Leading Jewish human rights organization praises report’s focus on protecting the Karen community’s right to determine how their land should be used
NEW YORK, NY – American Jewish World Service (AJWS) lauds Human Rights Watch’s latest report, “The Farmer Becomes Criminal,” which focuses on the endemic land confiscation in Burma’s Karen State and the impact it has had on farmers, their livelihoods and their families. This crucial report, supported with an AJWS grant, is one example of AJWS’s support for communities in Burma dispossessed of their land. AJWS also makes grants to grassroots organizations in Burma who work with rural farmers to defend their land and natural resources.
In order to help the Karen, an ethnic minority in Burma, protect and advocate for their land rights, AJWS’s grantmaking includes support for groups like the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), a local organization working with rural farmers to defend their land and resources in Karen State and other regions where Karen people live. KESAN, whose work helped inform the Human Rights Watch report, helps farmers organize their local communities against land grabs and resource exploitation. In recent years, KESAN has worked with farmers and the Karen National Union, the Karen political organization that maintains autonomy within parts of Karen State, to create more progressive laws on land registration. As a result, KESAN staff members are organizing land registration events in order to help community members put the new law into practice and complete the official process needed to secure their land.
Statement from Ah Noh, AJWS Program Officer for Burma:
“For 14 years, we have been addressing the issue of land confiscation in Burma’s Karen State, and we welcome this crucial report from Human Rights Watch for shining a light on this ongoing challenge,” said Ah Noh, AJWS Program Officer for Burma. “We support the Karen community’s demand to exercise control over how their own land is used and we call on the Burmese government to address this problem.”
The Karen community is one of the largest ethnic minorities in Burma, and although the majority of Burma’s people depend on their land for survival, weak Burmese law and regressive policies have undermined community access and control over land. Decades of armed conflict between Burma’s army and the Karen National Union have also displaced Karen civilians, forcing many to flee to Thailand. This ongoing movement of the Karen people disrupts any claims they have had to local land and resources needed to grow food. Peace process negotiations have begun to stem armed conflicts in Burma, including in Karen State, but are bringing new threats in the form of exploitative development projects that also fuel land grabs. AJWS supports Human Rights Watch’s call for increased protections for land rights activists, many of whom continue to face arrest and harassment, and implementation of improved land policies. Without these protections, communities throughout Burma—and the Karen in particular—will continue to lose control of their most important resource: their own land.
About American Jewish World Service in Burma
AJWS supports 33 social change organizations working to bring peace, democracy and justice to a country that has been plagued by conflict and oppression. AJWS’s grantees work inside the country and on both sides of the Thailand-Burma border, where hundreds of thousands fled to escape persecution by Burma’s violent military regime. AJWS has been supporting human rights efforts in Burma since 2002, and today focuses on two of the most pressing issues facing the country’s most oppressed populations: 1) the lack of basic civil and political rights—particularly for ethnic minorities and women; and 2) the struggle for control over land, food and water resources critical to the survival of poor and marginalized communities. Learn more in our Burma country profile.