Volume XI, No VI. November – December 2008
Chin Human Rights Organization
Deteriorating Conditions Despite Increased Awareness on Situations in Western Burma
Situations in Chinland
• Rights Activist Feared Dead
• Junta-Backed Sex Industry Growing in Chin State
• Chin Farmers Forced to Change Rice Seeds
• Burmese Soldiers Living off Villagers
• Immigration Officials Seized Family Registration Cards,
• Students Supply Rice and Firewood to Underpaid Teachers
• Porter for Us or Give Rice or Money: Burma Army
• Forced Labor to Construct Army Camp
• Church Building Foundation Destroyed In Tayawaddy Village
• Chin Political Prisoners Isolated from Families
• Burmese Soldiers Live Off Villagers Struck by Major Food Crisis
• Students Regularly Forced to Perform Forced Labor Duty
• Forced Labor to Repair Army Camp
• Parents of Students Struggling to Pay Compulsory Fees for Extra Classes
• Corrupt Immigration Officers Extort from Travelers
• Illegal Tolls Collected from Travelers
• Chin Refugee Died at UNHCR Gate
• Chin Refugee Committed Suicide Due To Depression In Malaysia
• Whereabouts of Detained Chin Children Refugees Not Known In Thailand
• Czech Republic Welcomed For Opening Its Door To Chin Refugees
• New Focus on Refugee Protection in Asia-Pacific Region
• New Uncertainty for Burmese Refugees over India’s Provincial Election
Activities Highlights- 2008
• Referendum & Public Mobilization Campaign
• Awareness and Fund Raising Activities
• Reports, Publication & Media Coverage
• Field Coordination
• Human Rights Education/Capacity Building
Deteriorating Conditions despite Increased Awareness on Situations in Western Burma
Awareness has been slowly but steadily increasing on the situations in Burma’s western border, particularly on the food scarcity and famine-like conditions in Chin State over this past year. But along with this new but long overdue attention, there has been a parallel increase in rights abuse and related consequences of human suffering due to the combined policies of neglect and repression. This week, the United Nations General Assembly renewed its condemnation of Burma’s abysmal human rights record, a highly symbolic expression of world opinion against Burma’s human rights practice, but has little weight in affecting situations on the ground in terms of improvement in the area of human rights or the democratic reform expected by the international community.
But the General Assembly’s resolution, which represents the official views and opinion of the 192-member nations, reinforces testament to the fact that the overall conditions in Burma have further worsened in 2008. Take the situations in western Burma, for example, where the military junta is continuing systematic human rights abuses against the civilians despite severe and ongoing food shortages faced by the Chin people, and one will need no convincing to realize that this week General Assembly’s resolution on Burma was reflective of the true conditions on the ground in that country – contrary to what the junta regularly calls it “slander and baseless accusations” that are nothing but a “blatant interference” in the internal affairs of Burma.
As this issue of Rhododendron, this year’s last edition demonstrates, there has been no improvement in the situations of human rights in western Burma and Chin State. The regime’s policies and practices of abuse and repression continue in the region, despite the fact that Chin people are now struggling with one of the worst humanitarian crises they have encountered in half a century.
In this issue, instances of civilian forced labor, extortion, confiscation of livestock and properties, restriction and prohibition on farmers and farming methods – all contributing to and exacerbating the Chin people’s ability to survive and undermining their basic means of livelihood – continue unabated.
The mass flowering of bamboos, which cover at least a fifth of their current homeland, followed by massive rat infestation and subsequent destruction of food crops, and resulting in widespread shortages of food for the local communities primarily dependent on subsistence farming, has caused a massive humanitarian crisis in the region.
In July, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) released a report “Critical Point: Food Scarcity and Hunger in Burma’s Chin State” highlighting the issues of the humanitarian situations in western Burma, and calling on the international community to urgently intervene in order to avert a massive human tragedy in Chin State. The CHRO made specific recommendations regarding how to meet and respond to the needs of thousands of people in western Burma who are struggling with a massive food crisis. Subsequently, the CHRO with its partner organizations made international lobbying efforts to draw attention to the urgent humanitarian crisis in western Burma. The position of Chin Human Rights Organization is to advocate for both internal and cross-border humanitarian assistance and food relief, essentially by all means possible, to reach all those suffering hunger in the region. International organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and partner organizations are now operating in the relief effort.
However, the relief efforts thus far, both through cross-border operations and from within inside the country, have been limited, and Chin people continue to suffer hunger and malnutrition, and are still struggling with a massive food crisis.
There has been greater awareness about the situations in western Burma during the last year, but not enough has been done to tackle what is essentially a humanitarian disaster in the making.
Rights Activist Feared Dead
1 November, 2008 – Aizawl, India: A Chin human rights activist is reported missing and feared dead after a small boat he was riding in was swept away by fast currents of the Kaladan river in southern Chin State on October 30, Chinland Guardian has learned.
Jonh Tuihing, a staff of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) was crossing the Kaladan River on a small boat on a return from a clandestine trip inside Burma to assess food scarcity situations in Paletwa Township of southern Chin State when he was reported drowned. His body has not been recovered.
John, in his 20s, joined the CHRO in April of 2008, and was actively engaged in a clandestine monitoring mission inside Chin State during the May 10 constitutional referendum in Burma . He recently assumed the position of acting coordinator for the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee (CFERC), a Mizoram-based relief group engaged in cross-border relief work inside Chin State.
“The news of John’s death shocked us beyond belief. He was a dedicated and hardworking individual. The operation of CFERC would not have been possible without his contributions,” says the group’s Chairman H. Chan Thawng Ling.
John was on a mission to conduct assessment on food scarcity situations in the southern township of Paletwa as part of a joint effort for cross-border food relief programs initiated by four Mizoram-based Chin groups: Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee (CFERC), Chin Humanitarian Relief Committee (CHRC), Women League of Chinland ( WLC ) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC). The four groups recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), agreeing to launch a more effective and coordinated cross-border relief efforts inside Chin State.
“John was a dedicated activist who will be remembered as someone who gave his life for the promotion of human rights. His death is a great loss us. We will do everything on our part to recover John’s body so that he can be honored and properly laid according to the Chin customs,” says Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization. He says John is the third person in his organization to die while fighting for human rights. In 1998 and 2000 respectively, Michael En Za Pau, Secretary of CHRO and Salai Zo Thang, the organization’s field monitor were killed while on a mission to document human rights situations in Chin State.
A search is still on for John’s body.
(Editor’s note: John`s body was recovered within less than a week of the accident and was laid to rest at a location on India-Burma border)
Junta-Backed Sex Industry Growing in Chin State
4 December 2008: The numbers of hotels that service sex entertainment have sprung up in Chin State in recent years, with the full knowledge and backing of local authorities and military officials, sources have told Chin Human Rights Organization.
A hotel located on the bank of a natural heart-shape Rih Lake is the latest of such an example. The owner is reported to be using young girls as sex entertainers to tourists and visiting junta officials.
U Maung Aye opened the hotel in 2007 and hired four local Chin young girls (names withheld) to serve as waitresses. But the girls are actually used to perform sex services to tourists from India and junta officials visiting the area, according to a local resident whose identity is withheld for his personal security.
“The town’s elders have made several complaints against this illegal activity, but U Maung Aye paid no heed since he has the backing of the police and the army,” he said.
According to him, the clients are charged 300 Rupees per service together with Rs. 200 for room per night. As for the four girls, he pays them 50,000 Kyats per month, he added.
U Maung Aye is the first person to open such kind of business in the Rih sub-town area. He reportedly paid 6 million Kyats to the authorities for running his business. “This business is meant to attract more tourists to come and see the beautiful Rih Lake,” U Maung Aye was quoted as saying.
Since 2000, at least four different hotels and restaurants servicing sex entertainment have been opened in Hakha, the capital of Chin State, with the backing of local military officials.
Chin Farmers Forced to Change Rice Seeds
16 December 2008: Farmers working wet farmlands in Chin State have been told to change their regular rice seeds to a new type of rice recommended by the authorities, according to a local farmer.
An order issued by the Chief Administrative Officer of Rih Sub-Township in 2007 required all farmers in the area must stop growing the type of rice they have been traditionally growing for generations, and switch to “Shwe Yin Aye” rice that is grown mainly in the lowlands of Burma. Penalties will be imposed on those failing to comply, the order stipulated.
“This new type of rice is only productive in the lowlands and delta region and is not suitable to the type of climate that we have in Chin State,” says Pu Run Hlei Thang, a local farmer who refused to comply with the order last year. “Last year, I was fined 50 Tins (1 tin consist of about 20 kilograms) of rice because refuse to switch to the new type of rice. But it was still worth it since I would have had lost 100 tins had I complied with the order,” he explained.
Farmers are required to buy Shwe Yin Aye rice seed at the rate of 8000 Kyats per tin. “Some farmers have chose not to farm at all and find an alternative means under this condition,” Pu Run Hlei Thang said.
Burmese Soldiers Living off Villagers
2 December 2008: Burmese soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 304 stationed at Lasin camp in Matupi Township are reported to be living off the local population, and selling their army rations for profits, a local village told Chin Human Rights Organization.
“Villages under the jurisdiction of LIB 304 Sergeant and his troops have to supply them with rice, chickens and livestock on a rotating basis. Each village has to feed them for an entire month. If any village is late in making the supplies, they are yelled at and threatened for defiance of army order,” explained a villager.
“It doesn’t make a difference if the village is big or small, each village must meet the required amount of rations for the troops, and it includes two to five chickens.”
CHRO has learnt that for the past two years, the troops at Lasin camp has been selling their own ration for profits while compelling villagers to supply them with whatever they need.
Immigration Officials Seized Family Registration Cards
16 December 2008: A group of government staff from Matupi Township’s immigration department have been seizing family registration cards from villagers in southern Chin State, a source told Chin Human Rights Organization. The seizure took place in July and November 2008.
“Hundreds of families have had their family registration cards seized without knowing why,” a local resident said. “The officials also collected 1500 Kyats from each family. When asked by the villagers, they said they were simply following orders from higher authorities,” he said.
The officers did not explain whether the families were receiving new registration cards.
Students Supply Rice and Firewood to Underpaid Teachers
5 December 2008: Due to insufficient of salary from the government, school teachers in Chin state are compelled to take rice and firewood from their students.
A head master of Rihkhuadar town’s block (2) primary school, Pu Lian Vung, on December 4 and 5, 2008, asked 359 of his pupils to bring a cup of rice and a piece of firewood for the teachers. The name of those bringing the rice and firewood were recorded, and assured them of passing their month tests.
“The headmaster has to take this measure because of the desperate conditions we are in,” said one teacher working at the school.
“We do not see this as a fault of the headmaster. If the government gives us sufficient salary and commodities prices are made balanced with our salary, he would not have done what he did,” comments an officer working for the government.
The rising rate of inflation and grossly insufficient salaries for government servants are fueling corruption throughout Burma.
The No. 2 State Primary School has up to Grade seven with a total of 359 students. Of the 10 teachers employed only four of them are paid by the government while six other teachers are supported entirely by the community.
Porter for Us or Give Rice or Money: Burma Army
9 December 2008: A company commander of Burmese army Light Infantry Battalion (LIB-269), stationed at Vuangtu army camp in northern Chin state, collected rice from villagers who could not porter for the army or pay money as a substitute.
On October 6, 2008, the commander collected 3500 Kyats or 40 kilograms of rice from any household that could not contribute porters for the army. The money, 120, 000 Kyats in total, was used to hire eight horses to transport army supplies at the rate of 15,000 Kyats per horse. Among those contributed human labor to porter the army supplies were Belhar, Tluangram (a), Tluangram (b), Zephai, Vomkua and Lulpilung.
“Giving away 40 kilograms of rice to the army when we are faced with extreme food scarcity is putting us in unbearable situation. Worst still, this kind of practice is likely to continue in the area,” said a local villager.
Forced Labor to Construct Army Camp
11 December 2008: On October 10, 2008, a Burmese army Light Infantry Battalion (99) commander Major Kyaw Wa, forced dozens of civilians to cut bamboos to construct an army camp.
Forced laborers were recruited from nine village tracts in the southern Township of Paletwa, including villagers from Chin Letwa and Shin Oo Wa villages. Each village was forced to cut (200) sticks of bamboo to fence an army camp.
Church Building Foundation Destroyed In Tayawaddy Village
Van Biak Thang & Thang Pi
05 December, 2008: Some pillars erected, wood planks piled and foundation blocks laid down in a plot where construction of a church building is planned by students of Government Technological College (Kalay Myo) were pulled out and removed by Tayawaddy villagers on 27 November 2008.
This ‘gruesome’ move came under the leadership of the village’s headman following an order issued on 24 November by Chairman of Township Peace and Development Council U Ko Ko Latt who is said to have summoned and interrogated leaders of University Christian Fellowship.
“The purpose of building this church is to have a worship service among students since it is difficult and far away from our college to get to Kalay Myo for going to church. At first, the authority did not give us permission by saying it is not Chin State. After proposing consistently and explaining the fact that a church is not to be built only in Chin State, permission was at last given to us,” said a Christian Fellowship member whose name is not mentioned intentionally.
“This effort has begun by saving a little out of our pocket money from our parents. We all are very sad that our church is destroyed like this and it is not good that religious and ethnic discrimination still exists in the country.”
All the materials removed from the plot owned by Technology Christian Fellowship based in Tayawaddy village, Sagaing Division are still kept in the compound of the village’s headman.
It is claimed that there has been an unofficial order issued in the village that no Chin students should be allowed to rent a house and that any house letting out to Chin students will be stoned to pieces.
Students of GTC (Kalay Myo) have started saving and contributing towards the construction plans since 2005. The church building foundation was laid down in 2005 and the activities delayed due to insufficient fund and Burma’s political unrest. It was only on 26 November 2008 that the students who re-started voluntarily clearing up the plot were ordered to stop their activities.
Student Union is said to have written a report, calling on Regional and District Offices, Principal of the College and Kalay Christian Churches to take appropriate action in this matter.
Chin Political Prisoners Isolated from Families
Van Biak Thang
13 December, 2008: Concern has mounted among the Chin people over the safety of Kam Lam Khup, also known as Kyaw Soe, and Kap Kham Khual, also known as Anthony, who have been moved to Myaungmya and Bassein jail respectively in late November 2008, according to sources.
The duo prisoners, along with an Arakanese activist, were arrested last year for their involvement in the Saffron Revolution. Recently, Kyaw Soe, Pu Cin Sian Thang’s son, was given a 33-year sentence and Anthony, his nephew, 8-year in jail.
The transference from Rangon-based notorious Insein jail to remote prison was said to have intended to make it difficult for family members to visit their loved ones at prison.
Pu Cin Sian Thang, a prominent Chin political leader and Chairman of Zomi National Congress, said that he and his family had learnt only when they went to the prison that his son, Kyaw Soe and his nephew, Anthony, were transferred somewhere and that he feared he might not live long enough to see the two upon their releases.
Burma’s military regime brutally cracked down on last year’s monk-led demonstration, widely known as Saffron Revolution, killing and arresting thousands of protesters as well as bystanders and spectators. It is estimated that there are over 2,100 political prisoners in Burma.
Burmese Soldiers Live Off Villagers Struck by Major Food Crisis
16 November 2008: Burmese soldiers patrol column from Light Infantry Battalion (89) regularly confiscate chickens and crops from villagers of Lungding, who have been suffering severe food shortages due to rat infestation and a violent storm that destroyed much of their crops, a local villager has told Chin Human Rights Organization. The troops are stationed at Burmese army outpost at a nearby village of Lungler.
Located in Thantlang Township, Lungding village has been hit by a severe food crisis after their annual crop yields were substantially reduced by rat infestation and a storm. Of the 114 households in the village, about 105 to 110 make their living by subsistence farming. According to the villager, 42 households had lost their crops to marauding rats and birds while another 45 households had their crops completely destroyed by the storm. He said at least 7 households have completely abandoned farming.
“The entire village is running out of food, but Burmese soldiers are still taking what little is left of the villagers’ food supplies,” explained the villager.
Students Regularly Forced to Perform Forced Labor Duty
24 November 2008: Students studying at a Government High School of Rih sub-town are regularly forced to fence an army camp or work at government-run Jatropha plantations. The forced labor practice using the students started since September of 2008 and happens on every weekend since, a local person testified to Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
Students are threatened with failing their exams for failure to show up at work, and are caned by the headmaster of the school at the school assembly on every Monday.
“If we continuously fail to show up for work, they would really fail us. Anyone who participates regularly is promised to pass even if they do not perform well in the examinations,” explains one female student.
“The forced labor duty is not only negatively affecting students’ academic performance, but it also interferes with the students’ ability to help out their parents during weekends and holidays as the community is already struggling with food shortages,” explains one unnamed Chin teacher working at the school.
Forced Labor to Repair Army Camp
17 November 2008: A Burmese army column commander and his troops from Light Infantry Battalion (89) stationed at Lungler army camp are reported to use forced labor by compelling civilians in the area to construct and repair his camp.
Newly transferred to the camp from Kalay Myo, the camp commander forced civilians to repair his camp for 14 consecutive days. Laborers had had to bring their own tools and rations for the duration of the work.
“Some were compelled to cut woods from the forests, while others work to dismantle the old fences around the camp,” said an unnamed villager who participated in the work.
“The food crisis is already more than enough for us to deal with, and many of us are contemplating about moving to India’s Mizoram to escape this kind of hardship,” he told Chin Human Rights Organization.
Parents of Students Struggling to Pay Compulsory Fees for Extra Classes
20 November 2008: A new order by the headmaster of state high school in Rih sub-town of northern Chin state is putting extra burdens on parents who must now pay compulsory fees for a new after-school program for their children.
The order took effect in September for the 2008-2009 academic sessions. The extra class program runs from 4 to 6 p.m. every week days. Each student is to pay 2000 Kyats for the program.
“Parents are really left with no choice since teachers often deliberately give important lessons only during these extra classes. So missing these classes means students miss out on important lessons,” one parent told Chin Human Rights Organization.
“It is a big extra burden for the parents if they have multiple children attending school,” the parent added. The state high school in Rih sub-town has about 700 students and 25 teachers.
“This program has little to do with academic,” said the parent, “It is because the teachers need a side income since they cannot survive with their meagre salaries,” he said.
According to a teacher working at the school, not only the teachers but other government servants have been forced to find a side income through various means to supplement their grossly inadequate monthly salaries.
In Chin State, a headmaster of government high schools earn 100, 000 Kyats per month, high school teachers 70, 000 Kyats per month and 50, 000 Kyats per month for middle school teachers. On the other hand, the average price of one bag of rice, which is enough for half a month for a typical family, is about 30, 000 Kyats.
Corrupt Immigration Officers Extort from Travelers
20 November 2008: Three immigration officers on duty at a check-point at Mansawng bridge over Zung river in Tiddim Township of northern Chin State, during the last week of October 2008 extorted thousands of Kyats from travelers passing through the route, a victim testified to Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
“Initially, they asked for 5000 Kyats from each traveler. But we tried arguing with them, telling them that we did not have such money. At last they settled for 3000 Kyats,” said the traveler. According to him, the officers also seized twelve packs of cigarettes from one of the travelers.
“It is unfair that they would simply divide up the money among themselves our hard earned money,” he complained.
Illegal Tolls Collected from Travelers
21 November 2008: Travelers and motor cycle owners plying their vehicles between Kalay and Tamu Town are being asked to pay a toll for passing through a bridge over Kyan Set Kung river, an unnamed source told Chin Human Rights Organization.
A 500 Kyat per head is collected by the Township Peace and Development Council in cooperation with the local village authorities.
Constructed to facilitate India-Burma trade route, the bridge collapsed on October 10, 2008 due to frequent use by large lorry trucks belonging to the Myanmar Logging Company.
According to the local authorities, the toll was meant to finance the reconstruction of the bridge, but local villagers believe the funds will eventually end up in the pockets of township officials.
At least 100 vehicles pass through the bridge each day.
Chin Refugee Died at UNHCR Gate
31 December 2008: A Chin refugee reportedly died after collasping at the gate of UNHCR where he was waiting to see an officer of the UN refugee agency in Malaysia on December 22, 2008.
According to a news report by the Voice of Chin Refugee, a community newsletter in Kuala Lumpur, Ye Thew, 34, was a recognized refugee and had apparently been suffering from mental illness.
His room mates reported that prior to his death Ye Thew had been without food for a week and had vomitted blood and bled rectally. His attempt to get treatment at a local hospital was met with failure when the hospital refused to register him because he did not have his UNHCR refugee card with him. He apparently lost his UNHCR card a week earlier when he was mugged by local thugs, the newsletter said.
