Chin Human Rights Group Condemns Religious Discrimination

Karen News, John Arterbury, February 4, 2014

A report by a human rights groups claims Chin Christians are facing state discrimination and being denied their religious freedom.

Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma’s impoverished Chin State continue to face religious discrimination from Buddhist government authorities, according to a report released by a prominent Chin human rights organization.

Chin Human Rights Organization country coordinator Salai Bawi Pi said that Buddhist-driven government policies continue to hinder Christian religious practices and disproportionately favor Buddhist projects in the majority Christian state.

“Chin pastors, missionaries, and Christian families still face various forms of persecution and discrimination, including eviction from villages, bans on holding worship services, and assaults,” Salai Bawi Pi said.

The CHRO report documents 13 instances of religiously related abuse in 2013, including a threat made by government officials to torch a Christian village if its residents did not cease their religious services. Other incidents documented in the report include forced cancellations of religious services and the holding of mandatory government meetings – including one with President Thein Sein – during religiously sanctioned days of rest.

Senior legislative counsel for Physicians for Human Rights, Andrea Gittleman, said a “culture of impunity” allows officials to pursue religiously discriminatory policies.

“As a general matter, Burma’s democratic progress has not yet reached religious minorities, many of whom live in the peripheries of the country,” she said. “Burma remains saddled with a legal and political system that fosters discrimination, and the country’s initial progress toward democracy has not yet addressed this important underlying problem.”

The CHRO report also highlights persistent funding disparities between fully financed Buddhist-centric schools, known as Na Ta La, which are backed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and other public schools that “are left chronically underfunded.”

“State resources are used to promote Buddhism, for instance, in Na Ta La schools, where Chin children are coerced to convert to Buddhism,” Salai Bawi Pi said. “Peace only be achieved if the rights of ethnic and religion minorities are respected and protected under the law.”

East Asia team leader for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Benedict Rogers, echoed the report’s findings and said that Burma’s transition toward democracy has resulted in “no significant change” for the country’s Christian minority.

“The government should end policies of discrimination against non-Buddhists in public service,” he said, “(and) end policies of restriction and discrimination, such as the destruction of crosses, holding meetings on minorities’ religious days, abolish the Na Ta La schools as documented by CHRO, and abolish the Ministry of Religious Affairs and replace it with a new, independent body to promote equal rights and counter racism, religious hatred, and discrimination.”

CSW is signatory to a January 27 statement by the European Burma Network endorsing several of CHRO’s demands for ending discrimination against the country’s religious minorities.

Ms Gittleman also stressed the importance of the international community’s role in combating reports of discrimination in Burma.

“Burmese leaders crave legitimacy on the world stage. Those in the international community have an opportunity to expose the ongoing abuses against Burma’s ethnic minorities and press the government to properly address violence and discrimination,” she said. “Specifically, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council should renew the mandate of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, a mandate that is up for renewal in March, in order to continue documenting and analyzing human rights violations in the country.”

The CHRO report recommends several changes to address practices it sees as discriminatory, including the abolition of the Na Ta La, greater redress provisions for victims of discrimination, and further guarantees for the freedom of religion. The report also calls on the international community to raise the issue of religious discrimination with the Burma government and to support an interfaith forum to foster dialogue on religious liberties in the northwestern state.

“Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human rights,” Salai Bawi Pi said. “We urge the government to take real, tangible process on protecting that right in 2014.”

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