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The US Commission on International Religious Freedom Public Hearing: Statement by Salai Bawi Lian
The United States Commission On International Religious Freedom
After The Saffron Revolution, Repression, And The U.S. Policy Option
Statement By Salai Bawi Lian
Chin Human Rights Organization
Washington DC-December 3, 2007
Thank you. Thank you very much Mr. Chairman and the honorable commission.
A few months ago, the world witnessed how the Burmese military regime, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) ruthlessly persecuted Buddhist monks in the street of Rangoon. The whole world was shocked.
In fact, the SPDC have been systematically persecuting religious minority groups such as Chin Christians for decades. I am honored to be invited to this important hearing to tell how the military junta in Burma has systematically persecuted Chin Christians who inhabit Burma’s western territory of Chin State or Chinland.
My name is Salai Bawi Lian from Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). I am an ethnic Chin from Burma.
When I and my colleagues founded Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), our intention was to document all incidents of human rights abuses against Chin people without focusing on a single issue. However, as time went on, it was quickly obvious that the issue of religious persecution was a matter of great concern to us. At least one piece of information in the reports that we gathered for our bimonthly newsletter, Rhododendron News, has had to do religious persecution against Chin Christians. The CHRO eventually published a book “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christian in Burma” in 2005 that can be downloaded from CHRO website at www.chro.org
When I look back the record of CHRO documentation for the past 12 years, its begin with the news about 5 Chin Christian children lured and forced to become young Buddhist monks and nuns in 1995 and the last information report we received as recently as last month November 2007 that Chin Christian students in one particular town of Chin state are regularly forced to observe Buddhist merit making in the middle of the week that the entire school have to be closed on official school day. Then the entire school has to make up their missing day on Saturday.
The SPDC and successive Burmese military regime have been systematically persecuting Chin Christians for decades that the SPDC;
- Prohibit construction of Churches, Destroyed Crosses and Replaced With Pagodas or Statue of Buddhist Monk
- After 1990s the Chins never get permit to construct Churches
- Destroyed most Crossed planted in towns and replaced with Buddhist pagodas or Buddhist monk statue
- The order to destroy cross usually come from the highest military rank in the region
- The largest Cross remaining, 50 foot tall, in Chin State was destroyed in 2005 with direct order from the highest military commander in Chin State.
Censor Christian Literature and Publication
- Since 1962 the Chin Christians never get permission to print the Holy Bible in their own language in Burma
- In the year 2000 the CHRO received a report that 16,000 Bibles was confiscated by the SPDC in the India-Burma border town of Tamu.
- The Chins are prohibited to learn their own language in their own homeland.
- Christian pastors and ministers are highly respected among the Chin people
- They are highly respected as intermediaries between God and the congregations.
- The dignitary position of pastors and ministers made jealousy of the military regime that they are the first targets in the regime’s campaign against Chin Christians
- Rev. Zaangkholet and three of the village elders were brutally killed. Rev. Luai Thang was humiliated and brutally killed. Several other pastors and minister have been humiliated and arrested.
Restrict on Freedom of Assembly and Worship
- All Christians gathering and conference including religious festival require prior authorization by the Military regime.
- The regime usually impose many restrictions.
- In some occasion the sermon had to be approved by the authority.
Discriminate Based on Ethnicity and Religion
- Christians with non-Burman ethnic background can not be promoted in high ranking government official.
- In the Army Chin Christian can not be promoted beyond Major rank unless they converted to Buddhism.
- There are 3 categories (A, B, and C) designated for those who can not be promoted in the rank. A stands for AIDS symptom, B stands for Hepatitis B and C stands for Christians.
Selective Forced Labor
- Forced labor is a widespread practice in Burma.
- However, forced labor is specifically directed against Chin Christians in order to coerce them into converting to Buddhism.
- Those who converts to Buddhism are exempted from forced labor while Christians are forced to work on Sundays.
State Sponsor Expansion of Buddhism
- Since early 1990s the Burmese military regime created Hill Region Buddhist Mission and send many Buddhist monks to Chin state.
- Chin Christians are forced to contribute labor, money for construction of Buddhist monasteries and Pagodas, and forced to listen the Buddhist monk sermons.
- Many Chin Christians children have been lured to provide education in a bigger town. However Children are later found to be in Buddhist monasteries with their head shaven to become novice Buddhist monks.
A People and Culture at Stake
- Due to militarization and human rights violations committed by the Burmese military regime against Chin Christians, many can not longer survive.
- There are 60 thousands Chin refugees living in India.
- There are between 25 thousands Chin refugees living in Malaysia
- The Chin people are facing untold poverty and humanitarian crisis
- Needed national reconciliation through dialogue
- Needed to implement Broad Based Constitutional Review Commission proposed by UN Needed to implement Broad Based Poverty Alleviation Commission
Thank you very much.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Amnesty International Hong Kong: Statement By Salai Bawi Lian
Human Rights Situation in Chinland
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Joint Venue Hosted
Lawyers Group of Amnesty International (Hong Kong)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (Hong Kong)
November 7, 2005 Hong Kong
I would like to say thank you to the CWS (Hong Kong) and the Lawyers Group of Amnesty International (Hong Kong) for creating this venue, exclusively for the situation of human rights in Chinland (Chin state and western Burma). I am honored to speak about human rights situation in Chinland to a group of intellectuals, lawyers, the AI (Hong Kong) and CSW (Hong Kong) who have committed in promotion of human rights around the world.
Thanks to Ms. Chato Olivas Gallo for your nice introduction. My name is Salai Bawi Lian Mang from Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). The CHRO is an independent non-governmental human rights organization. We aim to protect and promote human rights among the Chin people, and to contribute to the movement for the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma. Founded in 1995, CHRO has worked to document the human rights situations of the Chin people in Burma’s western region.
Even though the political and human rights situation in Burma has gained international attention in recent years, the situation of the Chin people remained largely unknown by international community.
I am regrets to say that human rights conditions among Burma’s ethnic people, including the Chin people continue to remain a matter of grave concern. In fact, human rights conditions of the Chin people have become worse and the number of displaced persons and refugees has increased in recent years. Under the reign of the State Peace and Development Council, the Chin people have continued to experience untold miseries and hardships as a result of the systematic abuse of their fundamental human rights.
There is a direct link between the growing abuse against the Chin people and the increase in militarization of the Chin areas. In the last fifteen years since the regime took over power, the number of army battalions stationed in Chin State has increased up to 10 times. This increase has been accompanied by the rapid acceleration in the level of human rights abuses across Chin State. The kind of human rights violations suffered by the Chins today are the same as those that have been extensively reported among ethnic Karen, Shan, and Karenni on the eastern border. These violations manifest in the forms of arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labor, torture, rape and extrajudicial executions. Moreover, the overwhelming percentage of Christians among the Chin people has also brought abuses in the form of religious persecution. Today, religious persecution is a matter of primary concern among the Chin people.
Since 1999, the US State Department has singled out Burma as a country that systematically violates religious freedom. The annual reports have cited a significant amount of cases of religious persecution involving the Chin people.
Religious persecution poses a matter of grave concern among the Chin people. Chin Human Rights Organization, since 1995, has documented a range of human rights abuses by the military regime against the Chin people, including violations of religious freedom.
In December of 2004, Burma hosted a World Buddhists Summit amidst questions about its worthiness to organize such international meeting given the regime’s abysmal record of treating religious minorities and absolute disregard for fundamental human rights. Around the same time that this meeting took place in Rangoon, Burmese troops from Light Infantry Battalion (304) desecrated a Christian cross in Matupi of southern Chinland.
On January 3, 2005 a giant Christian cross on top of Mount Boi near Matupi town of Chin State was destroyed by Burmese troops on direct order of Colonel San Aung, one of the highest ranking military commanders in the region. The 50-foot tall concrete cross was erected by local Christians at the cost three and a half million Kyats. After destroying the cross, troops from Light Infantry Battalion (304) hoisted a Burmese flag as a sign of victory against Christianity in Chin State where more than 90 percent of the populations are Christians. There are reports the regime is making plans to construct a Buddhist pagoda on the site.
Christian religion has deep root in the Chin society. Since the first Chin conversion in the early 20th century following the arrival of American Baptist missionaries to the Chin Hills, Christianity gradually became accepted by a large majority of the Chin populations, who had practiced traditional animism for centuries. After a century since then, Christianity now is second culture for many Chin people.
Chin people today claim that more than 90 percent of Chins are Christians. Because of the overwhelming importance of Christianity among the Chins, the junta, which strongly identifies itself with Buddhism and has been preoccupied with building national unity has been trying to promote Buddhism over Christianity in Chin State with the belief that once the Chins are converted to Buddhism they can be easily subjugated.
For this reason, the regime has resorted to persecuting the Chins, a drastic action that involves arbitrarily removing Christian crosses erected by churches on hilltops throughout Chin State and openly directing and supporting coerced conversions of Christians into Buddhism.
Through the Hill Buddhist Mission, a program directly sponsored by the military regime, Buddhist monks have migrated to the Chin State. In every town and major villages in Chin State, the regime has established a Buddhist pagoda and station monks who are closely working with local army battalions. Buddhist pagodas are often built in places where Christian monuments such as crosses have formerly stood, and Christians have been either forced to donate money or forced to build the pagodas.
The regime is putting close scrutiny on preachers and evangelists, and in many instances has made effort to censor the contents of sermons delivered by Christian pastors and ministers. Citing the risk of security, authorities have either not permitted or arbitrarily set the number of people who could attend religious festivals and conferences. Moreover, the regime has still not permitted the printing and publication of Bibles, forcing Chin Christians to quietly bringing Bibles from abroad. In several instances, army authorities have confiscated Chin-language Bibles imported from India, and burnt or destroyed them.
Construction of new church buildings is prohibited and Christians must obtain prior authorization for even renovation of church buildings. These are all in stark contrast to the freedoms enjoyed by monks and Buddhists whose activities are openly supported, and encouraged by authorities. Several reports documented by CHRO show that army patrols have deliberately used Church compounds for shelter and camps, and have purposefully disturbed Church services by entering into churches during Sunday worship services.
The regime has also targeted Christian leaders by falsely implicating and accusing them of supporting anti-government groups, and has jailed and tortured many pastors. In remote villages and other rural areas in Chin State, army units on patrols have frequently mistreated, assaulted and tortured Christian pastors.
Coerced conversions of Christian families and children have also been reported in several parts of Chin State. Those who convert to Buddhism were exempted from forced labor and given special privileges. Local authorities have frequently recruited Christian children under the pretext of giving them formal education in cities. The last incidents happening in last year, five Christian children, between the ages of 7 and 18 years old from Matupi township of Chin State, who had been placed in monasteries in Rangoon, escaped confinement in Buddhist temples where they have been forced to follow Buddhist teachings.
Restriction on the use and teaching of Chin language:
Under the military regime, the teaching of Chin language in school is prohibited. In elementary schools, the permitted level of teaching Chin language is grade 2. Publications of textbooks in Chin are not provided for by the government and Christian churches are forced to bear the burden of supplying these texts. Chin school teachers of all levels of high school in Chin State are instructed to use Burmese as a medium of communication with their students. This measure has greatly diminished the level of understanding by the students in school and has served to downgrade student performance. Since the mid 1990s, the new curriculum is dominated by perspectives of Burmese or Burman culture and history, and students have complained about the lack of substance that reflects ethnic Chin perspectives in the subject. This has also been seen as an open attempt to assimilate the Chin youth into mainstream Burman culture.
Because of the limited number of government schools available for the Chin populations in Chin State, communities in rural villages have set up private schools to allow the children access to primary education. Unsupported by the government, villages have to seek their own means of running the school by contributing money and resources for the schools. However, since 1998, the regime has banned many self-supported private schools, depriving many children in rural communities of primary education. It should be noted that because these private schools are not under direct control of the government, they were able to offer alternative learning in Chin language. Restriction on the learning of Chin language has already taken its toll on the Chin youth. A high percentage of Chin teenagers are not able to read and write in their own language. This has been exacerbated by the fact that many Chin children look down on their own language and had instead chosen to use Burmese.
Burma has claimed that it has outlawed the practice of forced labor in 2001. However, independent investigations into this claim have found the pervasiveness and the continued use of forced labor in the Chin State. Local army battalions have routinely exacted forced labor from villagers and rural communities in building roads, army camps, development infrastructures and agricultural projects. In major townships of Chin state such as Hakha, Falam, Matupi and Thantlang, civilians are being routinely forced to work at government tea plantation farms. I am not going in detail about the forced labor situation, instead, I will refer you to the report we made a few months ago.The report titled “THE FORCED LABOR PANDEMIC IN CHINLAND”
The Chin people are not represented in the central, state and local administration under the military regime. After the regime nullified the results of the 1990 elections, all Chin political parties were declared illegal. These political parties include the Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), the Mara Peoples Party (MPP) and Zomi National Congress (ZNC) Party. Subsequent crackdowns on political dissidents have forced 3 of the 13 Chin Members of Parliament to flee the country while 2 others were arrested and imprisoned for several years. Since early 1990s, the entire Chin populations have forced to live under virtual curfew. Dozens of civilians accused of supporting, Chin National Front, underground movement were arrested, tortured and imprisoned under the Unlawful Association Act. Civilians charged under this act are routinely tortured in interrogating chambers. According to a former a woman prisoner, she was humiliated, tortured and deprived of food and sleep for one week before she was arbitrarily sentenced to 3 years in prison.
I would like to highlight the particularly grave situations of Chin refugees. In the year since the military regime took over power in 1988, about 60,000 Chin refugees have fled to India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. At least 50,000 Chin refugees have lived in Mizoram State of northeast India. Neither the Government of India nor the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized them as refugees. As a result Chin refugees have frequently been forced back to Burma.
The need for protection and humanitarian assistance of Chin refugees in Malaysia is no less important. Over the past few years, more than 12,000 Chin refugees have also sought sanctuary in Malaysia. Like the Chin refugees in India, they are identified as ‘illegal’ and risk frequent arrest and deportation by Malaysian authorities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized only a very small fraction of Chin refugees.
The problems faced by Burma’s ethnic groups, including the Chin people are the direct consequence of military rule and its campaign of State organized terrorism directed primarily against the ethnic people who constitute more than 40% of the country’s population. Today, the Chin people and all the ethnic people are fighting for our very survival as a people. Our cultural, ethnic and religious identities are being rapidly eroded, and our very survival as a people is being threatened by the policies of ethnic cleansing relentlessly conducted by the military regime.
Due to militarization and rampant human rights violations committed by the Burmese military regime, the Chin people have suffer untold misery in their daily lives and the Burmese military regime has created the situation that is impossible for the Chin people to survive in their own land.
The sufferings of the ethnic nationalities could only be remedied through fundamental change in the political system, a change that would allow the ethnic people equitable representation in the decision-making process of the country. Time is passing and innocent lives are being lost. The international community needs to take effective and urgent actions on Burma before the problems develop into an irreversible stage.
I hope I have presented a brief overall human rights situation in Chinland, and I think it will be good to open the panel for discussion and questions and answers. I will be happy to answer any question you may have.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Hong Kong, November 7, 2005
Persecution of Chin Christians in Burma By Salai Bawi Lian: International Conference on Persecuted
PERSECUTION OF CHIN CHRISTIANS IN BURMA
A SPEECH DELIVERED
SALAI BAWI LIAN
CHIN HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PERSECUTED CHURCHES
COLUMBIA, APRIL 15-16, 2005
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to this important gathering of good Christians here in the city of Columbia. I am particularly appreciative that I have the opportunity to speak about persecuted Chin Christians from Burma, who can not speak for themselves, who have been suffering so long under the most brutal and ruthless military regime in the world.
I have come to this conference with the aim of bringing light to the decades-long systematic denial and violation of religious rights of Chin Christians who inhabit Burma’s western territory of Chin State or Chinland by the country’s ruling military junta known as the State Peace and Development Council.
My name is Salai Bawi Lian Mang, from Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). I am an ethnic Chin from Burma.
The Chin people are one of the major ethnic groups in Burma. A South-East Asian Nation with the population of 54 million, Burma is composed with 8 major ethnic groups; Arakan, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan, and Burmese are majority with about 60% of the country population.
I will briefly talk about overall human rights situation in Burma and then my presentation will focus on persecution of Chin Christians by the ruling Burmese military regime.
At present, Burma is ruled by military junta called State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Since the Burmese military took state power by killing thousands of innocent people in 1988, gross violations of human rights is committed by the military regime including political suppression, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, oppression of ethnic and religious minorities, and use of forced labor.
There are more than one thousand political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Noble Peace Price winner.
Burma is the second largest opium producing country in the world and the ruling military regime is directly links with the drug trade as political crisis, civil war and abuse of power is related with notorious drug trade.
In addition to drugs, the spread of HIV/AIDS is of great concern that can affect regional stability in the near future. Burma after India and Thailand has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Asia. HIV/AIDS epidemic is mainly caused by drug addiction and lack of knowledge and prevention program in the country.
There is a report made by Shan Women Action Networks that the Burmese military regime is using rape as weapon of wars against ethnic Shan. The report details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese soldiers in Shan State, between 1996 and 2001.
The military regime in Burma has violated the right to education by closing universities and colleges in the country for about 9 years within the past 16 years because the military regime views students as a threat to their dictatorial rule as students are the only vocal group that have been standing fearlessly against the military regime.
The use of forced labor is so widespread that the International Labor Organization (ILO) has expelled Burma from the ILO for the regime’s widespread use of forced labor.
Since 1991, the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have for 14 consecutive years adopted consensus resolutions condemning the Burmese military junta’s systematic violations of human rights.
In 2003, President Bush enacted Burma Freedom and Democracy Act in response to the continued and systematic violations of human rights by the Burmese military junta.
Starting from 1999 the US Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor annual report on international religious freedom report has branded Burma as country of particular concern for its widespread practice of religious persecution against minority religion such as Christians. In Burma more than 80% are Buddhist and Christians made only 4% in the country while in Chin state, Christians made about 90% of the population and religious persecution is a major concern in Chin state and among Chin Christians.
The military junta which made its way to power through a bloody coup in 1988 has ruled the country at gunpoint. Preoccupied by the idea of “national unity or unifying the country,” Burma’s military regime has embarked on a policy of creating a single national identity based on the policy of “Amyo, Batha, Thatana” or One race, One Language, One Religion” in other words “to be a Burman is to be a Buddhist” through assimilating all identifiable ethnic minority groups into the mainstream Burman society, a dominant ethnic group with which the regime identifies itself.
Introduction to the Chin People
Chin indigenous people inhabited the land bordering with India from the west, Bangladesh from the South-West, Arakan from the South and Burma from the east. It is estimated that the Chin, in a general sense including outside and inside of Chinland, number as many as two million, with the largest and noticeable number concentrated in the Chin State. The Chins were living as independent nation till the British invaded their land in the late 19th century and annexed all their territory into British Empire in the early 20th century.
After the second World Wars, as Burma’s independence movement grew, the Chin decided to participate with Burmese and other ethnic groups in a constitutional process towards the development of a federal union. Thus, the Chins are co-founder of today Union of Burma by participating in a multi-ethnic conference concluded on February 12, 1947, which led to the creation of an independent federal Union of Burma on January 4, 1948. However, a military coup led by General Ne Win in 1962 effectively ended the Chin’s special political status within the Union of Burma as one of its primary constituent member. Today Chin people in Burma are not represented in any form of political decision-making in the national, state or local administration.
Christianity and Chin People:
In 1899, American Baptist Missionary Rev. Arthur Carson and his wife from American Baptist Mission come to Chinland, present Chin state in Burma, and founded mission station at Haka present capital town of Chin state. Following the arrival of American missionaries, the two Chin couples converted to Christianity in 1904. Over the century almost the whole population in Chin state converted to Christianity and it is estimated that about 90 percent of Chins in Chin state are Christians at present.
In 1953 Baptist Chins organized themselves as Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention. The majority of Chin Christians are Baptist and there are around 1,000 local small churches in all over Chin state and several associations.
Today, the impact of Christianity was not only confined within the spiritual and cultural contexts of the Chin people, it manifested itself as a uniting force for different Chin communities. With their conversion to Christianity, the Chins embraced one another as members of a community of faith in Christ. At the same time, there developed a new self-consciousness and political awareness of Chin cultural homogeneity, thus providing a new framework for Chin nationalism.
Since the first Chin conversion to Christianity in the early 1900s following the arrival of American missionaries, Christianity has been deeply entrenched in Chin society and has become part of the Chin cultural identity. Burma’s ruling military regime is systematically persecuting Chin Christians in order to replace Christianity with Buddhism and assimilated them into mainstream Burman culture. Evidence demonstrates that the military regime is using religious persecution as a tool of ethnocide against Chin Christians.
Persecution of Chin Christian:
As Chin State has the largest concentration of Christians in the whole of Burma in terms percentage, it was not only a large number of Burmese soldiers that was brought into by the Burmese regime, in the name of “Hill Regions Buddhist Mission”, the junta brought in an army of Buddhist monks who were then dispatched to various towns and villages across Chin State. Protected by the soldiers, these Buddhist monks have considerable powers over the Chin population. In many cases, local people have pointed out that the monks are military intelligence operatives who are more powerful than local army commanders. The Chin Human Rights Organization reported about the monks stationed around Matupi Township as follow:
The monks who live at Zakam, Rezua, Leisen, Vangvai and Tinsi villages rule the communities. Anyone who doesn’t abide by the monks orders is reported to the SLORC/SPDC army and he/she is punished by the army. The monks give judgment on all cases. For those who become Buddhist, they are free from any persecution such as forced labour, portering, extortion of money, etc. Whenever and wherever a monk visits, he is accompanied by the army and they arrange a porter to carry the monk’s particulars. The villagers were forced to build a Buddhist monastery and temple. But they refused, insisting “we are Christians”. Even though the army threatened action against them, they didn’t build it yet. Now the monks and army are holding a meeting to discuss this. Nobody knows what will happen.
A 40-year-old Chin Christian from Matupi Township recounted how he was converted to Buddhism, recruited and trained to be part of a campaign against Christians;
“I was invited to attend social welfare training by the [SLORC (now SPDC)] authority from Matupi on 27/2/95. When I arrived at the place, the authority told us that it is to attend Buddhist hill tract missionary training run by a Buddhist monk named U Razinn at Mindat. As we are Christian, we said we didn’t want to go. But the monk persuaded us saying, ‘it is no problem if you are Christian, it is just religious training’. So 5 other persons and I took part in the 10 day training. In the training, we were taught the 17 facts of how to attack and disfigure Christians.”
The 17 points to attack Christians by the regime is as follows:
1. To attack Christian families and the progress of Christians.
2. To criticize against the sermons which are broadcast from Manila, Philippines.
3. To criticize God as narrow-minded and egotistical who himself claimed that “There is no god except eternal God”.
4. To criticize Christian ways of life as corrupted and inappropriate culture in Burma.
5. To criticize the preaching of Christians wherever it has penetrated.
6. To criticize Christianity by means of pointing out its delicacy and weakness.
7. To stop the spread of the Christian movement in rural areas.
8. To criticize by means of pointing out “there is no salvation without purchased by the blood of Christ”.
9. To counterattack by means of pointing out Christianity’s weakness and overcome this with Buddhism.
10. To counter the Bible after thorough study.
11. To criticize that “God loves only Israel but not all the races”.
12. To point out ambiguity between the two testaments.
13. To criticize on the point that Christianity is partisan religion.
14. To criticize Christianity’s concept of the Creator and compare it with the scientific concept.
15. To study and access the amount given in offerings.
16. To criticize the Holy Bible after thorough study.
17. To attack Christians by means of both non-violence and violence.
Christian pastors and ministers secure high reverence and respect among the Chin people. They are highly respected as intermediaries between God and the congregations. Even outside of the Church, they play significant leadership role on occasions such as death, birth or marriage in the community. Also, because there are no Chin people represented in the local or state administration under the Burmese military regime, even in a secular setting, they receive high degrees of respect as leaders of the community. Today, their dignitary position has attracted the attention and jealousy of the ruling military regime, making them the first targets in the regime’s campaign against Christianity and Chin people.
During the past decade, according to Chin Human Rights Organization reports, the Burmese military regime, detained at length, killed or physically abused many Chin Christians.
The following incidents is one grave example how they treated pastors;
In August 1993, the Burmese troop arrested and they (the Burmese Army) interrogated Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the Pastor’s answers did not pleased the interrogators, the army personnel beat him with rifle butts or sticks that eventually broke almost all of his bones after two days of interrogation. They cut open his mouth to the neck and told him “We cut open your mouth so that you will no longer preach”. In the two days that they tortured him, Pastor Zang Kho Let never admitted to using the church fund to help the resistance movement or that he was involved in helping the armed resistance. The soldiers, Non Commissioner Officer NCO’s, and officers tortured the pastor with the intent to kill but he was still alive after two days of their inhuman brutality. When the torturers reported to their Commanding officer, Colonel Thura Sein Win, on the condition of the pastor, the colonel ordered them to tighten a plastic bag over his head. (Thura is an award given for bravery, like the torture of the preacher.)
After Pastor Zang Kho Let died, they dragged his lifeless body out of the school building and shot him. With a bullet wound in his body, the Burmese army unit claimed that they shot the pastor because he was trying to escape. The soldiers brought the dead body of Pastor Zang Kho Let back in the school building and placed together with the leaders of the village community, who were arrested to witness the gruesome state of the body. They were told to feel the bones, which were all broken. They were told, “If you do not tell us the truth and if you do not admit that you helped the rebel, you will face the same fate.”
The headman of the village, Zang Kho Ngam, farmers Ngam Khai, and Thawng Kho Lun admitted to helping the resistance movement in order to escape torture and death. Nonetheless, they were tortured. It took seven days for the three of them to die; they died a slow death. The soldiers cut and burned their skin. They poured salt directly into their open sores. The soldiers zealously repeated the torture that they had just meted out to Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the two farmers died, the soldiers again dragged the bodies outside of the school building and shot. The Burmese Army buried the headman Zang Kho Ngam alive.
Prohibition of Construction of Churches and Desecration of Crosses:
Several Chin Christian churches and infrastructure under construction in the 1990s were forced to stop by the military authority. Those who persisted in constructing their church building had been threatened or punished by the army. CHRO reports that; when the Burmese army ordered to stop construction of Salvation Army Church in Khampat, the pastor of the church ignored the order by resuming construction of the church. He was humiliated and badly beaten up by the army that he was hospitalized for several days.
The military regime reportedly ordered to stop construction of the following churches and Christian infrastructure; Chin Christian centenary building in Hakha – the capital of Chin State; United Pentecostal Church in Hakha; Zomi Theological dining hall in Falam; Church of Jesus Christ in Falam; hostels (both men and women) for Chin Christian College in Haka, Baptist Church in Farhual, Salvation Army church in Khampat, and the Assembly of God’s Church in Kalaymyo, Evangelical Baptist Church in Myoma Quarter, Faith Bible Theological Seminary in Lawibual Quarter, Sakollam Baptist Church, and Lawibual Baptist Church, Lai Baptist Church in Rangoon were prohibited by the authority.
Evidence shows that the Burmese military regime has actively targeted Christian symbols in its campaign of Burmanization and ethnocide against various ethnic groups in the country. Christian crosses erected on the tops of hills throughout Chin State have been destroyed. Many of them replaced with Buddhist pagodas and statue of Buddhist monks. Since the early 1980s, Chin communities in various villages and towns have erected wooden crosses on mounts and hill tops beside their villages and towns to symbolize their faith in Christianity, and to remind themselves of the fact that Christianity has played an important role in shaping their modern society and culture. In some cases, however, the erection of these crosses were in response to what the Chin regarded was the State-sponsored importation of Buddhism into Chin State with the construction of pagodas and temples in certain urban centers which began in the 1970s.
Destruction of crosses started around the early 1990s with the rapid increase in army battalions established across Chin State. Since then, almost every cross in all the nine townships in Chin State had been destroyed by the regime. Destruction of crosses is usually ordered by the township authorities or by army battalion commanders. After an order is issued, the church or community responsible for erecting the cross is given a timeframe during which they must dismantle the cross. Failure to do so within the given period often means that the cross is destroyed by the authorities and that Church leaders are arrested for defiance of orders.
As recently as January 3, 2005 a giant Christian cross on top of Mount Boi near Matupi town of Chin State was destroyed by Burmese troops on direct order of Colonel San Aung, one of the highest ranking military commanders in the region. The 50-foot tall concrete cross was erected by local Christians at the cost three and a half million Kyats. After destroying the cross, troops from Light Infantry Battalion (304) hoisted a Burmese flag as a sign of victory against Christianity in Chin State where more than 90 percent of the populations are Christians. There are reports the regime is making plans to construct a Buddhist pagoda on the site.
Since Chin Christians from inside Burma can not do anything in response to this barbaric act, exiled Chin Christians in Malaysia, India, Canada and the US has responded with protest in front of the Burmese embassies.
I would like to share you what was happening in my home town of Thantlang.
The year 1999 marked one hundredth year of the arrival of Christian gospel among the Chins. The centennial celebration was originally planned for March 15 in Haka, the Capital of Chin state where the first Ameriacan missionaries established their first mission center in 1899. Before the official celebration in Haka, advance celebrations were held locally in various townships under the leadership of local churches. In Thantlang town, the celebration was organized jointly by all denominations in the town from January 1-3 1999.
On January 5, when the celebration was over, the organizers erected a Centenneial Memorial Cross on a hilltop on Vuichip ridge, located west of the town. Though primarily in remembrance of the early American missionaries, selection of the location for the cross had other significance. In addition to its good view from town, the spot has spiritual and religious dimension to it. Before the advent of Christianity, Thantlang residents had traditionally believed that Vuichip ridge was the dwelling place of evil spirits and there had been legends surrounding the spirits roaming the ridge. The erection of the cross on that particular location was to signify that evil spirits have been defeated by the crucifixion Jesus Christ on the cross.
The cross was decorated with looking glasses so that it would be more recognizable when it glows with the reflection from the sun.
On the very night of the cross was erected, the township peace and development council ordered the destruction of the cross, compelling the very people who had erected the cross to destroy it. When the people refused, a section of local police were sent to destroy the cross. Six Christian pastors responsible for organizing the Centennial Celebration and the erection of the Memorial cross were arrested and interrogated by the authority.
In response on January 6, the whole town stage a silent protest by closing down their businesses and refusing to go to work, and by observing 24 hour fast and prayer vigil in their local churches and homes. Fearing the news of protest might spread to other towns; the authorities shutdown telephone connection of the town and arrested 20 more Church leaders. Nevertheless, on January 9, Churches in the Chin state capital, Haka joined the protest, prompting Chairman of the Chin State Peace and Development Council to go to Thantlang to end the strike by threatening and intimidating them.
Restriction on Freedom of Assembly and Worship:
Like all other freedoms, freedom of assembly is subject to severe restriction in Burma. This restriction does not exempt freedom of assembly in religious contexts.
All gatherings and conferences, including celebrations of religious festivals, require prior authorization by the military regime. However, it is usually extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain such authorization for occasions with potentially large turnout. Citing the risk of security associated with such events, the regime arbitrarily limits the number of people who can attend an event. Moreover, organizations must apply directly to the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs in Rangoon for permission, a process which involves a long waiting period. This time-consuming bureaucratic procedure creates uncertainties, and it often results in the event having to be cancelled or postponed. People suspect such kind of procedure is deliberately used to prevent Christians from conducting their religious affairs.
In rural areas, local army commanders often issue direct orders forbidding worship services, as well as Christmas and New Year celebrations. The following is transcript of radio broadcast by the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma on December 23, 2002.
“The SPDC frontline troops summoned people from Haka and Thangtlang Townships in Chin State and told them they were not allowed to hold any Christmas ceremonies and prayer meetings. They went from village to village and told them if they wanted to hold any ceremony they were to hold it in a simple and discrete manner at their homes. Although the chairmen of the village Peace and Development Councils and pastors argued that Christmas is a very auspicious feast for Christians and requested them to allow Christmas celebrations, the column commander of the SPDC forces refused. He also said that if the chairmen and pastors deliberately held any such Christmas feast in defiance of the order, the village chairmen and pastors would all be arrested and recruited as porters. They also threatened to dislocate people.”
Censorship on Christian Literature and Publication:
Since the military government came to power in 1962, the Christians in Burma, especially non-Burman nationalities have mostly been unable to print the Holy Bible in their own language inside Burma. Chin Christians, for instance, printed the Bile in the Chin language in India, and smuggled it into Burma in the 1970s and 1980s. Even the Holy Bible in Burmese, which was translated by Rev. Judson in the 1820s, never received permission to be reprinted from the Censor Board of the Burmese government, or at least the Old Testament never did. Only the New Testament, together with Psalms and Proverbs, once received permission to be printed during the entire period of the Burmese military regime, that is, from 1962 to present.
The CHRO received a report in the year 2000 that, in the month of June 2000, the SPDC officials in Tamu ordered 16,000 copies of the Bible to be burned in Tamu, Sagaing Division that borders India. These Bibles, which were seized in 1999 by the Burmese Army, are in Chin, Karen and other ethnic languages.
Discrimination Based on Ethnicity and Religion:
Under successive Burmese governments, people of non-Burman ethnic and non-Buddhist background find themselves discriminated against their Burman Buddhist counterparts in education, employment and various levels of civil service. Even those in the army and police serving successive governments were systematically denied promotions in rank on the sole basis of their ethnicity and religion.
Since the 1980s, the new Burmese citizenship law required that every citizen of Union of Burma register for a national identity card on which all particulars including the bearer’s ethnic and religious backgrounds should be provided. Although the initial intention was to exclude “foreigners” such as Indian and Chinese immigrants from citizenship, the introduction of the identity card has had a far-reaching impact on ethnic and religious minority groups. Because the card is essential for travel, employment, health care and higher education, people of non-Burman and non-Buddhist background could be easily denied for employment as well as promotion in civil service on the basis of the particulars provided on the national identity card. In many instances, for Christians and other religious minorities, promotion in civil service is conditioned by their conversion into Buddhism. Many Christian civil servants with outstanding service records have been blatantly denied promotion while their Buddhist peers with less qualification and less seniority quickly rose to high ranking positions. Even a few exceptional non-Buddhist individuals securing high ranking positions were sacked or forced to retire from their positions.
Biak To, a Chin Christian who had served in the Burmese army from 1973 to 1990 as a Captain and later became a Lieutenant Colonel in the police explains how he was sacked for no apparent reasons in 2000:
“At the time of my dismissal, I was the only person holding a B.A degree among officers of my rank in the entire nine Police Regiments in Burma. In fact, I should have been the first one to be considered for promotions. Obviously, the authorities did not want to see a Chin Christian holding high position that they made a pre-emptive move to dismiss me without any apparent charges.”
Major Thawng Za Lian, who has an excellent record in his military service in the Burmese army until leaving the service in 1997, recounts his experience during his career as an officer with a background of minority religious and ethnic identity in Burma that;
“In the army, A, B and C are categories designated for those who can not be promoted in rank. A stands for AIDS symptom, B stands for Hepatitis B and C stands for Christians. Under these categories, those who are carrying AIDS disease are discharged from the military and those who have Hepatitis B are transferred to civil service. And all those belonging to category C (Christians) are not given promotion.”
Major Lian eventually left the army when he was asked to abandon his Christian faith and converted to Buddhism by his superior in order to be promoted.
Selective Forced Labor:
Although most Chin families have been equally affected by the army’s use of forced labor, in many cases, forced labor is specifically directed against Christians in order to coerce them into converting to Buddhism. There are ample evidences that the Burmese military regime is using forced labor as part of its Burmanization program. The apparent theory is that by converting Chin Christians to Buddhism, an important Chin identity will be stripped away, thereby eventually assimilating them into Burman identity. Forced labor has also been used to discourage people from going to church by compelling them to work on Sundays and other Christian religious holidays.
State Sponsored Expansion Of Buddhism In Chin State:
Since 1990 the military government authorities and security forces have promoted Buddhism over Christianity among the Chin. Until 1990 the Chin generally practiced either Christianity or traditional indigenous religions. The Chins were the only major ethnic minority in the country that did not largely support any significant armed organization in active rebellion against the Government or in an armed cease-fire with the Government. Since 1990 government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, coercively have sought to induce Chins to convert to Theravada Buddhism and to prevent Christian Chins from proselytizing Chins who practice traditional indigenous religions. This campaign, reportedly accompanied by other efforts to “Burmanize” the Chin, has involved a large increase in military units stationed in Chin State and other predominately Chin areas, state-sponsored immigration of Buddhist Burman monks from other regions, and construction of Buddhist monasteries and shrines in Chin communities with few or no Buddhists, often by means of forced “donations” of money or labor.
Along with other methods to Burmanize the Chin, the Burmese military government has vonverted many Chin Christian families through coercion. The government rewards people who convert to Buddhism by exempting them from forced labor, fiving them ration and monthly allowance. The government also entice Chin Christian children by offering them government scholarship as part of the border area development program. Parents often entrust their children and enrolled them in the program. However, chindlren are later found to be in Buddhist monasteries with their head shaven to become vonice Buddhist monks.
A People and Culture at Stake:
The SPDC’s campaign of ethnocide against Chin people has had serious effect on the lives of the people of Chin State. The physiological dimension is rather profound. Many Chin Christians are convinced that their religious faith is making them targets for abuse, and conversion to Buddhism not only provides them a sense of security but also eases their economic hardships. Yet, there are also people who think that persecution because of their faiths makes their spiritual commitments even stronger.
However, it is already apparent that the ethnocide campaign is taking a toll on the Chin society. Families are increasingly separated and more people are feeling the Chinland to seek safety elsewhere. About 60,000 Chin refugees have fled to India about 12 thousands more are now taking refuge in Malaysia since the 1990s when the military junta began sending thousands of troops to Chinland. Thousands of Chin families have made their way to Rangoon and elsewhere to escape conditions at home, becoming internally displaced persons or IDPs. However, life is no better for those fleeing the country or those trying to find security elsewhere inside Burma. Most of the refugees living in India and Malaysia are not recognized as refugees by the host governments and are considered ‘illegal immigrants.’
There is increasing concern among Chin Christians about the uncertainties of the future. While the regime’s campaign of ethnocide is starting to take a toll on the Chin society, it seems likely that more Chin people will flee their homeland to escape human rights abuses there, increasing a threat of their religion and culture being eroded at an even fast rate. As one Chin pastor puts it “Chinland has become uninhabitable”.
In 1899, American missionary come to Chinland. They brought the gospel and Christianity to the Chin people. As we, the Chins had our own cultural heritage and religion, our fore-fathers did not accept Christianity easily when the American Baptist missionary come to our land. Only after 5 years of the arrival of the American missionaries that the first two Chin couples converted to Christianity in 1904. And following over a century, about 90% of Chins in Chin state have converted to Christianity and Christianity become part of Chin identity and culture. The Chins are now persecuted for their belief in Christianity and democracy by the most brutal and ruthless military junta in the world at present.
As a Chin Christian and human rights activists, I would like to request your prayer, supports and solidarity for my people Chin Christians in Burma.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
April 16, 2005
[Salai Bawi Lian Mang is founder of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). He is editor of Rhododendron News, a bi-monthly human rights news publish by CHRO and co-author of “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma”. He has participated in the UN Human Rights Commission, lobbied the UN General Assembly at the third committee, contributed about “The Chin Indigenous People” at Indigenous Year Book 1999 published by IWGIA, Copenhagen. He studied Political Science at Carleton University. He was an International Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley in the year 2003-2004.Salai Bawi Lian Mang can be reached at [email protected] ]
US Refugee Policy Should Include Persecuted
Christians in Annual Admissions
Persecuted Karen, Karenni, and Chin Christians Not Allowed
Refugee resettlement embodies America’s humanitarian tradition. In a time of increasing tension and conflict, it is essential that America’s door remains open to victims of violence and intolerance who have no other place to go.
The legal basis of the refugee admissions program is the Refugee Act of 1980, which defines a refugee in words that closely track those of the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees: “a refugee is a person who is outside his/her country and is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of a well-founded fear that he/she will be persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” The Act also allows the President to extend this definition to certain persons still resident in countries he specifies.
Unfortunately, several persecuted communities in Burma with strong historical ties to the U.S. have been overlooked by this policy. The Karen, Karenni, and Chin people are systematically persecuted by the Burmese military government. A very high percentage of these people are Christian and are oppressed because of their ethnicity and faith. These people were our allies in the 2nd World War and fought side by side with our soldiers to repel the Axis forces. They were promised by the British that they would have their own homeland after the war, but it never happened. After the war the Burmese majority–who sided with the Axis–engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing that continues to this day. The situation deteriorated greatly in 1988 when the military took over the government. The Karen, Karenni, and Chin have been fighting for survival for nearly fifty years, and could be considered the “forgotten people.”
Currently more than 100,000 Karen, Karenni, and Chin men, women, and children live in refugee camps in Thailand and India. Thousands more are internally displaced in the Burmese jungle. These internally displaced individuals are cutoff from outside assistance and live one step ahead of roving Burmese soldiers.
In FY 1998 the ceiling for refugee admissions from East Asia was 14,000. In the first seven months of that year, some 4,400 refugees arrived in the U.S., only 86 were from Burma. Most of these were ethnic Burmese.
In FY 1999, 10,204 refugees entered the United States from East Asia. The majority of FY 1999 admissions were from Vietnam. Again, most, if not all the Burma admissions were ethnic Burmese.
Time for Change
It is time for the United States to remember our forgotten allies and specifically include the Karen, Karenni, and Chin refugees and displaced persons in the annual admissions from East Asia.
Please Contact your Congressional Representatives in Washington today.
Source: Christian Freedom International Website
INDIA: POLICIES AND LAWS TOWARD
Mr. Tapan K. Bose
The Indian government deal with at both political and administrative level. The result is that treated that under the law applicable to the aliens. In the case of refugees protection, the constitution of India guarantees certain fundamental rights, which are applicable to non-citizen. Namely, the rights to equality( Article 14 ), the rights life and personnel liberty (article 21) and the freedom to practice and propagate their own religion (article 25). Any violation of these rights can be remedied through recourse to the judiciary as the Indian Supreme Court has held that refugees or asylum seeker can not be discriminated against because of their non- citizen status.
