Burmese thanks to People in Need can defend themselves against authorities´ oppression

Burmese thanks to People in Need can defend themselves against authorities´ oppression

28. 11. 2014

Arbitrary confiscation of land and illegal requirements of the authorities in Burma are rampant. The victims are mainly people in the villages who have little idea about their rights and do not know how to defend against oppression from authorities. People in Need accordingly finance Burmese non-profit organizations, which helps locals regain their rights.

We don´t have to move out

Soldiers came here and asked for 1.2 million Kyat (approx. 1200 USD) for electricity,” Nang Khin Hla says. “This was too much for us. We do not earn more than 600.000 Kyat per year.” 600 USD is barely enough for Nang Khin Hla to pay her current bills, but she also wanted to have electricity at her home. The soldiers told her, she and her family had to move out, if they refused to pay.

Nang Khin Hla and her family live in a small village in northern Myanmar, an area predominantly controlled by the local ethnic authority. Issues such as illegal financial demands or land confiscation are pervasive throughout the whole country.

For some of Nang Khin Hla’s neighbours the dream of having electricity turned out to be a nightmare. The repeated exorbitant demands, accompanied by the pressure of the local authorities, were unbearable for a long time. Some next-door families moved to other villages, but Nang Khin Hla and her family stayed.

They turned to Demo, a local civil society organization, which is promoting and fighting for human rights of local people in remote areas of northern Myanmar. In 2012, Demo started its activities and has helped many people in need, including Nang Khin Hla and her family.

With PIN’s support, Demo conducted eight trainings related to land and human rights in Nang Khin Hla’s and neighboring villages. Nang Khin Hla finishes her story by saying: “We united together with other families in the village and we collectively refused the demands of the local ethnic authority. They have left us alone now. If I had to move out I would not know where to go and how I would cope. I am glad we united and I am really glad I have met members of the local organisation.”

I wish I learned about human rights earlier in my life

Farmer Nyunt Win was one of those whom the local government confiscated land for the construction of large dam. It was another of the many cases of illegal land confiscation in Burma. Members of the community were duped by local officials who did not provide the local people the promised clean water, or education for their children, or participation in local government in exchange for their land. None of the farmers therefore did not receive the promised compensation.

Nyunt Win and others were contacted by the organizations Shwe Ba Kan Zaw (SKBZ), funded by People in Need, which offered them its help. Thanks to SKBZ Win knows how important free press is and how powerful it can be.

After the seizure of land SKBZ began to establish various working groups, including a group of observers, groups for fundraising, education group and group for protecting the rights. It also organized trainings in eight villages affected by the dam construction. SKBZ staff contacted the press, local radio stations and newspapers, organized a press conference and along with their requirements publicized the injustices inflicted by corrupted local authorities. Public pressure got Nyunt Win, and other community members compensation for their land. Thanks to the training supported by People in Need Win and the others are now prepared for the future unpleasant surprises.

“We didn’t have unity in the village and didn’t express our concerns about the corruption. Now we know how to ask for our rights, which we have lost before, by communicating with local authorities, CSOs and the media,” U Nyunt Win says. It sounds simple, but it was a big step to take, especially to lose the fear of communicating with government authorities. The trainings helped U Nyunt Win and other villagers to act as a unified group and not get threatened by government representatives anymore.

U Khin Mg Shwe works for SKBZ and knows how important their trainings were for the farmers: „The project is really successful because the community continues to work with professional lawyers to get a compensation for building Paung Laung Dam on their lands. They also contact media and lawyers for their rights. That’s why the project is really useful, sustainable and effective.“

The citizens of Paung Laung Township fought against the corrupt authorities, for their rights and U Nyunt Win is absolutely satisfied with the positive results after the training, but wishes that he “learned about human rights earlier in (his) life.”

PIN´s work in Myanmar

Since 2012, PIN is directly operating from Myanmar, with the aim to strengthen local civil society initiatives and support a more transparent democratic process. PIN´s main objective is to help building-up the capacity of local civil society by promoting partnerships, offering technical assistance and providing financial aid. In partnership with local organizations, PIN´s work is predominantly concentrated around 4 regional areas, namely Mon State, Shan State, Kayin State, and Mandalay Division.

You can learn more about PIN activities in Burma/Myanmar here and here.

Author: Jan Blinka