The Aizawl Post
December 7, 2007-Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) had testified about decades long systematic persecutions of Chin Christians at a public hearing on Burma at the Capitol Hill on Monday. The hearing was organized by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a non-partisan panel appointed by the United States president and leaders of Congress.

The hearing of the Commission comes as Congress began an intense two week period in which lawmakers must approve a range of important policy legislation.

Mr. Richard Land, vice Chairman of USCIRF who chaired the hearing at the Congress quoted Dr. Martin Luther King in his opening remark that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressors. It must be demanded by the oppressed”. He continued that “The people of Burma are demanding their liberty. It is time for the world to join them fully in this cause”.

The seven witness at the hearing along with Salai Bawi Lian, co-founder and director of CHRO includes Dr. Ashin Nayaka, a Buddhist Scholar and an exile Burmese Buddhist monk who is a visiting professor at Columbia University, Ms. Chris Lewa, coordinator of the Arakan Project and consultant for Refugee International and UNHCR, Aung Din, Policy Director at U. S Campaign for Burma, Paul Rush, a journalist who witnessed and report bloody crackdown in Burma during September, Michael Green, Professor at Georgetown University and former Special Assistant on National Security Affairs to President Bush, Jared Genser, President of Freedom Now and an attorney in the global government.

Salai Bawi Lian, said at the hearing that “the whole world was shocked to see how the Burmese military junta persecuted Buddhist monks in the street of Rangoon a few months ago. In fact the successive Burmese military junta has been systematically persecuting religious minority groups such as Chin Christians for decades.”

He continued that “the Burmese military junta violate the religious freedom rights of Chin Christians that they prohibit construction of churches, destroyed crosses and replaced with pagodas or statue of Buddhist monk, censor Christian literature and publication, restrict on freedom of assembly and worship, discriminate based on ethnicity and religion”.

Ashin Nayaka, a Buddhist scholar and leading member of International Burmese Monks, said monks were a symbol of hope for reforms in Burma but were “forcibly disrobed, assaulted, arrested and killed” by the military junta.

Paul Rush, a journalist whose video footage of Burmese troops in Rangoon shooting and killing a Japanese journalist was widely seen around the world suggests Burma’s military is likely continuing a brutal crackdown.

“The Burmese people, which include the country’s badly-persecuted ethnic minorities need the help of the international community, to shed this yoke of a half a century of oppression by a minority of murderous military elite. That I presume is why this hearing is taking place today and is why the international community is still listening,” said Mr. Rush.

A former Special Assistant on National Security Affairs to President Bush, Professor Michael Green, says while there have been some positive developments, including high profile attention from the Bush administration, some strong statements from ASEAN, and what he calls small but unprecedented steps by China, there has also been substantial inertia by the international community.

Mr. Green says China and India may be tempted to accept limited results, while he asserts that the United Nations continues to pursue what he calls a lowest common denominator approach. ASEAN, he asserts, is going backwards in its role perhaps because of pressure from Burma’s military on what he calls like-minded members.

Aung Din, policy director of the United States Campaign for Burma, urged the U.S government to appoint a full-time sanctions coordinator for Burma as it did in the late 1990’s against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s regime accused of genocide.

The U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U. S government agency that was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of though, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress of the United States.

The Aizawl Post
Aizawl-May 20, 2008: The Burmese military junta announces on May 15 that the military backed constitution was approved by 92 percent of the people on the May 10 referendum with 99 percent eligible voter turned out while several rights groups and the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) led by noble peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi said that, voting in the May 10 constitutional referendum was fraught with threat, intimidation and manipulations by the authorities.

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) a leading human rights organization from western Burma, reports that the Chin people from several major towns in Chin state including their capital Hakha voted against the military-backed constitution amidst widespread coercion and intimidation by military authorities.

In Chin state all government employees were asked to vote in mandatory early polls or by mail-in voting before the actual voting date. These early voters are required to put in their names and national registration number on the ballot. There are reports of threats of employment termination and revocation of family registration for those found to have voted ‘No.’ In Kalay Township of Sagaing Division, where there is a significant Chin population, local officials were reported to have visited residences beforehand and asked people to fill in the ballot on-site along with their names and national registration number.

“In some polling stations, poll workers are clothed in white T-Shirts that have “Let’s Vote Yes” written on them in Burmese with illustration of a checked box. Elderly voters and people who cannot read Burmese are greeted by these workers and explained to them what they should do by pointing to the writings on their T-Shirts” said Terah Thantluang one of CHRO top officials who closely watched the referendum.

Since the beginning of April the military regime has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade voters in Chin State to approve its draft constitution. On April 4, Naypyidaw sent Major General Thura Aung Ko, Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs to Chin State where he urged Chin voters to vote for the new constitution saying, “It took the army 14 years to complete the draft and unless you approve this constitution, it will take another 14 years of military rule to prepare another draft.”

On April 10, the State Peace and Development Council held a mock referendum in Chin State capital of Hakha in which 150 people were randomly called in to vote. Over 80 percent of the people voted “No” in the mock poll, prompting Major General Hung Ngai, Chairman of Chin State Peace and Development Council to travel to several townships and distributing free rice to people in an effort to court Chin voters.

The Chin Human Rights Organization reported that about two weeks prior to the referendum, 16 army patrol columns consisting of several hundred Burmese troops no less than 300 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 226 (based in Hakha), LIB 268 (Based in Falam), LIB 228 (Based in Kalay Myo), LIB 89 (Based in Kalay), LIB 289 (Based in Teddim) and LIB 274 (Based in Mindat), were sent to remote areas along India-Burma border to campaign for the referendum. According to local villagers in these areas, Burmese troops threatened them with 3 years of imprisonment and 300, 000 Kyats in monetary fines for anyone found to have cast a “No” vote. “Your only way out of military rule is through voting “yes” in this referendum” was the army’s message to rural Chin public.

Seven arrests were reported in Thantlang and Paletwa Township in the days leading up to the referendum in connection with leaflets produced by opposition groups urging citizens to reject the constitution. Three were confirmed released after two days in interrogation. The fate and whereabouts of the remaining four remain unclear.

The Burmese military junta announces on May 15 that the military backed constitution was approved by more than 90 percent of the vote while 47 of the country’s 324 townships devastated by cyclone Nargis have had their vote postponed until May 24th.

“These reports only show how flawed the whole voting process is and how far the SPDC is willing to go to skew and manipulate the results in its favor. But we know that the majority of the people of Burma voted against it. And in Chin state in particular, we have closely monitored the voting and the Chin people from major towns including the capital Hakha voted against it” says Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization.

Flowering Bamboo Leads to Starvation in Burma

By Joan Delaney
Epoch Times Staff
Jul 22, 2008
A Burmese advocacy team is seeking Canada’s help for 100,000 people in Burma’s Chin State who are facing a serious food crisis as a result of a rat invasion.

The mass flowering of bamboo has led to an explosion of rats which are destroying basic crops and paddy fields in the region. Chin State covers almost 14,000 square kilometres, roughly one fifth of which is covered by bamboo.

“The situation is at a critical point,” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang, head of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) which is monitoring the situation. “The people of Chin State are on the brink of starvation.” he stated in a news release.

The mass flowering of bamboo is an unusual natural phenomenon that occurs every 50 years in Chin State and in bordering Mizoram State in India. At least 200 Chin villages along the Burma, India and Bangladesh border are directly affected.

“The people of the western border of Burma had little assistance from the international community while the eastern border has been enjoying international support,” said Salai Victor Lian, a prominent Chin political figure working with Burma’s Ethnic Nationalities Council.

Before his arrival in Ottawa, Lian was in the United Kingdom meeting with ministers and senior government officials.

Recently, Chin activists in India formed the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee and started to take necessary action to help the people of Chin State.

Meanwhile, well known singers including Burma’s Sung Tin Par are giving a series of concerts in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to raise funds for the people of Chin State.

The Canadian Friends of Burma is also working with the CHRO to highlight the situation in Canada.

Burma: Cyclone, Starvation – Now Plague of Rats Devastates Burmese Villages
Generals ignore a once in 50-year freak of nature that wrecks communities

Pete Pattisson in Chin state, Burma
The Guardian (UK): September 10, 2008
It is an impressive arsenal – more than 100 weapons, each with a sensitive trigger – but it is a feeble defence against the enemy threatening Mgun Ling and his village in Chin state, deep in the jungles of western Burma.

Theirs is an unconventional war: their weapons are traps, their enemy rats.

“We can catch hundreds of rats a night, but it makes no difference,” said Mgun Ling. “They just keep coming. They’ve destroyed all our crops, and now we have nothing left to eat.”

Four months after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma, another natural disaster has struck the country. This time the ruling military regime has had 50 years to prepare for it, yet it has still proved unable and unwilling to respond.

The disaster, known in Burma as maudam, is caused by a cruel twist of nature. Once every 50 years or so the region’s bamboo flowers, producing a fruit. The fruit attracts hordes of rats, which feed on its seeds. Some believe the rich nutrients in the seeds cause the rodents to multiply quickly, creating an infestation. After devouring the seeds, the rats turn on the villagers’ crops, destroying rice and corn. In a country once known as the rice bowl of Asia, thousands of villagers are on the brink of starvation.

The last three cycles of flowering occurred in 1862, 1911 and 1958, and each time they were followed by a devastating famine. The current maudam is proving just as disastrous. A report last month by the Chin Human Rights Organisation estimates that up to 200 villages are affected by severe food shortages and at least 100,000 people, or 20% of the population of Chin, are in need of immediate food aid.

Chin, home to the ethnic minority Chin people, is one of the most undeveloped and isolated regions of Burma. These remote mountainous communities, which survive on subsistence farming, have reached breaking point.

“We have no food left,” said the head of one village. “Last year during the harvest the rats came and ate almost all our rice. Our corn has also been totally destroyed. I have just one bag of rice left for my family. After that there’s nothing. People in my village are going into the jungle to find wild vegetables, like leaves and roots to mix with a little rice. Our situation is desperate.”

Leisa, 74, who witnessed the last maudam, claimed that this famine was worse. “In the past the bamboo flowered all at one time. The rats came, destroyed our crops, and then left. This time the bamboo is flowering in patches and each time it flowers, a new wave of rats come. Previously, we suffered for just one or two years, but now we are worried it may last seven or eight years.”

The crisis is turning villages into ghost communities, as the Chin leave their homes in search of food, or a new life, in India. One village headman said: “Last year, we had 60 households in our village but half have already moved to India due to the food crisis. Even with only 30 households there is still not enough food for everyone.”

Every day, scores of villagers follow a tortuous mountain track to an unmanned border post into India, battling monsoon downpours, knee-deep mud and malaria. Some move to India for good, others like Chitu trek for days to buy food and haul it home. “Every single week we have to walk to India to buy rice there. The round trip takes four days. My children have had to stop going to school because they have to spend all their time carrying rice.”

Despite the predictability of the disaster, there has been no sign of help from the Burmese junta. One village chief said: “We made a formal request to the chairman of the township council and the local army commander for food, but we got no response from them.”

In fact, rather than tackling the crisis, the military is compounding it. Since the junta took power in Burma in 1962, the Chin have suffered violent oppression at the hands of the army. The use of unpaid forced labour, forced substitution of staple crops for cash crops and arbitrary taxation is rife. A report last year by the Women’s League of Chinland accused the army of systematic sexual violence against Chin women.

“Every month we receive a letter ordering us to attend a meeting at the local army camp,” said one village head. “At the meetings they demand work from us and force us to send villagers to construct their barracks. Worst of all they order us to send them food, like chickens, cooking oil and chillies, but since we don’t have any we have to collect money from villagers to send in its place.

“Last month, I failed to attend the meeting, because I was too busy collecting rice from India. When I got back to my village I found an envelope with a bullet in it. I was terrified. I thought they were going to come and kill me.”

Cheery Zahau of the Women’s League of Chinland said: “The maudam has affected India and Burma equally, but the Indian government has been preparing for it since 2002. For example, they pay their citizens for every rat they catch. The Burmese junta has done nothing. It’s not just that they don’t care. In my opinion, they are deliberately ignoring the disaster because they want the region to be cleansed of Chin people. Chin groups in the border region have been trying to mobilise aid, but our resources are very limited. We desperately need international assistance.”

While the Chin await aid, the exodus to India continues. “We love our native land,” said one villager. “But we don’t know how we can survive here any longer.”

August 11, 2008

Since 2006, Chin State of Burma (also known as Myanmar), bordering the Mizoram state of India, has been plagued by a severe food crisis. The year 2006 marked the beginning of a new cycle of bamboo flowering, which occurs about every 50 years in the region. It triggered the explosion in the population of rats resulting in the subsequent destruction of crops. This has caused a severe shortage of food for local communities primarily dependent on subsistence farming through shifting cultivation. The phenomenon has occurred three times since 1862, and each occurrence has ended in catastrophic famine for communities in the area.

Based on the latest field surveys conducted in the affected areas, Chin Human Rights Organization estimates that as many as 200 villages have been directly affected by this severe food shortage associated with the bamboo flowering and no less than 100, 000 people or 20 percent of the entire population of Chin State may be in need of immediate food aid. Food scarcity is more severe in remote areas where families are being reduced to one meal a day or have nothing at all left to eat. The humanitarian consequences stemming from the dying bamboo and exacerbated by conditions imposed by the military regime, such as forced labour and the confiscation of farmland for cash crops such as tea and Jatropha for biofuel, are enormous, and there are clear indications that unless urgent action is taken to address the crisis, the situation could soon turn into a large-scale catastrophe affecting all parts of Chin State.

PWRDF has approved a grant of $15,000 in response to this crisis. The Chin Human Rights Organization in partnership with the local Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee is assisting 700 families from 20 different villages in Chin State with food relief, mainly rice, that will help sustain them for a month.

Rampaging Rats Bring Starvation to Burma

By Bernadette Carroll
September 26, 2008
BBC News, Chin state, Burma ( http://news. 2/hi/asia- pacific/7633986. stm )

Rats destroy subsistence crops in Burma’s Chin State

In Burma’s north-west Chin state, thousands of people say they are starving. The Mara tribe say hundreds of their community have died in the past two months alone.

Local human rights groups say of an estimated 500,000 population, 100,000 people are at crisis point.

They blame a natural phenomenon, which occurs every 50 years in the region – a plague of rats.

The last time it happened – in the late 1950s – an estimated 15,000 people died from famine.

Across the border, India has implemented emergency measures to deal with the threat, but Burma’s military government has been silent on the matter.

Bamboo flowers

The United Nations World Food Programme has conducted an assessment in the region.

In an email earlier this year to a Burmese non-governmental organisation, the WFP’s country director for Burma, Chris Kaye, concluded that “people are not dying of starvation” and that the “distribution of WFP relief food would be inappropriate”.

It is a response which inspired over 50 people from the Mara tribe to walk for days through thick, mountainous jungle to meet me at a secret location on the India-Burma borderlands.

They say that the WFP’s assessment did not include southern Chin where they live and that if the international community fails to take them into account, their tribe may not survive.

They all tell the same story of how, when the bamboo flowers, it causes a plague of rats.

When the rats have finished gorging on the bamboo fruits, they go on to devour farm crops, which provide the main form of income for the Mara people.

“You can track the movement of the rats,” one man said. “Overnight the whole mountain range can be destroyed.”

Another told me how he had tried to fend off the rats by building rat traps all around his field of maize.

“More than 100, but it’s meaningless, I cannot protect the farm,” he said.

Painfully thin

The nearest hospital is miles away through mountainous jungle. All the villagers I met were painfully thin.

Dr Sasa is a local from southern Chin state and a medical student in his final year of studies in Armenia.

Before the food shortages took hold, villagers gave their livestock to pay for his training so that he could return and be their doctor.

Villagers say the Burmese government is doing nothing to help
He was not due back until he finished his studies but when he heard the WFP had dismissed claims of a famine, he set up mobile clinics in the borderlands.

In the two months he has been back in the region, he says he has delivered dozens of dead babies and seen over 200 people starve to death.

“Many of them die of malnutrition,” he says.

“Our whole body needs to be filled with food, which builds our immunity against disease. When you are malnourished, disease comes to you and you have no ability to resist.”

Government inaction

Dr Sasa and the villagers all say that the WFP’s assessment did not include them.

That view is shared by the chief minister of Mizoram state in neighbouring India, Pu Zoramthanga. Mizoram is also affected by the bamboo flowering.

“Those visitors went to the accessible areas. There will be no famine there,” says the minister. “If they had visited the area near the border with Mizoram, certainly people are suffering. They have to go back and see.”

He says if protective measures had been put in place by the Burmese government, the famine would not be happening now.

“The government of India sent a good amount of money for advance preparation to combat this – to make storage of rice and instead let us grow cash crops like ginger and turmeric, which the rats won’t eat,” the minister adds.

“With this we combat the bamboo flowering and famine.”

The villagers I have met all tell me that the Burmese government is doing nothing to help. If anything, they say, the government is making the situation worse.

They say that the military – which has increased its presence in Chin state – taxes them, takes their possessions including their livestock, and forces them to work without pay as labourers or porters.

One pastor told me he advised his parishioners to do whatever the military asked of them.

“We ask God to endure this suffering,” he says.

When I asked him how it would help, he referred to the Bible.

“If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other, we taught like that. Is this right? I don’t know,” he asks.

Super Rats Invade; Blamed for Myanmar Famine
As Thousands Starve, Officials Seize Food Aid, Relief Groups Say

ABC News (
October 16, 2008

A rat infestation so severe that an estimated 100,000 people are on the brink of starvation is devastating the Chin State in Western Burma, and the nation’s government is doing nothing to help its people, according to activists fighting for aid.

The region is currently suffering from “maudam,” a phenomenon that occurs about once every 50 years, in which flowering bamboo trees produce a fruit that nourishes the rat population. The last time it struck was in 1958, with other occurrences in 1911 and 1862.

Human right organizations on the ground say as many as 100 children and elderly have already died from malnutrition as the rats ravage the community’s crops. While this infestation started as a natural disaster, it is being met by gross neglect by the nation’s leaders, according to the rights groups.

“The famine is little known, poorly dealt with, and ignored by the government,” said Salai Bawi Lian (Executive Director) of the Chin Human Rights Organization, which is based in Canada.

“In this area, people have been suffering, dying, no people know about it,” Lian said of the Chin region, which he described at the most isolated jungle area in the country.

Instead of cannibalizing their young for food, as these rats normally do, the bamboo fruit provides the rats with the means to multiply by the millions. And when there is no fruit left, the plague of hungry rats decimate rice and corn crops in Western Myanmar so much so that an estimated 200 villages of an estimated 100,000 Chin people are now without food.

“Rats are everywhere, everywhere,” Victor Biak Lian, of the Chin Human Rights organization who recently visited the region. “What I see is starvation.”

And while the rat problem is explosive, the rights groups say that what is even more horrific is the way in which the Myanmar government has responded: by doing nothing. Burma is not the only nation plagued by this phenomenon, but aid workers say it is the only one where no action is being taken by its government. The bamboo flower-fuelled disaster has also hit India, but the government there formed alliances with NGOs and prepared for the crisis.

According to a report by activist Edith Mirante for the NGO Project Maje, India has responded by paying Indian citizens for every rat caught in regional villages, building rat-proof granaries, and building roads and helipads to access outlying villages so that food aid can be provided to needy citizens.

And although the Indian government and NGOs are providing food aid for the affected region there – the Bangladeshi government has also received food aid and support from the United Nations World Food Program for its maudam problem – activists say no such relief is being provided to the Chin people by the Burmese government.

Aid that does make it to the Chin is, for the most part, coming in the form of 60-pound bags of donated rice from Western Christian groups. And even that is reportedly endangered.

Myanmar Officials Seizing Food Aid, Say Officials

The Chin Human Rights Organization reports that more than 450 bags of rice donated as food aid by the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of the Province of Myanmar in April were confiscated by the Burmese government. The group says this rice was then sold at an overpriced rate so that the local authorities could make a profit.

“We have to be very careful when dealing with the government in Myanmar,” said Paul Risley, a spokesperson for the Asian division of U.N. World Food Program. “They are almost as bad as the government in North Korea, with a bunch of old generals sitting high in their newly built capital.”

The U.N. has recently sent international staff to Chin State, but Risley said aid agencies in the affected areas have to be careful not just to provide food for needy villages, which could lead to those villages being overwhelmed by hungry villagers from other areas. Instead, the U.N. has proposed a work-for-food program in which Chin farmers and villages will jointly work on community projects — like building roads and schools — in exchange for bags of rice.

“As long as we are taking care of the food problem that the generals of the Myanmar government would otherwise have to deal with themselves, we are fairly confident we can do this,” Risley continued, saying that the government could end up constraining relief efforts. The U.N. is currently asking the U.S. and other countries to provide funding and support for the Chin.

The Chin Human Rights Organization and the U.S. Campaign for Burma believe at least $1 million is needed for immediate assistance.

Experts estimate that the maudam will last between two and five years, and relief organizations say that a sustained relief effort will be needed to address a devastated Chin society.

The Chin people are an ethnic minority in Burma – one of the many minorities that the Burmese government mistreats, according to human rights activists. To make matters worse, says Jeremy Woodrum of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, the Chin people are also Christians, forming a religious minority in the nation that the Myanmar government reportedly often abuses.

“The Burmese government is among the most brutal in the world, with twice as many mistreated villages than are in Darfur and the Sudan,” said Woodrum. “Having a natural disaster wipe out the Chin people, a detested ethnic and religious minority, serves the Burmese regime’s interest.”

The Burmese government did not return phone calls from ABC News.

India urged to take Burmese refugees

Australia Broadcasting Corporation

Radion Australia: February 2, 2009 12:19:39

A report released last week by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch provides a rare insight into on-going human rights abuses by Burma’s military authorities against Burma’s ethnic Chin who live in the western region near the border with India.

The human rights group is pressing India to grant the United Nations High Commission for Refugees – UNHCR – access to some 100,000 Chin living in India’s Mizoram State, after fleeing persecution and poverty in Burma.

Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Amy Alexander reseacher Human Rights Watch; Sara Colm, senior researcher Human Rights Watch; Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Chin Human Rights Organization director

CORBEN: The Human Rights Watch report into the plight of Burma’s ethnic Chin people followed a three year investigation into abuses committed by the Burmese Government against the Chin – a largely Christian minority. The report, entitled “We are like forgotten people”, documented widespread abuses carried out by the Burmese Army and government officials. Amy Alexander is a researcher and co-author to the report that covered 140 interviews with Chin refugees in Malaysia, Thailand and India.

ALEXANDER: Human Rights Watch has documented widespread killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and mistreatment, forced labor, reprisals against the opposition, restrictions on movement, freedom of expression and religious freedom, as well as extortion and confiscation of personal property.

CORBEN: The report spoke of the Chin facing regular arrests and imprisonment to stifle dissent as well as the military undertaking religious persecution. Some 90 per cent of the Chin population is Christian. Many are forced to work as porters for the Army. Political dissidents reported beatings and torture by electric shock.

The ongoing rights abuse over several years has led to as many as 100,000 Chin fleeing into India’s Mizoram state.
Sara Colm is a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch which is pressing India to grant UNHCR access to the Chin to provide assistance.

COLM: We have people fleeing really repressive human-rights situations in Burma to India and there is no access to them by the UNHCR … We are calling today for pressure to be brought to bear on the Indian Government to allow U.N. officials access to the border regions of Burma on a permanent basis and not force asylum seekers to have to make the long trek down to New Delhi.

CORBEN: Later I asked Ms Colm how India would respond to the call from Human Rights Watch.

COLM: I think the fact that Chin have been fleeing Burma through Mizoram state of India for more several decades now and for the most part there has not been any refugee camps allowed to be established there, UNHCR has not had a presence there indicates it could be difficult to get the Indian Government to agree. I mean India has shown itself to be a very hospitable nation for people fleeing – for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing other countries in the region. Even though India is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention it takes many, many refugees and many of them do end up being recognised officially by UNHCR and then others the Indian government takes under its wing.

CORBEN: But the Chin people’s plight has been aggravated in recent years by food shortages and famine conditions. In 2005 United Nations surveys found 70 per cent of the Chin in Burma lived below the poverty line, and 40 per cent faced severe food shortages.
Chin Human Rights Organization director, Salai Bawi Lian Mang, who welcomed the Human Rights Watch report, says the food shortages have added to the suffering of the Chin people.

LIAN MANG: Chin state, even in a normal situation is one of the poorest states in Burma, even by the Burma standard and on top of that every 50 year the bamboo flower and the rat infestation and the rat go into the field and destroy all farm products. In Chin state it began in early 2007. The Chin Human Rights Organization report released a report in July 2008 – according to our research and report over 200 villages have no, nothing to eat and about 100,000 Chin are at the brink of starvation and this Chin state is facing famine and the government of Burma, the State Peace and Development Council is doing nothing,so this is a very serious situation.

Human Rights Watch shows systematic, officially sanctioned religious freedom violations.

DUBLIN, February 20, 2009 (Compass Direct News) – A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in January details serious and ongoing abuses against the Chin people, a minority group in Burma’s northwest who claim to be 90 percent Christian.

HRW’s research echoes a 2004 report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) that described targeted abuse of Christians in Chin state, with the Burmese army subjecting pastors and church members to forced labor, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and sometimes death.

While religious oppression is extreme in Chin state, restrictions also apply elsewhere in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Most recently, officials in January forced the closure of more than 100 churches in Rangoon and ordered owners of apartment buildings and conference facilities not to rent their properties to religious groups.

Based on interviews with Chin refugees in India and Malaysia between 2003 and 2008, HRW’s report describes how an increasing number of army battalions stationed in Chin state since 1988 have inflicted forced labor and arbitrary fines on the Chin people, as well as bullied them away from Christianity toward Buddhism.

“When we meet the army, we are shaking,” a Chin refugee pastor told HRW. “Whatever they want is law.”

The HRW report, entitled “We Are Like Forgotten People,” notes that soldiers frequently forced Christians to donate finances and labor to pagoda construction projects in areas where there were few or no Buddhist residents.

They also occasionally forced Christians to worship in Buddhist pagodas. One Chin pastor described how Burmese soldiers brought him to a pagoda and prodded him with their guns, commanding him to pray as a Buddhist.

“They said that this is a Buddhist country and that I should not practice Christianity,” he told HRW.

The military forced village headmen to present “volunteers” for military training or army construction projects and secured “donations” such as food or finance for army battalions. Soldiers severely beat or detained headmen if a village failed to meet quotas, seizing livestock or property in retribution.

Pastors often faced similar treatment, particularly if church members were accused – often without proof – of involvement with the Chin National Front insurgency group. HRW listed arrest, detention and torture as methods used against those accused of being part of the Chin National Front, based across the border in northeast India. Torture included beatings with sticks or guns and electric shocks via metal clips attached to high-voltage batteries. Such measures were also used to crush dissent against army policies such as failure to pay extortionate and arbitrary fees.

The military government promoted Buddhism over all other religions in Chin state through threats and inducements, destroying churches and other religious symbols, and restricting the printing and importing of Bibles and other Christian literature, HRW reported.

A judge in 1999 sentenced one man from Falam township to three years in prison for bringing Chin language Bibles into Burma, contravening Burma’s 1965 Censor Law. Authorities also burned 16,000 copies of Chin and other ethnic language Bibles brought into neighboring Sagaing Division, another Chin majority area, in 2000.

‘Campaign of Ethnocide’

CHRO’s 2004 report, “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma,” explained that Christianity had become inseparable from Chin culture following the arrival of American Baptist missionaries in 1899.

The report, based on information gathered in Chin state, gave numerous examples of the destruction of churches and crosses, the burning of Bibles and restrictions on other religious publications and activities between 1993 and 2004 – including the extrajudicial killings of four Chin Christians in 1993.

Burmese authorities routinely denied permission for the construction of new churches and required permits for large church gatherings, although lengthy bureaucratic processes meant that most of these gatherings were eventually postponed or cancelled.

A September 2008 U.S. Department of State report confirmed that Chin state authorities have not granted permission to build a new church since 2003.

As recently as last November, a government official ordered residents of Tayawaddy village in neighboring Sagaing Division to destroy the foundations of a new church building erected by members of a Chin Christian student fellowship. A report in the Chinland Guardian claimed villagers were subsequently ordered not to rent their homes to Chin students or the homes would be destroyed.

Enticement to Convert

CHRO’s report gave clear evidence of government support for coerced conversions. For example, the government offered free secular education to several children from impoverished families, only to place them as novice monks in Buddhist monasteries in Rangoon.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs has also sent Buddhist monks to villages and towns throughout Chin state under the Hill Regions Buddhist Mission program, one of several Buddhist missionary initiatives highlighted on the ministry’s website. Chin residents who spoke to CHRO likened these monks to “military intelligence” operatives who worked in partnership with Burmese soldiers to control the Chin people.

According to one Chin resident, “Anyone who doesn’t abide by the monks’ orders is reported to the State Peace and Development Council [Burmese government officials] and punished by the army.”

Another Chin man from Matupi township attended a government-sponsored “social welfare” training session only to discover that it was a propaganda session led by a Buddhist monk.

“In the training we were taught the 17 facts of how to attack and disfigure Christians,” he explained.

The 17-point method encouraged converts to criticize Christian ways of life as corrupting culture in Burma, to point out weaknesses in Christianity, and to attack Christians by both violent and non-violent means.

“We were promised that 1,200 kyats per month [US$190] would be provided to those families who became Buddhist,” the training participant added. That amount of money is significant in the Burmese economy.

The instructor also ensured participants that they would be exempt from “portering” and other forms of forced labor and compulsory “donations” if they converted, and that the government would provide education for their children.

“I became a Buddhist because of such privileges rather than because I think Buddhism is better than Christianity,” the Chin participant told CHRO.

Religious Policy Elsewhere

According to CHRO, both the Burmese army and the monks are pursuing an unofficial government policy summed up in three words; “Amyo, Batha, Thathana,” which translates as “One race, one language, one religion” – or Burman, Burmese and Buddhist.

This policy was exemplified by the forced closure in January of more than 100 churches in the capital, Rangoon.

Officials on Jan. 5 invited pastors from more than 100 Rangoon churches to a meeting where they were ordered to sign documents pledging to cease operation of their churches or face imprisonment. About 50 pastors attended, according to Burmese news agency Mizzima.

A CHRO spokesman told Compass yesterday that a significant number of these churches were ethnic rather than majority Burman churches.

In mid-January, officials ordered several other major Rangoon churches to close, including Wather Hope Church, Emmanuel Church and an Assemblies of God Church. (See Compass Direct News, “Burma Clamps Down on Christians,” Jan. 21.)

Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs in January summoned the owners of buildings where churches met and ordered them not to rent their properties to religious groups, according to another local online news source, the Democratic Voice of Burma.

In the late 1990s, Burma stopped issuing permits for land purchase or the construction of new churches in Rangoon and elsewhere, leading many Burmese Christians to conduct services in rented apartments or office buildings.

The church closure orders may simply be an extension of Burma’s existing religious policies, which elevate Buddhism in an effort to solidify national identity. The country’s population is 82 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 4 percent Muslim, with traditional ethnic, Chinese and Hindu religions accounting for the rest.

In a 2007 report describing religious persecution throughout Burma, including Chin state, Christian Solidarity Worldwide cited the “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma,” a 17-point document that had circulated widely in Rangoon. Allegedly authorized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the program’s first point declared that, “There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”

The Ministry of Religious Affairs subsequently pressured religious organizations to publicly condemn CSW’s report and deny all claims of religious discrimination in Burma.


HRW Urges Myanmar to Stop Abuse of Chin Minority

January 28, 2009

The high military presence has deeply affected the lives of Christian Chin in western Myanmar    The high military presence has deeply affected the lives of Christian Chin in western Myanmar    

A report by Human Rights Watch called on the military government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, on Wednesday to end ongoing rights abuse against the largely Christian ethnic Chin population in the country’s west. The New York-based rights group also called on India to provide better protection for the Chin refugees who have fled to the state of Mizoram, which borders Myanmar.

The report, which was released in Bangkok, documents a wide range of abuses that have taken place over recent years, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, forced labour, torture, beatings, religious repression and the destruction of Christian crosses.

A senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, Sara Colm, said the high military presence in Chin had deeply affected people’s lives, as they were “basically being controlled and ruined by the system.”

She said that people had told them about hardships in Chin state, “where they can’t get to their own farms because they are forced to work for the military, for example building roads for free. Through this report today and our research we’re trying to expose the problems of western Burma.”

Problems in India too

There are also problems in India, where up to 100,000 Chin have fled into the state of Mizoram to escape persecution and poverty in recent years.

Many of them face discrimination and the constant threat of arrest and deportation back to Myanmar where they are at risk of imprisonment and death.

Amy Alexander, a researcher and co-writer of the report, said that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had “requested access to Mizoram but so far had been denied it by the Indian government.” She urged Delhi to allow “access to this very large population in need of protection.”

Some 4,000 Chin have trekked over 2,000 kilometres to the UNHCR offices in Delhi to seek registration.

Food shortages exacerbating situation

There are likely to be more Chin coming into India as the situation they face in Myanmar is further exacerbated by a serious food shortage after rats infested the local fields. The director of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, Salai Bawi Lian Mang, said 70 percent of the population was living below the poverty line and 40 percent faced severe food shortages.

“According to our research and report, over 200 villages have nothing to eat and above 100,000 Chin are at the brink of starvation — and Chin state is facing famine and the government of Burma — the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is doing nothing so this is a very serious situation.”

The Human Rights Watch report calls for the military to halt its abuses and allow international aid and humanitarian relief organisations access to Chin state as well as urging India to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention and end the forced deportations of Chin.

Moreover, it appeals to the international community to increase pressure on Myanmar.
Ron Corben 28/01/09

To protect and promote human rights and democratic principles