An introductory guide to understanding and claiming housing, land and property restitution rights in Myanmar: Questions and answers (March 2017)

Manual and Guideline
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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 postconflict 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.