He collasped at the gate of UNHCR while waiting to have a new refugee card issued. Like many other Burmese refugees in Malaysia, Ye Thew had been arrested and detained four times on immigration charges, despite being a UN recognized refugees.
Chin Refugee Committed Suicide Due To Depression In Malaysia
Van Biak Thang
05 November, 2008: A Chin refugee, Mr. Van Peng Lian, last Monday hung himself using an electric wire due to depression, reportedly resulting from facing difficulties in getting registered as a recognised refugee from Burma after going through a series of detentions and deportation in Malaysia and Thailand.
The 23-year-old was arrested last May in their rented house with 15 other Chins in a night raid by Malaysian RELA after coming to Malaysia as an unrecognised refugee since February 2008. Mr. Lian, along with other Chins, was deported to the Thai-Malaysian border after being detained at different locations including 5 days at KLIA Immigration camp, 3 months at Kajang Jail and 3 weeks at Semanyih Immigration Camp.
A Physics graduate from Kalay College, together with other Chin refugees, managed to get back to Malaysia after spending 3 nights reportedly under the agents’ control on the Thai-Malaysian border. He was said to have given once an anti-depression counselling at ACTS clinic in Malaysia.
He took his own life about a month after he got back to Malaysia from Thailand.
Van Peng Lian of Cin village, Hakha township, said he got deeply devastated and feeling despondent as he could not get registered with UNHCR even though he was a refugee from Burma, according to his friends. UNHCR did not make any visits to him during his four-month detention at Kajang Jail, sources claimed.
He is survived by his only sister Esther in Malaysia who is said to be ‘lonely and grief-stricken’.
In Malaysia, there have been four suicides committed by the Chin refugees only in 2008 due to depression after the UNHCR closed its refugee registration.
Whereabouts of Detained Chin Children Refugees Not Known In Thailand
Van Biak Thang
06 November, 2008: Fears have mounted over the ‘mental and physical’ safety of 6 Chin children refugees who have been reportedly detained in Thailand since late September as no information is known as to where and how they have been, their families in Malaysia said.
Thiang Bik, 5, Philip, 7, Ngun Za Thin, 9, Roland, 11, Chan Duh Thang, 10, and Kap Cung Lian, 9, of Thau and Vomkua villages, Thantlang township were arrested by the Thai Police while they were on their way to Malaysia to join their parents.
“We don’t know what happens to them and where they are now. Even alive or dead, we are not sure. We, the parents, are so much worried every single second. They don’t speak Burmese, Thai, Malaysian, English and won’t be able to even tell about themselves,” Pu Zai Awi, 47, told Chinland Guardian.
The children were reportedly kept in police lock-up in Thailand for two weeks and moved to another detention camp. It is believed that they might also be transferred to an orphanage in Bangkok according to unconfirmed sources.
“We keep trying to reach out as far as we can. The agents told us that there is nothing they can do to get them out of the Thai police. Out of my desperation, I have queued up for three days to contact UNHCR in Malaysia. The UNHCR said that they will keep trying to find them but can’t guarantee,” said Kap Cung Lian’s father, a UNHCR refugee card holder in Malaysia.
The six Chin children of three families, who were arrested in Thailand with more than 50 other refugees, managed with the help of agents to get out from Burma to join their refugee parents in Malaysia. It is said that the agents could get the others out of detention camps after bribing the Thai police.
CRC, a Chin community-based volunteer organisation in Malaysia, and other individuals have been since September making efforts but no confirmed information about the detained children has been obtained.
“We have tried so much in this case and it has gone into 6 weeks now. The situation has become beyond what we can actually do. The only hope we have got is what UNHCR in Malaysia and Thailand can do,” a member of Chin Refugee Committee (CRC) told Chinland Guardian.
Czech Republic Welcomed For Opening Its Door To Chin Refugees
Van Biak Thang
09 November, 2008:A message of thanks and gratitude to Czech Republic for welcoming Chin refugees from Malaysia has been sent and exchanged across Chin communities and online forums across the world in recent weeks.
Czech Republic, a country that has been actively supporting the democratization process in Burma, opened its door for a total of 23 Chin refugees including 5 families from Malaysia under the UNHCR resettlement programme on 30 October 2008.