The National Human Rights Commission of India ( NHRC ) has functioned effectively as a watchdog for the protection of refugees. The commission has approached the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Constitution and obtained protection from the Chakma Refugees when their life and securities was threatened by local politician and youth leader in Arunachal Pradesh. Relief was granted by the Supreme Court on the basis of the rights aliens under Article 14 and 21.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ahmeadi in NHRC versus State of Arunachal Pradesh ( 1996 SCC 742 ) speaking for the Court said that the State is bound to protect the life liberty of every human being. He point out that the rights of refugees under the Constitution of India were confirmed by Article 21, which also included the rights to non-refoulement.
India refugees policy is further governed by certain administrative regulation. The standard of humane treatment set by these administrative regulations flowed from the ethos that persons displaced from their home need both protection and economic sustain. The administrative experience of the Ministry/Department of Rehabilitation and the laws adjudicated at the time of Partition contributed towards a refugees policy for India.
India, refugees are register under the 1939 Registration act, which applicable to all foreigner entering to India. Under the 1946 Foreigner Acts, the Govt. is empowered to regulate the entry, presence and departure aliens in India, though the word “ alien “ itself is nowhere defined. Entry as also governed by the passport Act 1967. Entry can be restricted if a person dose not have a valid passport or visa, though the Government can exempt person when so desires. These procedure are linked at this stage to individuals who enter India without a valid visa or any other document. Though it is related to illegal migrants, the exemption provision is applicable to refugees. Besides, refugees in developing countries, unlike those in the west ( barring those from former Yugoslavia ) usually descend in large numbers. Under these circumstances, refugees become an administrative to oversee the relief and rehabilitation process rather than to supervise who stays or dose not stay.
As mentioned previously , the government of India alone determine refugees status and has no specific legislation to deal with refugees. Prof. Saxeny of Jawaharlal Nehru University maintains despite this lacuna India dose apply in practice certain articles of the 1951 Convention. This includes :
. Article 7 as India provides refugees the same treatment as all aliens.
. Article 3 as India fully applies a policy of non – discrimination.
. Article 3A no penalty is imposed on illegal entry.
.Article 4 as religious freedom is guaranteed.
. Article 16 free access to courts is provided.
.Articles 17 and 18 provide wage-earning rights and as work permits have no meaning and refugees do work, this article is complied with.
. Article 21 freedom of housing allowed and refugees need stay in camps. Freedom of movement as guaranteed to aliens except in certain areas where special permits are required for aliens but also all Indians.
. Article 27 and 28 the issuing of identity and travel cards.
However, many activists have contested the assertion of Prof. Saxena. They point out that the majority of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees and almost all Jammu/Chakma refugees were forced to live inside camps. Severe restriction were imposed on their freedom of movement. The asylum seeker from Burma were arrested and jailed and that 1995-97 approximately 5000 Chin/Burmese were pushed back. They also point out that as the government dose not issue “RESIDENCE PERMIT” to all refugees, they are unable to open bank account, rent house and set up any business. India educational institutions do not give admission to refugees. As a result young refugees unable pursue their academic career.
India is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugees Convention or its Protocol, its domestic laws have not been found to be in conflict with international laws. While it can be justifiably proud of having followed a program of humane treatment of different refugees, with respect to refugees rights, there is still an absence of assistance and opportunities. To protect the refuges by means of the activists approach has its own limitations.
Judicial Interpretations: Case Law in India
In India, the judiciary has played a very important role in protecting refugees. Court orders have filled legislative gaps and in many case provided a humanitarian solution to the refugees` problem. In India court have allowed refugees and intervening NGOs to file case before them. Further they have interpreted provisions of the Indian Constitution, exiting law, and in the absence of seekers. Given below is a summary of the type of protection that India court have provided to refugees.
India courts have decided in a number of cases that the Constitutional protection of life and liberty must be provided to refugees. In the cases of Luis de Readt ( 1991) 3 SCC 554 and Khudiriam ( nos. 1994 Supp. (1) SCC 615 , the Supreme held that Art. 21 of the Constitution of India , which protects the life, and liberty of Indian citizens are extended to all, including aliens.
Below are some of the most important decision of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the National Human Rights Commission versus State of Arunachal Pradesh case restrained forcible expulsion of Chakma Refugees from the state ( Civil WP No 720/95 : 1996 (1) Supreme 295 ). The Supreme Court in its interim order on November 2 1995 directed the State government to ensure that the Chakma situated in its is territory are ousted by any coercive action, not in accordance with law. The Court directed the state government to ensure that the life personnel liberty of each and every Chakma residing with the state shall be protected. Any attempt to forcibly evict of driven them out the state by organized groups shall be repelled by using para-military or police force and if additional force are required then the state should take the necessary steps. The court also decide that the Chakma shall not be evicted from their home except in accordance to the law; the quit notices and ultimatums given by other groups should be dealt with in accordance with the law; application for their Citizenship be forwarded and processed expeditiously ; the pending decision on these application shall not be evicted.
Non-Refoulement and Right to Refugees Status:
In a number of cases in India Court have protected the right of refugees where they are substantial ground to believe that life would be in danger. There are case where the courts have order the life of refugees who are in danger be safeguarded and have allowed them to be granted status by UNHCR.
In Zothansangpui verus State of Manipur ( C.R No.981 of 1989) The Gauhati – Imphal Bench, Guahati High Court ruled that refugees have the rights not to be deported if their life was in danger.
The case of U.Myat Kyaw versus State of Manipur ( Civil Rule No. 516 of 1991 has contributed substantially to India’s refugee policy. It involved eight Burmese, aged 12 to 58 years, which were detain for illegal entry at MANIPUR central jail, Imphal. These persons had participated in the democracy movement, voluntarily to the Indian authorities and taken into custody. Cases were registered under section 14 of the Foreigners Act for illegal entry into India. They petitioned for their release to enable them to seek refugee status before the UNHCR in New Delhi. The Gauhati High Court, under Art.21 ruled that asylum seekers who enter India ( even if illegally ) should be permitted to approach the Office of the United Nation High Commissioner to refugee to seek refugee status.
Deporting on grounds of National Security and Criminal Activities
The Court has ruled that refugees can be deported on the grounds of national security. Under the foreigner Act of 1946 if they were found indulging in activities undesirable and prejudicial to the Security of India. The High Court of Delhi at New Delhi ruled that International Law and Conventions cannot be applied to refugees indulging in criminal activities. They can be repatriated or deported.
Right to Leave (Return)
The Court has upheld a refugee’s right to leave the country. In Nuang Maung Mye Nyant versus Govt. of India and Shar Aung versus Govt. Of India —— of 1998 , the courts ruled that even those refugees against whom cases were pending for illegal entry should be provided exit permits to enable them to leave the country for third country resettlement.
Application of International Laws for the protection of refugees
This included conformity with International Conventions and Treaties , although not enforceable , the government was obliged to respect them. But the power of the government to expel a foreigner is still absolute . Art. 21 guarantee the right to life for non -citizens. International Covenants and Treaties which effectuate the fundamental rights can be enforced. The principal of non-refoulement is encompassed in articles so long as it is not prejudicial to national security. Under Art 51 ( C ) and 253 international law and treaty obligation are to be respected, as long as they are consistent with domestic law.
FLEEING BURMA WHERE LIFE IS AT RISK
AND LIBERTY CURTAILED
(The statement of Burmese nationals on Guam seeking asylum in the USA)
By Rev. Dr. Hre Kio
Burma: Burma, placed between Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, with a land mass of 261,789 square miles, (678,033 sq km) known as “the rice bowl of Southeast Asia” in the early 1900s, got its independence from Britain on January 4,1948 after a long struggle for freedom. Independence came first from the United Kingdom; second from the Japanese wartime occupation and then again from the British colonial rule after the II World War. The independent Burma chose to follow the path of Parliamentary democracy from its inception with two house-organs: the Upper House of Chambers and the Lower House of Nationalities. The Prime Minister was leader of the government and the President was head of state.
Since independence, democracy developed and grew in Burma since independence and after three general elections (1951,1956, & 1960) democracy appeared to be taking firm roots in the country. In spite of its inevitable flaws, democracy proved to be a better system not only in the process for governing the people but also in terms of peaceful change of hands as to who are to be entrusted with the power to rule. By 1960, Burma was called “the rising star of the Southeast Asia” particularly in the field of economic development whose progress was significant and dramatic.
“The Iron Curtain” fell: On March 2,1962, based on dubious reasons, the democratically elected government of Prime Minister U Nu was removed by force by a bloodless military coup and the state power was passed into the hands of the Revolutionary Council headed by General Ne Win. This military and totalitarian regime has ruled the country of Burma with iron hands and cruel tactics for the last 38 years. This socialistic system of government introduced a one party system – The Burma Socialist Program Party. Its name was changed to SLORC – State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1989, and after ten years to SPDC – State Peace and Development Council. “Burma” was also changed to Myanmar – the name pro-democracy movements refuse to use. All foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country in 1964.
