‘With only our voices, what can we do?’: Land confiscation and local response in Southeast Myanmar

Karen Human Rights Group

In the Kawkareik Township of Myanmar’s Southern Karen State, villagers’ lands and plantation crops, like betel nut, mango, and durian trees, were destroyed due to the construction of a road by a Myanmar private company. The villagers reported that they did not know the company’s name and were not consulted about the process.


 “My land was not included when they came to survey the lands, but when they started to plough it included my land. Yesterday we tried to negotiate with the ploughmen but they didn’t pay attention to us and continued to plough. Some of the villagers lost four or five acres of lands which they inherited. They constructed the road on central farms and plantations.”

Saw A--, A--- village, Kawkareik Township, (Interviewed in July 2014)


Across the country, in the Thaton District, villagers reported similar instances of land confiscation.


“IB [Infantry Battalion] #44’s Operation Commander U Mya Soe, came in 2005 at the time when the company came [to the village] he also came, near M--- village. He said that that was uncultivated land and confiscated 31 acres of land. He worked with a land surveyor. People [villagers] said [to Operation Commander U Mya Soe]: “that is our football field and we keep it for the children to play as it located before the school. That is the play ground for the villagers.” [S]ome people [whose lands were confiscated] dared not to say anything. They just let it be. […] He [Commander U Mya Soe] sold those 30 acres of lands worth 310,000,000 [kyat] (US $314,083.08) to Max [Myanmar] Company.

U A---, (male, 42),  Thaton District (May 2012)


“They [Max Myanmar company] came to start rubber plantations in Shwe Yaung Pya village, Shwe Yaung Pya village tract in Thaton Township, Thaton District. The project was started many years [ago]. This project has created a lot of problems for villagers because some villagers have cows and buffalos and the animals have less pasture [land for grazing]. […] They confiscate some of the villagers’ land and community forest each year to make a new fire perimeter.”

Written by a community member trained by KHRG in Thaton District


These examples of villagers’ perspectives on instances of land confiscation by private companies are just a few out of many instances documented by KHRG. Since 1992, KHRG has gathered testimony and documented individual incidents of human rights violations in southeast Myanmar. KHRG reporting is designed to share the perspectives of individuals and communities and ensure that their voices and priorities are heard and decision makers are influenced. 

To facilitate this, our research is conducted by a network of villagers trained and equipped to employ KHRG’s documentation methodology. Their work with local communities informs KHRG’s recommendations to companies and governments on good practice in development project planning and implementation, which can be found in full in our recent report.


Recommendations to companies

  • As villagers are best placed to assess their own interests and the impact of development on their livelihoods, development projects should be planned in consultation with local communities, with full disclosure of how the projects could affect their lands and livelihoods.
  • Communities should be given the opportunity to participate in decisions regarding size, scope, compensation, and means of project implementation. All development actors should prioritise the perspectives and consent of communities in decision-making.
  • All development actors must carry out environmental, health and human rights impact assessments prior to project implementation. These assessments should be carried out independently of the actor’s interests, in consultation with project-affected communities, and made publicly available in all local languages.
  • Development actors should seek out and engage with local, broad-based, independent associations of villagers formed to address land issues, as well as local community-based organisations.
  • All development actors should ensure that they do not become complicit in human rights abuses by carrying out good faith due diligence to make certain that their partners do not compromise the rights and security of local communities.


Recommendations to governments

  • Governments should ensure that their national land use policies and other relevant land laws protect existing land use practices and tenure rights, and acknowledge that local communities may recognise land titles granted by multiple sources, including customary, colonial, and local administrations.
  • All policy reforms should ascertain and respect the land rights of communities and individuals displaced by conflict, including refugees.
  • In cases where villagers wish to secure land title from the government, a transparent and inclusive process should be available for villagers to do so.
  • The government should provide communities with training and educational resources about domestic complaint and adjudication bodies (or allow civil society actors to provide these trainings and resources).
  • All armed actors should support local villagers’ land rights and land tenure systems, and should commit themselves to following all of the measures included in these recommendations in areas under their direct control.
  • The government should ensure that access to domestic complaint and adjudication bodies is available to all villagers, and that land dispute mechanisms are community-based and established according to customary practices.

For more, see KHRG's recent documentary: