February 1, 2005
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you again. I am particularly appreciative that this meeting encompasses the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Office of International Religious Freedom, and Burma Desk.
It is unfortunate that there is no improvement in terms of human rights situation in Burma and among the Chin people since we last met in October 2004. This time, I would like to focus my briefing on religious persecution systematically carried out by the ruling military junta State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) against Chin Christians.
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 of 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.
This latest destruction is part of a larger and systematic effort by the military regime to persecute Chin Christians in order to expand the influence of Buddhism in Chinland. Burma’s ruling military regime is systematically persecuting Chin Christians in order to replace Christianity with Buddhism among the Chin. In fact, The Burmese military regime is using religious persecution as a tool of ethnocide against Chin Christians.
Since the first Chin conversion to Christianity in the early 1900s following the arrival of American Baptist missionaries, Christianity has been deeply entrenched in Chin society and has become part of the Chin cultural identity.
Starting from the early 1990s, the regime had destroyed several Churches and had removed crosses placed on top of mountains near at least five Townships in Chin State. In many cases, crosses had been replaced with Buddhist pagodas and Christians had been forced to contribute labour and money for the constructions. The regime is also prohibiting the construction of new churches and has ordered to stop several churches under construction in towns and villages in Chin State.
Burmese troops stationed in Chin State have often deliberately disrupted worship services and physically assaulted pastors and church leaders. In some instances, pastors, evangelists and missionaries have been abducted, tortured and even killed by the Burmese soldiers. The regime has also tried to prevent the growth of Christianity by arbitrarily imposing discriminatory and restrictive rules on the activities of Christians.
There is also clear evidence that the regime is actively supporting coerced conversions of Chin Christians. The regime enticed Children from poor families in rural areas with the opportunity of free secular education in cities, and parents often entrusted their children in the care of the state. However, the children are sent to monasteries in Rangoon to become novice Buddhist monks against their will and without the knowledge of their parents. In February of 2003, five children, between the age of 8 and 17, managed to ran away from the monasteries in Rangoon to reunite with their parents. They said they had been forced to become novice Buddhist monks and to follow the teachings of Buddha.
Responding to international criticism, the State Peace and Development Council often, and correctly, refers to the fact that ‘Buddhism is a peaceful religion in that force-promoting it is against the fundamental beliefs of Buddhism itself.’ We have no illusion that that is true, as evidenced by the fact that there is a high degree of respect and harmony between Buddhist and Christian communities in Burma. It should be emphasized, however, that it is the regime, and not Buddhism, that is abusing religious freedom of Chin Christians in the name of ‘unifying’ the country.
The rise in incidents of religious persecution and other forms of human rights abuses suffered by Chin Christians is directly linked to the increased militarization of Chin State. Prior to 1988, only one army battalion was stationed in Chin State. However, at least 12 additional infantry battalions are now operating in the area. Due to the growing human rights abuse in Chin State, tens of thousands of Chin families have been forced to flee to India, Bangladesh and elsewhere in the region.
Approximately 50,000 Chin refugees, of men, women and children have sought refuge in India. Of these, only about one percent has legal recognition by the UNHCR and a great majority of them are at risk of deportation by the authorities under which they live. Thousands more are scattered throughout neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand while a great number of them are internally displaced. Their humanitarian need is of great urgency.
We feel that it is important for the United States government and the world community to remain aware of this and adopt stronger measures against the Burmese military junta.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization