species, altered and dangerous river flows, destruction of livelihoods and increased potential for disaster. In ethnic areas, where most of Burma’s remaining natural resources exist, development projects often impact communities already facing long standing conflict, crushing poverty4 and crises in health5.

Development projects and foreign direct investment in Burma are concentrated in energy and extractive industries6. Project revenue, which can reach billions of US dollars, ends up in personal coffers,7 rarely benefits impacted communities and cycles through government accounts to fund further armed pursuit of natural resources. Examples of energy, resource extraction and mega-development projects that violate HLP rights and are planned or currently operating in Burma include:

  • the Salween River’s Hatgyi Dam enters a region reeling from over 60 years of armed conflict, forced displacement, and refugee/hostage manipulation. Project commencement has led to renewed conflict, the additional destruction of villager livelihoods and further forced displacement. Downstream impacts are expected to affect half a million people.8
  • the Salween River’s Tasang Dam is also situated in an active armed conflict area with a long history of forced eviction and human rights abuses. The project will involve further forced displacement and human rights abuses. Downstream impacts center on the destruction of villager subsistence and livelihood practices9.
  • the Irawaddy Myitsone Dam brings with it militarization, forced eviction and unregulated pollution. Projected downstream impacts involve millions of people10 and include placing the capital of Kachin State in an earthquake disaster zone.11
  • biofuel cropping in Hugawng Valley of western Kachin State involve forced eviction, intimidation, worker exploitation and conflict.12
  • biofuel cropping in Karen and Mon States offers areas with histories of armed conflict, forced displacement and refugee/hostage manipulation more of the same.
  • iron mining and cement production on Pinpet mountain in southern Shan State involves forced eviction, land confiscation, livelihood losses, food insecurity and downstream health and livelihood impacts.13
  • coal mining and power production in Tigyit, southern Shan State involves forced eviction, land confiscation, livelihood losses, limited local job creation and dangerous living and health conditions.14
  • the Burma to Thailand Yadana/Yetagun pipeline and Kanbauk/Myaing Kalay spur involves increased militarization, systematic human rights abuses, forced labor, land confiscation without compensation, forced relocation, rape, torture and murder.15
  • the Burma to China Shwe Gas and oil pipeline project runs over four times the inland length of the Yadana/Yetagun and spur projects and is expected to involve similar human rights abuses on a respectively larger scale.16
  • the construction of Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital city of Burma displacing entire villages and forcing many villagers to flee and establish the Ei Htu Hta IDP camp on the Thai/Burma border.


Forced eviction and land confiscation threaten the people of Burma’s right to adequate housing, a basic human right protected by international treaties17. Burma has ratified two human rights treaties which recognize the right to adequate housing– the Convention on the Rights of the Child18 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women19. Forced eviction of women and children violate the government’s obligations under these treaties. HLP abuses are likely to continue and exacerbate in a post-election context as the markets are increasingly opened up to foreign investment20 and power stays with the military. This situation recently led the National League for Democracy to analyze Burma’s economy and determine the pressing need for foreign investment and development to benefit local people and have a positive social and environmental impact.21


1 Government of Burma. "Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008)." Ministry of Information, 2008. p10

2 Leckie, S., and E. Simperingham. "Housing, Land and Property Rights in Burma: The Current Legal Framework." Geneva: Displacement Solutions, 2010

3 Government of Burma. "National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 12 (a) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1: Myanmar." United Nations General Assembly, 2010

4 Thornton, Phil. "Full of Wanting: Elections in Burma Are Rare. But Dire Poverty Is Not, It Is an Everyday Reality for Most of the Population." Bangkok Post, 31 October 2010

5 The Burma Medical Association, National Health and Education Committee, and Back Pack Health Worker Team. "Diagnosis: Critical Health and Human Rights in Eastern Burma." Global Health Access Program, Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2010

6 Turnell, S. “Burma’s Economy 2010: A Fresh Look at Some Elemental Issues”, Burma Economic Watch, Macquarie University, 2010

7 EarthRights International. "Total Impact 2.0: A Response to the French Oil Company Total Regarding Its Yadana Natural Gas Pipeline in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar).", 2009

8 Mon Youth Progressive Organization (MYPO). “In the Balance: Salween Dam Threaten Downstream Communities in Burma.”, 2007

9 Burma Rivers Network. "Tasang Dam."

10 Burma Rivers Network. "Burma Rivers Network Welcomes Nld’s Concerns About Nationwide Impacts of Myitsone Dam."

11 Burma Rivers Network. "Irrawaddy/N'mai/Mali Dams."

12 Kachin Development and Networking Group (KDNG). “Tyrants, Tycoons, and Tigers.”, 2010

13 Pa-Oh Youth Organization. “Robbing the Future: Russian-backed mining project threatens Pa-O Communities in Shan State.”, 2009

14 Pa-Oh Youth Organization. "Poison Clouds: Lessons from Burma's Largest Coal Project at Tigyit.", 2011

15 EarthRights International. "Total Impact 2.0: A Response to the French Oil Company Total Regarding Its Yadana Natural Gas Pipeline in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar).", 2009

16 Shwe Gas Movement. “Corridor of Power: China’s Trans-Burma Oil and Gas Pipelines.”, 2009

17 See "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights." United Nations General Assembly, 1966

18 See "Convention on the Rights of the Child ". United Nations General Assembly, 1989

19 See "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women." United Nations General Assembly, 1979

20 See Irrawaddy and Mizzima business coverage.

21 National League for Democracy. "Analysis of the Economy." January 4 2011

22 "Environmental Impact Assessment of the Hutgyi Hydropower Project Final Report." Environmental Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, 2008

23 Salween: The River of Three Lands (in Thai). Edited by Living River Siam, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance and Salween Post: Wanida Press, 2008

24 Burma Rivers Network. "Hatgyi Dam.", 2008

25 See Thai News coverage.

26 Burma Rivers Network. "Tasang Dam."

27 Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization. "Warning Signs: An Update on Plans to Dam the Salween in Burma's Shan State.", 2006

28 EarthRights International. "Total Impact: The Human Rights, Environmental, and Financial Impacts of Total and Chevron’s Yadana Gas Project in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar).", 2009

29 EarthRights International. "Total Impact 2.0: A Response to the French Oil Company Total Regarding Its Yadana Natural Gas Pipeline in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar).", 2009

30 Ital-Thai, DAWEI PROJECT BOARD MEETING 16-10-09 AS PowerPoint presentation

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