Vientiane Times, June 27, 2012
National Assembly (NA) members have called for the government to review its land rights policy to ensure that legitimate benefits flow to local people who are affected by development projects. NA member for Khammuan province Mr Inthava Moundala told the Third Ordinary Session of the NA’s Seventh Legislature this week about how local authorities violated the rights of villagers who lost their land to development projects. He highlighted the fact that villagers who have been earning a livelihood on a piece of land for decades don’t have official title to the land. When a development project encroaches on this land, local authorities come and tell the villagers “this is not your land” and refuse to compensate the families affected. Mr Inthava pointed out that although villagers did not have a land title they had worked the land for many years and under the Lao Constitution and laws they have customary rights to the land.
Minister of Planning and Investment Mr Somdy Duangdy accepted that people’s land rights had been breached by some projects in the past due to the absence of thorough surveys and proper land allocation. He said it was important to formulate regulations to address the problem in the long-term, and to take into consideration the customary rights of villagers concerning land they have occupied. Mr Somdy said this was why the government had decided not to consider any new investment proposals regarding land concessions for mining, or rubber and eucalyptus plantations, until 2015. The main reason was that the government wanted to speed up the survey and allocation of land to identify which areas are suitable for investment, and which areas should be preserved to minimise the impacts on the livelihoods of local people. Deputy Director General of the Land Natural Resources Research Institute, Dr Palikone Thalongsengchanh, said the Lao Constitution was only created in 1991 and the Land Law was enacted in 1997, so they were formulated after villagers already had ownership of the land. “In Laos, we have about 1.6 million land plots and so far about 300,000 plots have been titled,” he said. Many people still don’t have land titles, he added, which is not their fault. “Under Articles 32 and 37 of the Land Law, villagers who have customary rights or earn a living on a land plot for a certain amount of time will have the same rights as those who hold a land title.” Dr Palikone urged local authorities to try to understand the law and treat people who have no land title the same as those who have documentation, and to consider the fact that they hold customary rights.
Land issues have become commonplace since Laos opened up a market economy in 1986, attracting foreign investment to the country to boost economic growth. Many development projects have been approved without proper land surveys or allocation, intruding on villagers’ land and encroaching on protected areas.