An introductory guide to understanding and claiming housing, land and property restitution rights in Myanmar: questions and answers

An introductory guide to understanding and claiming housing, land and property restitution rights in Myanmar: questions and answers

Restitution  means  the  process  of  returning  to  one’s  home  after  displacement  and  achieving  the  recovery of one’s land. The process of housing, land and property restitution is truly profound, for these processes have as their key purpose, the aim of reversing past HLP losses and returning HLP rights back to those with legitimate restitution claims, and enabling refugees and IDPs to reclaim their former homes and lands. These processes may seem overly optimistic, but in fact, restitution processes have been  carried  out  in  numerous  countries  over  the  past  three  decades  or  more.  Successful  restitution  programmes provide a pathway for residential justice, and create the conditions needed for all refugees and displaced persons to repossess control over their places of origin or to otherwise receive recognition of these losses through the provision of adequate compensation. These processes provide the means by which all returning refugees and IDPs can be assured of the full enjoyment of their human rights, in particular their housing, land and property rights.

Displacement Solutions and NRC have been involved in restitution efforts in a number of countries over the past two decades, and believe that increasing attention to the benefits of establishing specific post-conflict restitution mechanisms that would enable everyone with a restitution claim to have access to an  appropriate  remedial  mechanism  will  facilitate  voluntary  repatriation  and  return  of  refugees  and  IDPs in Myanmar.

Some  of  the  building  blocks  for  a  nationwide  restitution  process  are  in  place.  Article  1(k)  of  the  15  October  2015  Nationwide  Ceasefire  Agreement  includes  several  references  to  HLP  issues,  while  Chapter VI of the 2016 National Land Use Policy includes general guidance on how a restitution process could potentially take place. Moreover, bodies such as the Reinvestigation Committee for Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands have been established to address some types of outstanding restitution claims.  A  number  of  international  and  local  NGOs  are  currently  advocating  for  the  protection  of  the  rights  of  refugees,  internally  displaced  persons  and  other  individuals  affected  by  arbitrary  takings  of  property in the past. These efforts should be encouraged.

In  October  and  December  2016,  NRC  undertook  a  series  of  consultations  in  Yangon  that  confirmed  the need to support the development of civil society-led advocacy strategies on restitution in Myanmar taking into account all available options. In February 2017, Displacement Solutions and NRC released another more detailed report on restitution issues in Myanmar entitled “The Next Steps on Myanmar’s Restitution Journey: Building Lasting Peace, National Reconciliation and Economic Prosperity Through a Comprehensive Housing, Land and Property Restitution Programme Accessible to All”, that outlines a comprehensive overview of relevant restitution issues in Myanmar, as well as providing a series of proposed recommendations on how to move the restitution issue further in the country, culminating in a new law and procedure accessible to everyone with an unresolved HLP restitution claim.

This Guide builds on these efforts and uses a question and answer format to provide an introductory overview on some of the key issues of the restitution process, including the position of international law on the question of restitution, how restitution has been addressed thus far in Myanmar and the key gaps between domestic practice on restitution in the country and the most pertinent international legal standards.  This  Guide  is  designed  for  use  by  refugees  and  IDPs  and  their  representatives,  providing  a  simple,  easy-to-understand  guide  for  potential  claimants  on  the  basic  principles  of  restitution,  where these measures have taken place in other countries and various mechanisms that have been established to enable claims processes for HLP losses. The Guide makes clear that at present there are few effective HLP remedies available for refugees and IDPs, and that their engagement in these matters will be vital in generating support for such remedies, including restitution.

This Guide explores instances of displacement where those affected were forced to move from their homes  and  lands  due  to  circumstances  beyond  their  control,  in  particular  cases  of  armed  conflict,  massive violence or gross violations of human rights such as arbitrary land confiscation, where legal procedures  are  not  followed,  where  compensation  was  not  provided  and  where  those  forced  to  flee  from their homes assert their claim to repossess them once they feel it is safe and secure enough for them to return.

It is hoped that this Guide will facilitate greater understanding of the restitution concept by refugees and internally displaced persons from Myanmar, and lead to ever-improving restitution prospects for everyone with a currently unresolved claim to their former homes and lands. By providing legal advice to refugees and IDPs on the many complex aspects of the restitution question, this Quick Guide will assist people seeking to return home to be in far better position to assert their legitimate HLP restitution rights and increase the chances of enjoying residential justice.

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