All is not quiet at the front: During these 38 long years of tyranny, the people did not sit with passive resignation. They did do something to achieve freedom and democracy. When the people time and again demonstrated against tyranny, the army quelled them with force. Gen. Ne Win boasted, “When the army shot, it shot straight.”
Five months after the coup, on July 7, 1962, university students demonstrated against the government. Soldiers were ordered to fire on the students. Official count put 16 students dead, while generally it was claimed that over 100 dead was more accurate. The tragedy culminated when the authorities dynamited the Rangoon University Students’ Union building and reduced it to rubble. Many believed that the building was full of students, all of whom were killed in the blast.
In the summer of 1974, the meanness of spirit was shown by the authorities over the funeral of U Thant, retired Secretary-General of the United Nations. The University students took over the funeral arrangement of U Thant when they saw the disgraceful arrangement prepared by the military. This action resulted in the deaths of a good number of students at the hands of the soldiers.
Again in 1976, soldiers quelled the strikers of dock-workers when they demonstrated against the new rules introduced by the government. The authorities never revealed the number killed, but the estimate was close to 50.
The largest uprising against the government took place in August 1988, (code named 8.8.’88). It affected the whole country, and participating in the demonstrations led by University students were people of all ages from all different strata of society: farmers, laborers, civil servants, including members of the armed forces, Buddhist monks, Christians, Muslims, intellectuals, professionals, businessmen, small traders, housewives and artists. Their one and only demand was to change the authoritarian rule of military dictatorship which had impoverished Burma intellectually, politically, morally and economically. And on September 18, the military authorities ordered fire on the weaponless civilian demonstrators, and “the army shot straight.” Thousands, including children, were cut down, by bullets from the army’s rifles and tanks. Hundreds were buried in mass graves with many wounded still alive. The army never revealed the locations of those graves to the public. The peoples’ hopes were crushed to the dust once again.
Eleven years later, on September 9, 1999 (code named 9.9.’99), a demonstration and uprising was secretly planned, again led by university students, and pro-democracy movement leaders and some Buddhist monks. However, the Military Intelligence agents were ahead of the game; they launched a pre-emptive strike, throwing many of the leaders into prisons where they languished without proper trials and legal representation.
In all these series of struggles for democracy, one thing is clear: students have been at the forefront of the movement for democracy. As a result, they suffered the most as well. Those who fled the country for fear of imprisonment and torture and reached Guam for safety and asylum are mostly young people reflecting the reality of the tragedy in Burma. Each one can tell his or her own story of the struggles they went through.
The World is not silent either: The United Nations General Assembly has more than once passed resolutions condemning Burma for its actions on its own people, its human right abuses and its restrictions on political and religious activities. The US government has passed sanctions against new investments in Burma and strictly banned travel to the USA by the Generals of Burma. The European Union has time and again passed strongly worded resolutions condemning the actions of the Burma government and even refused to sit at a meeting with ASEAN ministers if any minister from Burma participated in the meeting. The EU also banned travel to their region by any military leaders from Burma. The International Labor Organization imposed sanctions against Burma in November 2000. This ban against Burma was based on Burma’s government consistent and long practice of forced labor at all levels of society.
China has been the main supporter of Burma’s military rule for years in terms of moral and material support. Last year India joined the club even to the extent of forcibly returning Burmese (mostly Chin) refugees from Mizoram, India to Burma, right into the “jaws of death.” The ASEAN policy of “constructive engagement” has not been successful. It is constructive mainly to the leaders of Burma’s military junta; it is disruptive, even destructive, to the common people and movement of democracy within Burma, because it prolongs the life of a ruthless regime.
The United Nations in 1987 designated Burma, once called “the rising star of Southeast Asia” as one of the 12 poorest countries in the world. Burma, one of the richest nations in Asia in terms of mineral resources such as jade and rubies, including the largest teak forest reserve in the world, has been mismanaged by the generals into one of the poorest nations on earth. This is a crime the government has committed against its own people. Its cruel practice of widespread use of forced labor and forced contribution of money to the building of Buddhist pagodas, involuntary relocation of people targeted primarily at the ethnic minority, military offensives against civilians forcing them to be porters, threats and intimidation, destruction of crops and livestock, forcing Christians to sell liquor even though their religion forbids its sell and consumption, rapes, torture and summary arrest and executions have been well known for a long, long time. The government has denied all these cruel practices for many years, but the people inside the country know very well that the government is not telling the truth.
The result of general election voided: After the 1988 people’s uprising, for fear of the people and in an attempt to pacify them, the military government announced a general election to be held in May 1990. Political parties were required to register to the Central Election Commission office in Rangoon. Over 200 parties registered with the government. The National League for Democracy was one of them, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Gen. Aung San, the hero of Burma’s independence. Gen. Aung San was assassinated by his political opponent U Saw, five months before independence.
The general election of May 1990 was regarded as the fairest and freest election in Burma’s history. The result of the election showed that NLD, led by Suu Kyi, received 82% of the seat in Parliament. This massive support of NLD by the people was a landslide victory for MS Suu Kyi, although she herself was barred by the government to compete for a Parliament seat. This election demonstrated both a disfavor towards the military government whose favorite party was named “The National Unity Party”, and a favor towards Ms Suu Kyi, as a leader of enormous ability, of quality, charisma and integrity. MS Suu Kyi was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1991, and recently the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton, in November 2000, the highest civilian award that the US government can offer.
The military government cruelly refused to hand over power to the leaders elected by the people, and thereby the will of the people, 82% of the voters, was voided by the generals. For them “power resides at the barrel of the guns.” They betrayed the will of the people to whom they had made a promise that they would relinquish power to whoever was the winner in the general election. It is next to impossible to convince those who have acquired power forcibly of the wisdom of peaceful change. The realization of that wisdom usually occurs when it is too late. In Burma, tragedy of national proportion awaits! All political parties are extinct now in Burma, and the only party (the NLD) too is on the verge of being annihilated by a slow process of eliminating its members. Its leader Aung San Suu Kyi is now virtually under house arrest. Religious discrimination: Burma is comprised of many language and ethnic groups who are minorities in the land. Minorities like Karens, Kachins and Chins have converted to Christianity, and therefore in Chin, Kachin and Karenni States, the majority of the populations are now Christians. This situation brings particular difficulties for the people. The military government, comprising purely of the Burmese, who form the majority in the whole country, about 75%, dictates what should and should not be done in these “Christian” states. What is ethical and moral does not count for the Buddhist authorities in power. Religious discrimination and persecution is amply visible, in Chin State and elsewhere. A few examples will suffice:
Christian Church building permission is impossible to obtain from the authorities throughout the country.
Those who have started building are forced to stop. (Eg: Chin centenary building in Hakha – the capital of Chin State; United Pentecostal Church in Hakha; Zomi Theological dining hall in Falam; Church of Jesus Christ church in Falam; Kachin Church in Pakan; Roman Catholic hall in Pakan; Salvation Army church in Khampat.)
Christian crosses planted on the top of the hills are forcibly removed by the order of Col. Than Aung in Kanpalet, Thantlang, Hakha, Falam and Tiddim townships, very often using the very Christian hands that had planted the crosses in the first place.
It was Col. Than Aung who declared publicly, in Chin State, that Christian pastors are his number one enemy, accusing them as pro-white faced colonialist stooges.
Christian institutions are removed: Revival School of Theology in Maymyo; Lisu Bible School in Maymyo; Lisu Christian school in Mogok.
Churches in Mogok town are forcibly painted black, or face being removed.
Lai Baptist Church’s worship in Insein, near Rangoon was interrupted by soldiers in uniform and the church was closed.
Those who persisted in constructing their church building are beaten severely. (Eg: A Salvation Army pastor in Khampat beaten by an army captain – beaten so badly he needed hospitalization.)
Those who persisted in preaching the Gospel faced torture and death. (Eg: A Naga preacher-evangelist in Homelin township of Sagaing Division was falsely accused of aiding Naga underground movement, was beaten to death and his body was dragged down the street to intimidate the villagers.)
These kinds of activities are going on currently in Burma, without being noticed by the world at large.
Racial discrimination: This is a policy the Government in Burma has been practicing for over 50 years, although it is not what they preach. Space and time does not allow detailing all the incidents that have occurred in Burma on the ethnic minorities for so long a period. These incidents took place not in the capital city of Rangoon, but mostly in the States (Chin, Kachin, Shan and Karen States). A few examples will suffice:
There is no minister in the government from people with ethnic background. Even top civilian jobs with authentic power are not open to them.
Soldiers from ethnic backgrounds are not permitted to be promoted over the rank of major, nor are they permitted to attend Military Academies. Some Christian officers have been told point blank: “If you remain Christian, you remain a captain; but the moment you confess to be Buddhist you jump to the next rank.” Most of the time, Christian officers choose to remain Christian.
