Using a community based approach, IDEA legal watch groups provide advocacy and legal advice that protects farmers from prosecution.
Land disputes can be one of the most dangerous and costly issues for the public. In Myanmar, there are significant disputes about land ownership and cultivation of land by rural farmers. Particularly in Shan State, farmers have faced difficulties raising crops -- including corn, sugarcane and beans -- on land the government claims is confiscated.
With grant support from Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), the Integrated Development Executive Association (IDEA) has been implementing community-based legal service initiatives in Nawnghkio and Taunggyi in Northern and Southern Shan State since May 2017. Using a community based approach, IDEA is improving legal literacy, providing legal consultation, and offering victim assistance. IDEA utilizes local legal watch groups to develop and sustain their support.
IDEA is engaging with officials from the Agriculture Department to protect vulnerable farmers from prosecution for cultivation on confiscated land in Nant Linn Kham village of Nawnghkio. Farmers were cultivating crops in deserted areas confiscated by the Department in 1993-1994. A previous government crop project had ended unsuccessfully on land that belonged to the farmers’ ancestors. The farmers believed they had indigenous rights to cultivate the land, but the Agriculture Department issued an order for farmers to vacate these areas.
Ten farmers from the village were given 16-month jail sentences for farming on confiscated property. IDEA supported the farmers by submitting an appeal to the Shan State Supreme Court to reduce the jail terms. With help from IDEA, three of them had their sentences reduced by 7 months.
The IDEA legal watch group is working to raise awareness among farmers to ensure that they understand land ownership rights and to prevent them from inadvertently farming on government property. IDEA raises awareness among the farmers about how to seek requisitions from the government that allow them to farm the land without risking prosecution.
With a better understanding of the process, the farmers are now seeking support from the IDEA legal staff to submit requests and gain permission to legally farm this land. This valuable assistance is protecting farmers from incarceration and lawsuits, while also allowing them to have sufficient income to provide for their families. Support from PRLP is building the capacity of civil society organizations, such as IDEA, to improve public advocacy and promote access to justice. This support is particularly critical when dealing with land disputes and the welfare of farmers.