Land Activists Gain Legal Clout

Burma's 88 Generation Students Group works with lawyers to give legal advice.

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burma-88-generation-rangoon-305.jpg Leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group speak at a press conference at their headquarters in Rangoon, July 6, 2012.

Burma’s 88 Generation Students Group has enlisted a law firm to help address land disputes and other legal complaints affecting ordinary citizens in the country amidst political reforms.

Activists say Burma is facing a scourge of land seizures by the government, private companies, and the well-connected as the former pariah state opens up to global foreign investment following the end of decades under military rule.

But amid political reforms taking place under a nominally civilian government, ordinary Burmese people are trying to use the legal system to fight the land seizures, staging protests and lodging official complaints.

To help tackle the disputes, the 88 Generation Students Group, a prominent civil society organization with its roots in crushed 1988 prodemocracy protests, is teaming up with a private law firm to dispense pro bono legal advice.

Twenty-five lawyers from the Mhandine Lawyers’ Academy will visit the 88 Generation Students Group’s offices in Rangoon three days per week, the law firm’s head Maung Maung said Wednesday, after the two groups met to discuss plans for their work together.

“They told us that there are many people who have problems related to women’s rights, human rights, and other problems such as being bullied in legal matters that have come to their office for help,” he said.

“When people submit their problems and sufferings at our office, they will be able to get those lawyers’ suggestions and help to face the courts if needed,” said activist Kyaw Kyaw Htwe, also known as Marky, from the 88 Generation Students Group.

The law firm has also published articles about problems with Burma’s constitution and election and has conducted training sessions on land disputes for farmers who say their land has been unfairly confiscated.

'Land-grabbing epidemic'

The Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong Kong-based independent organization monitoring and lobbying rights issues in the region, said in October last year that it was “very concerned” over a potential “land-grabbing epidemic” in Burma.

It highlighted continued protests by villagers against a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine in northwestern Burma, saying such actions can help the country avoid a looming rash of land grabs.

It said their struggle “sets an important example” for others in Burma dispossessed of their land through “the use of violence and illegal tactics by powerful interests.”

The government has set up a commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to look into the future of the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing division.

More than 100 protesters, nearly all of them monks, were injured when police broke up protests against the mine project in the toughest crackdown on demonstrators since President Thein Sein's reformist government came to power in March 2011.

Villagers charge that the mine developers have illegally confiscated more than 3,200 hectares (8,000 acres) of farmland from 26 villages without providing adequate compensation.

Reported by Ei Ei Khaine and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.


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