Those minorities who had been ranking officers in the army and police are slowly eliminated from the services. One of those officers is in Guam and he can testify his experience is asked. Another unwritten regulation in the armed forces policy dictates that:
A soldier who converts a Christian to Buddhism will be promoted immediately;
Any Buddhist soldier marrying a Christian lady will be promoted to the next rank;
A Buddhist soldier having children with a Christian spouse will be promoted to the next level in rank.
Any Buddhist soldier marrying an ethnic girl who is a graduate and the daughter of a chief will be awarded with an increased salary of K1200/- a month.
Any Buddhist soldier’s salary will be increased by K1000/- a month if he marries an ethnic girl who is a college graduate.
In many districts in minority areas, the government ordered not to teach their minority languages in government primary schools. And no private schools are allowed in the country. All Christian schools have been nationalized since 1965. This effort of the government appears to be a basic and yet fundamental attempt to Burmanize the whole country and eliminate all 130 ethnic groups. It is a miracle that after 50 years of this kind of systematic campaign by the military government there are still ethnic groups existing at all in Burma. The vast majority of those of us who fled to Guam are from various ethnic groups.
In these States, mentioned above, soldiers forced young men to carry their equipment and rations in the areas where fighting took place between the government and the anti- government forces. These young men are called “porters”. Day after day, the porters were forced to serve as “shields” – forced to go ahead of the platoon of soldiers to get shot by the enemies. When the porters were sick and weak, or suffered exhaustion due to heavy loads, they were left behind to die a slow death, or even were shot dead. Young women’s fate, when they served as porters, were worse: they faced both being raped and be shot. No wages or compensation was paid. This kind of abuse had occurred in Burma for the last 38 years without being noticed by the world at large.
Private car owners in these States constantly faced the highhanded demand from the solders: their cars – mostly truck and jeeps – were taken by force by the soldiers (since the soldiers lack military trucks) for days and weeks moving them in all sorts of conditions and environments. Usually the private cars never returned in good conditions. Most of the time the cars were left behind in the jungle. There was no compensation paid by the soldiers nor any apology offered.
A driver’s license could be taken away, or being slapped on the face for passing over the military officer’s car.
This kind of inhumane practice was widespread and has been going on for many years.
Physical abuse and mental torture: It is a tall order to attempt to detail all the incidences of physical abuse and mental torture that the government has used against its opponents which they call “the enemy of the state.” We will mention a few:
The “opponents” were arrested usually in the middle of the night unexpectedly,
“A few minutes of questioning” always resulted in months or years of imprisonment. Tortures take different forms:
Meals (usually rice) were mixed with sand,
Pins were pushed between the flesh and fingernails,
Prisoners were forced to kneel on sharp pebbles until their knees bled,
Inmates were put naked in the open to be “feasted” by malaria carrying mosquitoes,
Simple drops of water on the head for hours turns into horrifying and deafening sounds to the victim, Plastic bags were placed to envelop their heads for a period of time until the victim becomes unconscious, and then he/she was released for a time to recover, The prisoner was placed in an empty barrel and pushed around by trucks for hours,
Those arrested or transferred to another location were bagged into gunny bags and tied at the top, to be sat upon by soldiers on moving trucks,
Hot and pointed iron rods were pierced through the flesh of the thighs,
A rat was placed in a pot which was attached to the prisoner’s stomach; when the pot was made hot the rat dug into the stomach in an desperate attempt to escape,
To break their will, prisoners were placed without food or water for days,
Their four limps were stretched out and tied to four corners of the room,
Prisoners were put in dark room for days, making them virtually blind for days,
Prisoners usually became “mentally disturbed” when they were hung upside down, their legs tied to the ceiling and their heals beaten slowly with an iron rod, Inmates were threatened constantly to be shot, a mental torture that keeps them constantly awake, making sleep impossible.
Some of those arrested are turned into forced labor, known as “zebet” who in uniform were regimented into hard labor for months and years, removed to remote areas where neither their relatives nor religious and social workers can see or help them. These prisoners were condemned to die slow deaths. They were often put in chains even while working, and most of them died in isolated parts of the country where medical facilities are non-existent. Often bullock yokes were tied to their neck in pairs, as if they were bulls, plowing muddy fields, making furrows for planting paddies in the rainy season. Many of the “zebet” prisoners collapsed exhausted in the mud. Then they were removed to isolated areas never to be fed any meals, left alone to die a slow death. Their bones were never recovered, nor their graves known. Their number is by the thousands, most likely around 40,000.
Some of us who fled to Guam have gone through some of these kinds of physical torture. (One of us will present his ordeal to you today.) These dangers are some of the risks we will face again if we are forced to return to Burma from Guam.
To flee Burma is a costly and risky business: All of us, who have arrived on Guam have faced the above mentioned types of danger and torture in one form or another as we all have worked and struggled to restore democracy in Burma. We have realized that democracy is costly and can not be achieved easily. We fled from Burma simply because our lives are in danger, and to live in a constant state of fear is most difficult to bear. Since we are all young people, we cannot afford our lives to be cut short. We want to live.
We all have made sacrifices in various forms to come to Guam. Some of us have left our children and spouses back in Burma, and all of us left behind our land, our relatives and our dear friends. We all sold whatever property we had, or borrowed money in order to get Burmese passports and some of us pawned our homes and fields. Some of us have paid the equivalent of $750 (US dollars) to get a single Burmese passport. Some of us have changed our names in order to avoid being detected by the all-powerful MIS agents (Military Intelligence Service agents.) Most of us hid in various homes and different places in Rangoon so as not to be caught by government spies.
We all came to Guam through Bangkok via Seoul, Manila or Taipei; the air ticket from Burma to Guam costs us about $1000 (US dollars.) We all brought along with us US$500 as “Show Money”. (It is quite likely that a few MIS agents might have infiltrated into Guam from Burma pretending to be visitors, in order to observe what we are doing here and what we are up to. We are taking all precautions in all our activities here on Guam.) To arrive on Guam is very costly and risky for us. But we take all those risks in order to save our lives.
The US government had closed the door to Guam on the 10th of January 2001, and this is a tragedy for those Burmese nationals who are actively working for democracy in Burma. Because the only door open for them has been closed, and they have no where to go to save their lives. They are destined to their fate: into the iron hands of the MIS.
Where do we go from here? Those of us who arrived on Guam, we want to say how grateful we are to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service for having allowed us to enter into Guam. We all feel much safer and at peace. We are also extremely grateful to various churches here on Guam and mainland USA for helping us in the form of clothes, beds, cooking pots and pens, tinned food, money and above all their love and affection for us, probably “the unlovable.” We all say “thank you” to you all from the bottom of our hearts.
But our “Show Money” of $500 has run out or is running out for renting houses and for food. Currently, we the Burmese nationals here on Guam number around 1000, are located in various villages here on Guam renting over 70 houses. Friends and relatives both from Burma and mainland USA are helping us, but this help cannot go on indefinitely. A few of us have gotten sick and needed hospitalization, incurring thousands of dollars in debt to the hospital. Over 300 of us have been skin tested, and although some results are positive chest x-rays have revealed “normal lungs” with no active TB disease. Other than these, we have not been a burden to the Government of Guam. We want to take care of ourselves as far as possible. Most of us are high school and college graduates and some of us are doctors, engineers, pastors and teachers.
Having no jobs available on Guam has had a detrimental affect on us. Other than a few men and women, perhaps fifty, who have been working at odd jobs in various villages, we are jobless on the island of Guam. Even for those of us who have received a “work permit”, any paying job is hard to find. Since the unemployment rate is over 15%, it will be a long while until jobs will be available.
Could we dare to make a request to INS? Most of the Burmese nationals arrived here on Guam during the last 7 months. Most of us have submitted our applications asking for political asylum, and some of us have received “temporary permits to stay” here on Guam.
However, during the last 7 months, only 55 Burmese nationals have been interviewed by Immigration officers. If the same process rate continues in the coming days, it will take 8 years to complete processing the over 800 Burmese nationals. Also the result of those interviews conducted in October 2000 has not been announced either, which is a very discouraging and disheartening prospect we are facing in the coming days and months. For us the future is not bright; it is indeed bleak! Can we make a humble request to the US INS to speed up processing our applications?
Our Future: We look forward to the day when we can live our lives with security and peace and freedom. With God’s help, you – citizens of the USA – are our future! Just as God provided the ancient suffering Israelites their Moses to lead them to the promised land, you are our Moses at this time in our history to lead us into the promised land, called the United States of America.
May God bless each one of you in all your undertakings.
Guam. January 24,2001