Around the world, land is central to many social justice struggles. It matters who controls it, how it’s developed and used, and who benefits (or suffers) from how it’s used.
Burma is no different. Over six decades of conflict, the Burma Army has taken advantage of armed conflict to displace rural ethnic people from their territory. Today, despite celebrated moves towards democracy, Burma’s military still mostly controls the country’s administration, and uses its power to confiscate huge amounts of land for agribusiness and for megaprojects like dams and mines.
Ethnic civil society organizations have a different vision for land use in Burma: one that honours customary management systems that enable participatory, grassroots control. The Ethnic Community Development Forum
(ECDF), an Inter Pares counterpart that unites several community development organizations, spent two years studying customary land management practices in ethnic communities. Such practices honour people’s connections to their land, protect the environment, and create sustainable livelihoods.
ECDF’s General Secretary, Sai Khur Hseng, was able to share this learning this past June, when Inter Pares sponsored his participation in Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) in Montreal. It was a rich opportunity for Sai Khur Hseng to meet with activists from around the world, sharing strategies and tools for resistance, but also dreams for more just futures.
ECDF has developed concrete proposals for how customary land management practices could be supported and integrated into a future devolved national land system. Such a system requires a federal, truly democratic and inclusive government – a dream that we and all our Burma counterparts share, and work towards each day.
To watch a video interview with Sai Khur Hseng: