Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)
18 December 2006 – The people of Mizoram have been cited as a model for East Burma in term of politics and human rights by the Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization.
Salai Bawilianmang, Director, CHRO has held up Mizoram as a model for people struggling for civil and political rights in an on-line interview on December 15. Mizoram went through 20 years of strife and now manage (to some extent) their own affairs. This is an ideal not only for the people of Chin state, but for all people struggling for self determination.
Mizoram enjoys freedom of the press, culture, religion, language, tradition and education while Burma has denied every right mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to its citizens.
CHRO congratulated the Young Mizo Association for adopting a resolution to promote the principles of oneness among the people of Mizoram and Chin state in a recently concluded conference. CHRO hopes to find a favourable solution to the Burmese refugee problems in Mizoram, without any precondition with the YMA, church groups and the Mizoram government.
Meanwhile, CHRO’s is into international lobbying and advocacy for Burmese refugees in Mizoram, who cross the international boundary in search of a shelter. Salai Bawilianmang clarified that cross border traders, who criss-cross the border every day, are not presented as refugees. The victims of a political system of Burma are refugees. This is what it holds up while lobbying and advocating their cause.
“Categorizing refugees as economic migrants, political asylum seekers and so on and so forth is very complicated. If you look at just the surface many will just look like economic migrants. But when you dig deeper for the reason as to why they come here (Mizoram), you will to see a bigger and clearer picture of the situation that the Burmese military government has created,” Salai Bawilianmang added.
India, as an emerging world power and the biggest democracy in the world, is expected to stick to the ‘non-refoulement provision’ while dealing with Chin refugees, who face persecution because of their belief in democracy. According to Amy Alexander, CHRO’s legal consultant, the idea is that “no refugee should be returned to any country where he or she is likely to face persecution or torture.”
The CHRO thanked the entire Mizo people for generously hosting several thousands of Chin refugees from Burma for several years. CHRO is engaged in a series of advocacy programmes for Chin refugees and will continue its advocacy with hope, like always, so that it bears positive fruits for both the refugee community and the host local community.
“I would prefer to focus on Chin refugees in our conversation,” said Salai Bawilianmang.
CHRO operates mainly from Canada where it is legally registered with the government of Canada. It has branches in U.S.A, India, Thailand and Malaysia.
(Original version of interview)
AN ONLINE INTERVIEW FROM MUANA OF MIZZIMA NEWS
SALAI BAWI LIAN MANG AT CHRO
1. The letter was not an ‘Open Letter’ nor a copy has to be made available to the press. Is it a failure to follow formality or intent?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: I think you mean the appeal letter sent by CHRO to YMA that was covered by several Mizoram Newspapers a month ago.
Well, before I am going straight to your question, please allow me to say that I and the CHRO team would like to offer our utmost congratulations to the YMA for successfully concluding their annual conference recently. We are glad that the YMA has adopted to promote the principle of brotherhood and oneness “hnam pumkhat na” among the Chin/Mizo people in one of their resolutions. I and the CHRO team warmly welcome the gracious step taken by the YMA.
Regarding the letter, in fact it was not a failure to follow formality or intent. It was a very positive diplomatic appeal letter between two brothers. We can sum up the appeal letter in four points. 1. The CHRO congratulates YMA for the wonderful job they have been doing for the past several years. 2. We thank the entire Mizo people for generously hosting several thousands of Chin refugees from Burma for several years. 3. We briefly highlight the persecution faced by the Chin people at the hand of one of the most brutal Burmese military regime and we ask India to stick with non-refoulement principle when dealing with the Chin refugees as an emerging world power player in international politics 4. We request the YMA to find favorable solution to solve the refugee problems in Mizoram.
It was great that the press in Mizoram picked up the letter and the issue in several papers. That shed some lights on the real situation that caught the attention from the concern people/official.
2. Explain more of “Non-refoulement principle”, which the people of Mizoram is not familiar with.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: Generally speaking, the principle of non-refoulement is fundamental to refugee law. Its expression in the Refugee Convention in 1951 played a key role in how states deal with refugees and asylum seekers. According to the CHRO legal consultant, it is the idea that ‘no refugee should be returned to any country where he or she is likely to face persecution or torture’.
One may argue that India is not a signatory country of 1951 Refugee Convention. It is true. But as we have mentioned in the letter, as an emerging world power and the biggest democracy country in the world, we expect India to stick with non-refoulement principle while dealing with the Chin refugees. The Chin have faced persecution because of their belief in democracy, Christianity and their ethnicity and India as our closet democracy country know very well the persecution the Chin people are facing in their home land.
3. Few Burmese are registered as political refugees (around 40) in Mizoram. Do Non-refoulement principle cover the economic migrants?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: I would prefer to focus about Chin refugees in our conversation. We do not know exactly how many Chins are registered political refugee in Mizoram. I hope you still remember refugee camps set up by the Indian government in 1988. There were at least three refugee camp opened to shelter refugees from Burma who have fled after the popular 1988 uprising. The two camps were in Mizoram, and I hope you aware that the majority of the refugees at the camps were Chins.
Even though the refugee camps have been dissolved, that does not mean that there is no more refugees from Burma (especially the Chins) in Mizoram or in India. There are still thousands of Chin refugees living in Mizoram.
What you have said is correct that only a very few people are registered political refugees and we never mention the role of cross borders traders who criss-cross the border every day. However, if you look at those registered refugees they are such as an elected Member of Parliament during the 1990 general election in Burma and the rest are political leaders and high profile activists. Where are all those, more than 50 thousands, ordinary refugee who come to cross the international boundary in search of a safe haven?
Categorizing the refugees such as economic migrants, political asylum seekers so on and so forth is a very complicated one. If you look at just the surface many will just look like economic migrants. But when you dig deeper the reason why they come here, you will come to see a bigger and clearer picture the situation that the Burmese military government have created. During one of my lobby mission trip to Washington DC at the State Department Bureau for Population, Refugee and Migration, one of the program officers told me her experience talking with one of the “migrants” who do not approach UNHCR or the refugee camp, from Burma.
The conversation goes like this;
[ Why are you coming here?
Oh, I got a better job and I earn more money here.
What did you do for a living in Burma?
I used to own a ferry and I operate it as our family business.
What happen to your ferry?
No more, the army confiscated it and I have no other way to support my family and I come here to work.]
Now, the question is, who is this person? Is he an “opportunist” economic migrant or a victim of political system in the country?
Look at the Chin situation, they have been forced to works in the government and army project, calls to serve as porters at any time, prohibited to cut or burn or work at their farm at whim. How will they survive if they continue to live in that situation? When those people come to cross the international boundary in search of a safe haven shall we call them economic migrants or victims of political system in Burma?
4. CHRO is willing to find favorable solution to refugees problems in Mizoram with YMA. How can this be work out? What is CHRO proposal?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: Yes indeed. We do want to find a favorable solution to the refugee problems in Mizoram with the YMA, the Church groups, and the government.
The people of Mizoram and the government have been very generous to the Chin refugees and we are so grateful for that. However, there must be a better solution in terms of the treatment of Chin refugees in Mizoram. We do not have a precondition. That is why we need to meet and talk and find out practical and workable solution from both sides.
5. How will the people of Mizoram help in the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: There is many ways. The people of Mizoram should know that they are the model for their brothers and sisters from the East in terms of politics and human rights this is the best chance for them to offer a helping hand.
Look at the Mizoram, they have gone through 20 years of revolution and now the MNF is the state government. They are managing their own affairs (for some extend). This is a very good model not only for the Chin who are struggling for their self determination but also for many other people who are struggling for civil and political rights.
Look at the freedom they enjoy in press, culture, religion, language, and tradition and of course in education. While the people of Mizoram enjoy all these freedom and rights, their brothers and sisters, the Chins, in the east are denied every right mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
6. How effective is the international campaign for the refugees in Mizoram? Does it repulsively effect the people of Mizoram to give more pressure upon the Burmese refugees?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: As you know we are now living in the age of information and the world become so small, even for the Chins and Mizos. In this small global village, we are just the dark corner of one of the blocks. And I do not believe that the international lobby and advocacy for Chin refugees in Mizoram will give negative effects on the refugees. We have been doing this advocacy works for the past several years and there are many developments in terms of the situation of the refugees. At present, while answering your questions, the CHRO is engage in a series of advocacy works for the Chin refugees in Washington DC meeting with the US department of State, several faith based rights groups and refugee agency, the UNHCR, INTERACTION (American Council for Voluntary International Action) not only in India but also in Malaysia. We will continue the advocacy work in the coming January in London, Brussels and Oslo. And I hope that, like always, this advocacy mission will bear a positive fruits for both the refugee community and the host local community, I mean both Mizoram and in Malaysia.
We need to move forward with the pace of the international flow. If we continue to lock our selves in this dark corner of the global village, that will not benefit anyone. It is time to embrace the reality and go along with the international flow.
7. Do you visit the YMA leadership in your last trip to Mizoram? If yes, what is the outcome of the meeting? If no, why?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: I did not visit YMA leadership in my last trip to Mizoram because they were busy right after their conference and also I think that that was not the right time to make an effort to meet with them. I hope we will be a better chance in the near future.
8. How many CHRO braches are there all over the world? How many regular workers are there and who is the main funder of CHRO?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: In fact the CHRO is a small organization. We just look big from outside as we stretches ourselves in Canada, USA, New Delhi, Thailand, and Malaysia.
The main operation is from Canada where we register legally to the government of Canada. And Delhi office is main for field operation in India and Chiangmai is center for Thailand and Malaysia. And I am now based in California.
There are 8 people working as regular staff/field workers and there are several volunteers.
In terms of funding sources; our main funders include, National Endowment for Democracy based in Washington DC, Inter Pares based in Ottawa, Canada, Euro-Burma office based in Brussels, United Nations Voluntary Fund, NCIV based in the Netherlands, SWERA based in Sweden, and AIPP based in Thailand.
For the refugee advocacy works, our main funding source is from Chin churches around the world. 7 Chin churches from the USA, 2 Chin churches from Canada, three Chin Churches from Europe; Norway, Denmark and Germany, and 2 Chin churches from Australia and there are a number of individual funders. Well, our funders and supporters covered the world but we are a mall organization.
9. How do CHRO work with Chin National Front and other Burma issue related NGO’s?
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: The CHRO and the CNF are two different organizations. The only connection we have in terms of working together is through Chin National Council where both the CHRO and CNF are members but with different background. The CNF comes to CNC from political background and the CHRO comes to the CNC from civil society background. But while collecting the news and information inside Chin state, we got the CNF protection from time to time.
In terms of Burma issue related NGO’s we are willing and committed to work together with any one who share the same interest with the CHRO. One example is we have been doing lobby mission with the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma at the third committee of United Nations General Assembly.
10. Any other comment.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: Thank you very much. Sorry for making you wait so long and please accept my apology for that.