CHRO Presentation at The 18th Foreign Affairs Canada-NGO Human Rights Consultation

Canada Should Work More Aggressively to Affect Positive Change in Burma
Brief Submitted to Foreign Affairs Canada
Chin Human Rights Organization
at the
18th Annual Foreign Affairs Canada-NGO Human Rights Consultations

February 7-8, 2006
Venue: Palais des Congres
200 Promenade du Portage, Hull, Gatineau

Chin Human Rights Organization is a non-profit, non-governmental organization working to protect and promote the rights of Chin people and to promote democracy in Burma. CHRO monitors, documents and reports on human rights situations in Chin State and western parts of Burma.

Chin Human Rights Organization is grateful to the Canadian government for its continued supports for the promotion of human rights and democratic governance in Burma. Canada’s co-sponsorship of several UN General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights’ resolutions on Burma helps keep deplorable situations in Burma under international scrutiny and attention. At its last meeting in April of 2005, the Commission on Human Rights renewed condemnation of Burma’s human rights practices and reiterated calls for an immediate end to atrocities and systematic abuse of human rights in that country. The Burma Motion adopted last year by the 38th Parliament was a significant gesture of renewed commitment to supporting human rights and democracy in Burma by the Canadian people. The Government of Canada now has a unique opportunity to act aggressively on this motion.

Despite growing international condemnation and pressures, Burma’s military junta continues its stranglehold on political opponents and has, in recent months, intensified repression and atrocities in areas inhabited by ethnic nationalities. The resumption last year of the National Convention without the participation of pro-democracy forces and ethnic representatives was a symbolic gesture on the part of the State Peace and Development Council that it will not allow genuine and participatory democracy to take hold in Burma. In the context of growing consolidation of power at the top of the SPDC leadership and increasing level of repression and human rights abuses, Chin Human Rights Organization is concerned that without sustained and effective international efforts human rights conditions will continue to further deteriorate. Canada is uniquely placed to lead aggressive international effort to affect positive change in Burma.

Human Rights Conditions in Burma: A Focus on Chin State and Western Burma

As an organization that has been documenting human rights situation in Burma’s western region for the last ten years, Chin Human Rights Organization continues to be concerned about the trend in steady deterioration of human rights situations over the last several years. Human rights violations and abuses of civilians associated with militarization have significantly increased during the last several months. There are also heightened concerns about growing abuse of religious freedom by the State and government agents against non-Buddhist religious groups, particularly Christian and Muslim communities.

Forced Labor on the Increase

The expansion of troop deployment in Chin State and immediate areas is a major factor for increased use of forced labor in the region. Despite promises made to the international community to fully cooperate with the ILO in the eradication of forced labor practices, Burma’s military regime still uses forced labor on a massive scale. Since the beginning of 2005, more than fifty instances of forced labor have been documented by Chin Human Rights Organization in Chin State alone, many of them involving hundreds of civilians at a time. Many of the forced labor conscription incidents are directly related to military purposes, but the use of massive civilian populations for developmental purposes is also a very common practice. The following report is a typical example of the use of forced labor by the Burmese army in Chin State:

Major Tin Moe, patrol column commander from Burma Army Infantry Battalion 304 (under Chin State’s Tactical Command No. 2 based in Matupi) temporarily stationed at Dar Ling village of southern Chin State’s Matupi Township requisitioned compulsory labor to build a new military post at Dar Ling village. More than one thousands civilians from 20 villages in the area have been working at the site since the first week of July, 2005.

Starting form 11 to16 July 2005, U Tin Maung and 50 of his villagers were forced to dig a 150-feet long drainage measuring 3 feet in width and 4 feet in depth.

Another 50 civilians and members of the Village PDC from Khuapi village were forced to supply 4,000 round bamboos. Each stick of the 4000 bamboos has to be 10 feet in length. The work to collect the bamboos lasted from 9 to 16 July, 2005.

From 16 to 21 July 2005, for a total of 5 days, 50 civilians and members of the Village PDC from Hlung Mang village (Matupi Township) were forced to dig trenches and bunkers for the army camp.

