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Calls for action after Burmese land rights activist beaten to death

Activists want a thorough investigation into the killing of a land rights activist in Burma, and greater protection of land defenders, amid a sharp increase in territorial disputes.

Htay Aung, who was helping villagers reclaim land caught in a long-running tug of war, was attacked by a mob of about 20 people in northern Shan State, according to rights groups and reports in the local media. He died of his injuries on 1 November.

Three people were arrested but later released.

A police investigation is ongoing, according to the activists, International Federation for Human Rights (FDIH).

FDIH “urges the authorities to carry out a thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation … without undue delay and hold those responsible accountable,” it said.

Authorities must also “adopt effective measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, including land rights defenders” against such deadly attacks, it said in a statement.

Messages and calls to police and government officials seeking comment were not returned.

About 70 percent of Burma’s population lives in rural areas and depends on agriculture for a living.

Few farmers in Burma have formal documents for their land, and even formal titles do not provide adequate protection, according to advocacy group Global Witness.

Disputes over land have increased significantly since the easing of political and economic restrictions after 2011, which led to a rush of foreign investments and greater demand for land for industrial use.

Government officials say these projects, including mining, hydropower and large-scale agriculture, are essential for development in one of the world’s poorest countries.

In 2012, Burma introduced new laws that permitted farmers to obtain land-use certificates aimed at according them greater security. Four years later, it adopted a national land-use policy and introduced dispute resolution mechanisms.

Despite these reforms, land deals are often characterised by a lack of consultation and consent from affected communities, inadequate compensation, the absence of a resettlement policy and a lack of judicial remedies.


Alongside, arrests and prosecution of protesters and land activists have risen.

Burma may face “a land conflict epidemic” unless laws and policies that address land rights issues are adopted and implemented, FIDH said in a recent report.

At least two land and environment defenders were killed last year in Burma, according to Global Witness, though the true total is expected to be higher.

“The Myanmar government must conduct a thorough and independent investigation into Htay Aung’s murder that will ensure the perpetrators are accountable and brought to justice,” Ali Hines at Global Witness told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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