By Bill O’Toole | Myanmar Times | Friday, 24 January 2014
Discrimination against the Chin ethnic group remained prevalent nationwide last year, the Chin Human Rights Organization said in its annual report.
An ethnic Chin man smokes a pipe in Chin State. (Wa Lone/The Myanmar Times)An ethnic Chin man smokes a pipe in Chin State. (Wa Lone/The Myanmar Times)
The organisation’s research found Chin pastors, missionaries and Christian families still face various forms of persecution and discrimination, including eviction from their villages, bans on holding worship services and assaults, said spokesperson Salai Bawi Thang.
“At the moment, it is very difficult to say it is getting better as new incidents where Christians are discriminated or physically attacked based on religion still happen,” he said.
The report documents a wide variety of what it calls “religious-based persecution” in 2013. Incidents range from the relatively subtle, such as local governments forcing employees to work through traditional Christian holidays, to more overt acts, such as denying Christian groups access to land and funding from the state.
In both the report and an interview with The Myanmar Times, CHRO singled out the Na Ta La school system as a direct attack on Chin culture.
The Na Ta La system, which is an acronym that roughly translates to “Border Areas National Races Youth Development Training Schools”, is touted by the government as a means of educating children in the poorest local communities.
However, CHRO, as well as many other human rights observers, describe the schools as a covert means of promoting Buddhism and pro-Bamar ideology among minority children, especially Chin children. “There are almost 800 Chin Na Ta La students in Chin State alone … Across Burma, there are 29 Na Ta La schools and one-third of Na Ta La students are Chin. The number clearly indicates that Chin children are specifically targeted for recruitment to the schools,” the report said.
While the report mainly focused on religious issues, Salai Bawi Thang said the lack of religious freedom has had much broader consequences for the Chin people.
“Discrimination against Chin Christians based on religion has serious impacts on economic and political rights as well,” he said, “including widespread forced portering, forced labour and land confiscation – and the result of over 60 years of the neglect have directly contributed to poverty in Chin State.”
The spokesman also pointed out that while Chin Christians account for about 90 percent of Chin State’s population, only about 14pc of department heads at the state level are Christian, and only 25pc at township level.
“Community-based organisations and churches are led by Chin leaders and pastors. However, discrimination against Chin Christians to get promoted to higher positions in the military, state government structures and administrative procedures still exists,” he said.
“We urge the government to put an immediate and unconditional end to discrimination and violation based on religion and ethnicity, and to make real, tangible progress on protecting that right in 2014.”
The Chin State Chief Minister’s Office could not be reached for comment.