Civilians from Fartlang village (Thantlang Township) were compelled to supply 50 sticks of wood measuring 10 feet in length. Civilians from other villages engaged in other works such as fencing and building barracks, digging trenches and bunkers, and collecting woods and bamboos.

The work occurs on a daily basis and all workers are required to supply themselves with food and tools for the job. The work starts at 5:00 am in the morning and lasts until 6:30 in the evening. Workers are given breakfast break at 11:00 am and dinner at 7:00 p.m. The work was projected for completion in the month of July and workers are not exempt from working on Sundays, said U Ni Hmung, Chairman of the Village PDC from Khuapi village, Thantlang Township.

“The expansion of military establishment in our areas only brought hardship to the local people who rely on farming for our survival. Now that the new army camp is only 5 miles away from our village, it is predictable the kinds of hardship we will have to keep up with,” complained the village head of Hlung Mang village.

“The patrol column commander has already ordered us to raise chickens, pigs and other livestock. He might even call us for another round of forced labor. He said that we cannot ignore his order because it is our civic duty to comply with army orders. Many people from our village are already fed up with the perpetual forced labor and are contemplating to escape to Mizoram across the border,” he added.

Another instance of forced labor involved children as young as those in primary schools conscripted to porter army supplies during the same period.

On 15 July 2005, commander of Lailenpi army camp Sergeant Tin Soe from Burma Army Infantry Battalion 305 based in Matupi, southern Chin State, forced underage primary school children to carry army rations and supplies.

The ration loads carried by the ten boys included 10 tins of rice, 10 bottles of cooking oil, 10 viss (15 kgs) of fish paste and 5 Viss of dried chili. They traveled a 12-mile distance before being substituted by the 5 villagers.

Even girl children are not exempt from being forced to carry supplies for army patrol units as the following report indicates:

5 girls under the age of 15 were among 18 civilian porters forced to carry army supplies in Matupi Township, a local villager told Chin Human Rights Organization. On 2 August, 2005, Sergeant Thein Win, commander of Sabawngte army outpost from Matupi-based Light Infantry Battalion (304) ordered 18 Sabawngte villagers including 5 teenaged girls to transport army goods.

“Each person, including the girls, was given about 15 Viss to carry. The load was already heavy enough even for men so eveybody had to take a little extra off of the girls. There was no way the girls could’ve travelled 12 miles with such heavy loads on their backs,” explained one of the adult porters.

Abuse of Religious Freedom

The State Peace and Development Council continues to subject non-Buddhist religious communities to discriminatory treatment and persecution. The United States Department of State, since 1999 has singled out Burma as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ severely violating religious freedom of its citizens. In Chin State, where the inhabitants are overwhelmingly Christians, restrictive and discriminatory measures are still actively in place for Christian churches. The SPDC has still not lifted conditions placed on Christian communities to freely construct or renovate church buildings and religious sites. Christian crosses erected beside major towns in Chin State have been removed one after another by order of high ranking military and administrative officials. As recently as in January of 2005, one of the last remaining crosses planted by local churches near Matupi town of southern Chin State was removed by direct order of Colonel San Aung, the second highest ranking military official in Chin State, prompting an international protest by Chin communities worldwide and condemnation by international religious organizations and rights groups.

Torture, Arbitrary Arrests and Extrajudicial Executions

The State Peace and Development Council routinely arbitrarily arrests, tortures and even executes civilians suspected of involvement with, or being sympathetic to, ethnic opposition groups, in violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to which Burma is a party. In December of 2005, Colonel San Aung, military commander of Chin State’s southern region, and Vice Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council for Chin State, reportedly issued a direct order instructing troops under his command to ‘eliminate’ any civilians with suspected ties to Chin rebels. On 15 December, 2005, a 17 year-old local boy was summarily executed by Burmese troops from Light Infantry Battalion (140). Information received by Chin Human Rights Organization on February 1, 2006 describes the incident as follows;

A boy, identified as Maung Yan Naing Soe, was picked up at his native village of Hringthang and brought to Rezua Town by government troops by order of Lt. Colonel Ye Myint during the first week of December 2005. The Burmese troop also took along the boy’s stepfather.

On 15 December, the two civilians were taken to a secluded hill, located just one mile outside of Rezua. Upon arrival, the stepfather was made to dig the ground with a hoe. Seeing his stepfather tired and exhausted from digging, the boy volunteered to take over. The troops commanded the stepfather to walk home. Moments later, the stepfather heard two rounds of gunfire.

A childhood friend of the murdered boy who wished not to be identified by name explained. “Although I did not witness the execution with my own eyes, I am certain they murdered my friend. I’ve tried to gather as much information as I could on this incident. The stepfather’s account and words from the Battalion corroborated the fact that he was actually executed in cold blood.” He said villagers of the boy’s native place have already performed rites and built a grave for the boy in his village.

On 14 November 2005, a Chin villager accused of supporting rebels was severely tortured by Burmese soldiers under the command of Lt. Thant Zin Oo from Light Infantry Battalion (268).

A local villager (identity withheld), reporting the incident to Chin Human Rights Organization, identified the tortured victim as Ngun Hu, a 32 year-old civilian from Zephai (B) village. He was accused of delivering a letter for Chin National Army. “The cruelty inflicted on him was so severe he might not become a normal person again, that is if he ever recovers at all,” explained the unnamed villager. “All his front teeth were knocked down and the extreme swelling in his face makes him unable to even open his eyes,” he said of the victim’s condition.

The victim was reportedly carried to a local clinic by his relatives. But Lt. Thant Zin Oo threatened to send him to jail in Thanglang instead. Only impassioned plea by his relatives deterred the Lieutenant from imprisoning his victim. “He would probably be dead had he been sent to jail in that condition,” the village said. Each household from the victim’s native village donated Kyats 100 for his medical treatment.

Pu Hmet Lian, telephone operator from Salen village in Thantlang Township was beaten to death by the Burmese army on 18, March 2005.

Captain Aung Naing Oo and his troop from Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion (266) came to Salaen village on the night of March 18 to look for the village Administration Officer Tin Uk. At around midnight, the Burmese Captain and his troops summoned village council members and the headman of the village, along with the village telephone operator Hmet Lian. They were accused of failing to report the activities of the Chin National Front members and supporting the rebels.

Captain Aung Naing Oo and his troops kicked, punched, and smashed the face of Hmet Lian with their riffle butts. Hmet Lian was killed on the spot.  The other four village council members and the headman were also badly beaten and torture by the Burmese troops. The four village council members and the village headman are now in critical condition. According to CHRO source, the village headman is vomiting bloods and he may not survive.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Canada is uniquely placed to lead aggressive international efforts to address growing problems of human rights and democracy in Burma. The recent move of Burmese government’s headquarters from Rangoon to Pyinmana, and the reorganization and strengthening of military power base demonstrates a willingness on the part of the State Peace and Development Council to consolidate its dictatorial power at all costs, further pushing away any hopes for genuine democratic reforms in Burma. The SPDC unilateral and unceremonious postponement of high level ASEAN Envoy seeking to assist in Burma’s peaceful transition to democracy points to the fact that the SPDC is uninterested in any kind of substantive political dialogue, even with its traditional soft-spoken ASEAN allies, that will pave a way for national reconciliation and democratic transition. Given such conditions, it is increasingly painfully clear that current international measures in place against Burma are not adequate and effective enough to encourage positive change in that country. Efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Burma need to be multi-dimensional—one that embodies effective economic measures with sustained multilateral diplomatic pressure exerted on the regime.

The passage of Burma Motion on May 18, 2005 by the Parliament provided a legal basis for the Government of Canada to aggressively act on Burma. The United States Congress has already imposed comprehensive economic sanctions on Burma in order to encourage speedy transition to democracy. A broader and more effective economic pressure from the international community is needed to produce any significant result in Burma. To this end, Canada should implement fully recommendations made by the previous Parliament in the Burma Motion. More specifically, as recommended in the Burma Motion, the Government of Canada should review the effectiveness of the Export and Import Act to ensure that Burma’s military regime does not profit from lenient measures and legal loopholes. Efforts need to be focused on the economic and financial resources of the military junta, which enable and sustain repressive machinery to operate in Burma.

Canada should also use its influence to persuade current members of the United Nations Security Council, especially those undecided non-permanent members to support a Security Council resolution on Burma.

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