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Burma : Junta Named Worst Housing Rights Violator

Press Release: Terry Evans

7 December

Burma : Junta Named Worst Housing Rights Violator

This week the State Peace and Development Council of Burma named as Housing Rights Violator for the mass displacement of more than one million civilians

The "State Peace and Development Council" (SPDC) of Burma has been named one of three Housing Rights Violators of 2007 by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) for the mass displacement of more than one million civilians from their lands and homes.

Each year, COHRE presents its Housing Rights Violator Awards to three governments or other institutions guilty of particularly serious and pervasive housing rights violations in the preceding year. COHRE has issued these awards since 2002. This year, the SPDC of Burma shares the Violator Awards with Slovakia and (jointly) the Beijing Municipality and Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG).

COHRE named the SPDC of Burma for its persistent, systematic and unjustified violation of the housing rights of its citizens and for its ongoing failure to apply international human rights standards.

Jean du Plessis, COHRE's Deputy Director, said, "The military regime in Burma has displaced more than one million people from their lands and homes since 1962, disproportionately affecting ethnic nationality communities - which has included confiscating their lands. The SPDC's brutal campaign against ethnic nationality communities - confiscating their lands, attacking and burning villages, killing thousands of civilians, raping women and looting property - is in clear breach of international law. The military regime's 'Burmanisation' policy of ethnic cleansing and social engineering through forced relocation and land confiscation, which has led to the mass displacement of more than one million people from their lands and homes in Burma, is clear evidence of its complete disregard for human rights including the right to adequate housing. International law clearly and unequivocally prohibits forced evictions and the arbitrary confiscation of peoples' homes and lands."

According to COHRE's new report, Displacement and Dispossession: Forced Migration and Land Rights in Burma, land confiscation by Government forces is responsible for many serious housing, land and property (HLP) rights violations in Burma. These abuses occur during military counter-insurgency operations; to clear land for the construction of new army bases; to make way for infrastructure development projects; to facilitate natural resource extraction; and to cater for the vested interests of business.

Displacement and Dispossession: Forced Migration and Land Rights in Burma also reveals that control of land is a key strategy for the military regime, and a means of promoting the on-going expansion of the Burmese Army (Tatmadaw). In 1998, the SPDC issued a directive instructing Tatmadaw battalions to become self-sufficient in rice and other basic provisions. This prompted the Tatmadaw to 'live off the land' by appropriating resources (food, cash, labour, land) from the civilian population. This policy has exacerbated conflict and displacement across much of rural Burma.

The Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) and its partners estimate that during 2007, approximately 76,000 people have been newly displaced by armed conflict and associated human rights abuses. The majority of new incidents of forced migration and village destruction were concentrated in northeast Karen State and adjacent areas of Pegu Division. The total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Eastern Burma in October 2007 was 503,000. These included 295,000 people in ceasefire zones, 99,000 IDPs 'in hiding' in the jungle and 109,000 in relocation sites. The estimates exclude hundreds of thousands of IDPs in other parts of Burma (especially Kachin and Shan States, and the west of the country, as well as in some parts of Karen State). Including these figures would bring the total to over a million internally displaced people.

COHRE's Du Plessis said, "More than one million people have been dispossessed and are internally displaced in Burma - not because of a natural disaster, but due to their own government's calculated and brutal actions. We have here a state monopoly which forcibly transfers property, income and assets, from rural, non-Burman ethnic nationalities to an elite, military Government. The HLP violations found in Burma today are the result of short-sighted and predatory policies that date back to the early years of Independence, and to the period of colonial rule. These problems can only be resolved through substantial and sustained change in Burma. Political transition should include improved access to a range of fundamental rights, as enshrined in international law and conventions - including respect for HLP rights."

ENDS


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