Opening panel at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum, September 2019
Respect and protect the Mekong people’s rights to land and resources
A call for support by MEKONG SOLIDARITY
ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum, September 2019
For many rural communities in the Mekong sub-region as in elsewhere, land is life. Direct access to and effective control over land and all resources tied to land is indispensable in ensuring the people’s rights to livelihood and food sovereignty as well as to culture, way of life and self-determination. But such access and control by farming and indigenous communities in the Mekong sub-region face mounting pressure from big private investments, both foreign and local, and from so-called development projects, mostly funded by foreign debt.
Threats of and actual displacements of rural communities in the Mekong have been on the rise amid increasing land deals for corporate plantations, mining, logging, biofuels, food crops for exports, etc. Based on data generated from the Land Matrix online database, there are more than 420 concluded land deals in the Mekong covering almost 4.5 million hectares (or more than 11 million acres) as of today. In countries like Cambodia and Laos, these corporate land deals comprise more than a third of their total agricultural lands.
China’s role is prominent in these land deals in the Mekong. Based on Land Matrix data, China has concluded land deals in Myanmar covering more than 855,000 hectares (or more than 2 million acres); Laos, almost 291,000 hectares (or more than 719,000 acres); Cambodia, almost 253,000 hectares (or more than 625,000 acres); and Vietnam, more than 66,000 hectares (or more than 163,000 acres). These land deals entail a transfer of rights to use, control or ownership of land through lease or concession deals from farmers and indigenous peoples to corporations, including foreign interests. As a consequence, affected Mekong communities lose access to and control over their own agricultural and ancestral lands and resources.
Along with these land leases and concessions, China has been on an aggressive campaign in recent years to expand and consolidate its global political and economic presence and clout through the trillion-US dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). Many key LMC projects including mega hydropower dams; railways and roads stretching thousands of kilometers; and vast industrial parks and economic zones, etc. are part of the BRI and funded by Chinese money through the Silk Road Fund or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
These huge infrastructure projects have enormous implications on the life and livelihood of millions of rural people in the Mekong sub-region. The massive dams alone that China as well as other foreign interests are funding and building along the Mekong River pose serious harm to fishing and farming communities in the sub-region, including on fish stocks, river flow and soil fertility, on top of physically displacing tens of thousands of farmers and indigenous peoples.
Worse, people’s organizations and civil society groups working on land issues and communities resisting land and resource grabbing in the Mekong sub-region face various forms of human rights violations. These include harassment through trumped-up charges and criminalization of people’s resistance; surveillance; and restricting public assembly, among others. While land deals, investments and projects are expanding, the democratic space for civil society engagement and community mobilizations are shrinking more and more.
We reaffirm our assertion that the people’s rights to land and resources of the rural communities in the Mekong must be respected and protected, and that all forms of state repression on civil society and communities resisting land and resource grabbing must be stopped.
We reiterate our demand to stop all destructive infrastructure projects, investments, land concessions and other deals that harm the collective interests and welfare of the indigenous peoples, farmers and other small food producers in the Mekong.
No Land, No Life! Fight for our Rights to Land and Resources!
We call on our fellow advocates of and campaigners for people’s rights to land and resources and food sovereignty who are participating at the 2019 ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) and the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) to support our calls by endorsing this statement.
(MEKONG SOLIDARITY is a platform for cooperation and coordination on issues related to land and human rights in the Mekong sub-region. It was established by 21 national and local organizations based in the five Mekong countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – and supported by global and regional networks PAN Asia Pacific, Asian Peasant Coalition and People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty. For inquiries, please contact [email protected] and [email protected])
This statement is endorsed by the following organizations and networks:
• AID Watch (Australia)
• Alternate ASEAN Network on Burma
• Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (Hong Kong)
• Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (Cambodia)
• Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (Cambodia)
• Cambodian Volunteers for Society (Cambodia)
• Cambodia Youth Network (Cambodia)
• Center for Environmental Concerns (Philippines)
• Center for Human Rights (Mongolia)
• Center for Sustainable Rural Development (Vietnam)
• Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (India)
• Centre for Research and Advocacy (Manipur)
• Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (Cambodia)
• Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (Cambodia)
• Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Philippines)
• Ethnic Concern (Myanmar)
• Forum of Women NGOs (Kyrgystan)
• Farmer Affairs Network (Myanmar)
• Harmony Youth Association, Burma
• Institute for Motivating Self-Employment (India)
• Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (Cambodia)
• Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suayapa Farm - NAFLU - KMU (Philippines)
• Ponlok Khmer (Cambodia)
• Rural Women's Association (Kyrgyztan)
• Solidarity for Indigenous Papuans (West Papua)
• Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (Thailand)
• VOICE Bangladesh
• Youth Resource Development Program (Cambodia)
• Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)
• PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP)
• Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
• People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)
• International Indigenous People’s Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)