Democracy Newsletter- NED
On Friday, February 2, 2007, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Task Force for International Religious Freedom held a staff briefing and discussion on Human Rights Abuses and Religious Persecution in Burma. The Task Force heard from an array of witnesses including representatives from two NED grantees, namely, Victor Biak Lian of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) and L. Dwelling of the Kachin Women’s
Association-Thailand (KWAT). Other witnesses included Christian Solidarity Worldwide Advocacy Officer for South Asia, Ben Rogers and Senior Policy Analyst with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Scott Flipse
The briefing allowed all witnesses the opportunity to give evidence of the dire conditions of the Chin and Kachin peoples of northern and western Burma. For years, the Chin and Kachin ethnic minority groups, consisting primarily of Christians and Buddhists, have been subjected to religious persecution and a range of human rights atrocities at the hands of the ruling Burmese Army, including sexual violence against women, human trafficking, forced labor, and forced relocation of its own people. Many of these violations have gone unreported or unnoticed by the international community.
Victor Biak Lian, who is a Member of the Ethnic Nationalities Council, the National Reconciliation Program, and the CHRO, said the situation in Burma had become critical for the Chin and Kachin communities. Many are faced with the twin threats of malnutrition and starvation as well as the potential of becoming infected with a cocktail of deadly diseases including HIV/AIDS and malaria.
Religious persecution is pervasive within these communities as is evidenced by the destruction of Christian churches by the Burmese Army. There have also been numerous cases where Chin and Kachin peoples have been detained by the military and ordered to construct Buddhist ornaments. These are documented in Ben Rogers’ recent report, Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma and in Rhododendron, CHRO’s human rights newsletter.
Mr. Lian testified that the military regime has no interest in meeting with local and regional human rights organizations and only concerted international pressure from the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), China, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Australia can bring about an end to human rights violations in Burma. This, he hopes, will be the first step towards eventually convincing the Burmese military to abandon its use of force and replace it with democratic rule.
KWAT’s representative, L. Dwelling, strongly supported Mr. Lian’s call for decisive action in Burma and emphasized the need to “strengthen the community network” against the military junta. Ms. Dwelling also discussed human trafficking of young women along the Thai and Chinese borders.
In particular, Ms. Dwelling explained how internal displacement, a direct result of military campaigns designed to suppress ethnic resistance, had seen many Burmese women flee to neighboring Thailand and China for refuge. Tragically, many of these women-most between the ages of 14 and 20-are prime targets of regional human traffickers attempting to profit from a growing sex industry in China.
Ms. Dwelling argues China’s sex industry has snowballed in response to the nation’s One-Child Policy. This policy, aimed at stalling China’s population growth, has resulted in a shortage of women in China. As a consequence, the demand for Burmese women among Chinese men has increased. This plays into the hands of human traffickers and holds significant consequences for many Burmese women, exposing them to the threat of rape,
violence, and sexually transmitted diseases.
NED grantees continue to play a fundamentally important role in exposing the horrific situation in Burma. With NED funding, CHRO and KWAT continue to publish and distribute material detailing human rights abuses in Burma to the regional and international community, helping to create international awareness and working to place Burma at the forefront of the international political agenda.
Democracy Newsletter- National Endowment for Democracy