Finding a “middle way” to solve Myanmar’s land disputes

Published 03. May 2019
Land disputes are often a political and social minefield. When it comes to land rights, even the smallest disagreement can raise tensions for farmers, families, communities, governments and ethnic armed organisations. Such disagreements can escalate into conflicts and fuel civil wars. It is therefore vital to find practical ways of addressing issues at the earliest possible stage.

There are, however, many ways to solve a dispute, some more effective than others. For example, an authority can make a top-down decision based exclusively on available documents (which may not be correct or fair) without any consultation. It may simply impose a solution regardless of the wishes and legal rights of the people involved. Unfortunately, this approach is all too common. Moreover, laws do not always take into account alternative ways of solving conflicts.

In Myanmar, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has worked with village leaders, local authorities and ethnic armed organisations to adopt a “middle way”, in order to address some of the most common land disputes. We have used a process of mediation, analysing the conflicts, interviewing the parties, and proposing options that fit people’s interests rather than their positions. This has resulted in agreements that have the potential to last over time and make everyone’s lives easier.

Our report, A Feasibility Assessment on the Introduction of Alternative Dispute Resolution/Collaborative Dispute Resolution to Resolve Land Disputes in Myanmar, has been written in collaboration with Chris Moore from CDR Associates. It contains a detailed analysis of land dispute resolution in Myanmar and suggests ways to improve access to justice by using this much needed “middle way”.