by Jennifer Gold
Tuesday, February 13, 2007, 9:28 (GMT)
A delegation of Chin and Kachin activists from Burma has finished a visit to Washington DC last week, where they briefed senior US government officials on the continuing violations of human rights by Burma’s military regime.
The visit follows the launch of the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) report, ‘Carrying the Cross: the military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma’ and is the final phase of a tour which included visits to London, Brussels and Berlin.
On Wednesday 7 February, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, considered the mouthpiece of the junta, carried statements from the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Myanmar, Myanmar Council of Churches and Yangon Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) denouncing the findings of the report and claiming that it was designed to obstruct religious harmony in the country.
The delegation met the US ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, Ambassador John Hanford, and senior policy advisers to the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as the National Security Council at the White House and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The delegation also met with Congressional and Senate members and staff, including Congressman Joseph Pitts and the office of House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In a briefing organised by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Task Force for International Religious Freedom, the delegation highlighted violations of religious freedom in Burma, as well as human trafficking, sexual violence and forced labour. The group also met with church organisations and human rights groups during the week.
The delegation included representatives of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, the Women’s League of Chinland and the Kachin Women’s Association-Thailand
The author of ‘Carrying the Cross’, CSW’s Advocacy Officer for South Asia Benedict Rogers, who travelled with the delegation said: “This has been a truly historic opportunity to raise international awareness about the plight of the Chin and Kachin peoples in Burma, and to urge the international community to take action to bring an end to the suffering of all the people of Burma. The findings in the report are based on the testimonies of Christians in Burma, as well as documentary evidence.
“This week’s statements from the Myanmar Council of Churches and the Catholic Bishops Conference contradict statements made by these church bodies in the past, as cited in the report, suggesting the junta’s reaction to the report is only a desperate attempt to divert attention from the truth of the findings. We will continue to do all we can to highlight the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by Burma’s brutal military regime, including the violations of religious freedom, the use of rape as a weapon of war and other crimes against humanity.”
Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Director of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, said: “This has been the first time the Chin and Kachin people have been able to raise a voice at very high levels politically in the United States and the European Union. We believe our cry has been heard and now the world must act.”