Sui Zi, one of the Chin refugees, said: “We were warmly greeted and well looked after much more than we expected. We were so touched when we received from a foreign country such a kind of love and care that we can not get in our own country. It is very important that we, the refugees, accept and understand aptly what they have done for us.”
The move came in June this year when the Czech cabinet approved ‘The Pilot Resettlement Program’ as part of the Czech Republic’s foreign policy to provide humanitarian assistance where a positive impact can be made, according to Katerina Stehlikova of the Czech Interior Ministry.
In his email of thanks and appreciation, Pu Lian Uk, a prominent Chin MP in exile, also highlighted the need of forming Chin community and Christian fellowship where religious and cultural activities can be done as a means to protect and promote unity among the Chin people.
“We are in a season when trees shed their leaves. We are told that it is not winter yet even though it is so cold,” said one of the Chin refugees who expressed joy and happiness in their new country, the Czech Republic.
Some refugees are said to have spent nearly 10 years in Malaysia before the resettlement programme. The UNHCR resettlement programme is seen as the only way to getting ‘safe and secure’ from Burma and Malaysia as the Chin refugees can still be arrested and deported at any time.
Due to SPDC’s ruthless brutalities and oppression, the Chin people have for decades fled their native place in search of safety and refuge in neighbouring countries including India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia. It is estimated that there are more than 30,000 Chin refugees stranded in Malaysia.
New Focus on Refugee Protection in Asia-Pacific Region
27 November, 2008: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: A regional consultation among civil society groups and intergovernmental agencies on how to better protect refugees and forced migrants in the Asia-Pacific region concluded in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this week, even as more governments in the region were voting against a draft United Nations General Assembly resolution on human rights situations in Burma in New York on the very same day.
India, Malaysia and Bangladesh, hosts to the largest number of Burmese refugees after Thailand, last Friday voted against a draft UN resolution on human rights situations in Burma. Thailand abstained from voting. Among those voting against the draft resolution were North Korea, China, Russia, Zimbabwe and Belarus.
The conference on refugee rights brought together civil society groups and regional and international actors from across the Asia-Pacific region, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“Problems of forced migration and refugee situations exist due to disrespect of human rights. The fact that Burma has the largest number of refugees coming out of its borders into neighbouring countries alone is testament that concerned countries in the region need to adopt a more forward-looking and realistic policy,” said Victor Biak Lian of Chin Human Rights Organization who participated as a panelist in the conference.
Victor Biak Lian, a Board Member of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) spoke as a panelist at the conference on the topic “Ethics in Working with Refugees: Community Perspectives and Principles of Partnership.” Proposing a more ethical and rights-based approach to dealing with refugee issues, Victor Biak Lian invited more non-governmental organizations in the region to engage in the protection of refugees in the region.
In an unrelated incident, a leader of Chin Refugee Committee (CRC), a refugee community group which won the Suaram Human Rights Award, died after suffering from stomach cancer at a Kuala Lumpur hospital. Those who knew Mr. Tin Hmung describe him as a dedicated and committed activist, who put the need and welfare of the community ahead of his own welfare and that of his family.
According to the conference papers, only 17 out of 55 countries in the Asia-Pacific region have only acceded to the international instrument governing the rights of refugees, an added challenge standing in the way of civil society groups in the region engaged in refugee protection advocacy.
Participants of the conference included civil society organizations from South Asia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Central Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.
The first regional consultation of its kind, the conference is seen as a collective civil society initiative that will help to advance refugee rights across the Asia-Pacific region.
New Uncertainty for Burmese Refugees over India’s Provincial Election
9 December 2008 – Aizawl: The State legislative election in Mizoram finished yesterday with a sweeping victory for the Indian National Congress (INC) after having been out of power for a decade in the northeastern Indian State.
The Mizo National Front, the ruling nationalist party suffered an embarrassing upset after securing only three of the 40 available State legislative seats. Mr. Zoramthanga, the incumbent Chief Minister and leader of the MNF party lost both of the two constituencies he contested. The surprising defeat came amidst a severe food crisis plaguing the State due to massive rat infestations following a mass flowering and fruiting of bamboo.
Mizoram shares a long international border with Burma’s Chin State, which is now struggling with a similar food crisis.
The sweeping electoral victory by the INC brought back to power the former Chief Minister Lalthanhawla, who had served as head of the State government for two terms from 1989 to 1998.
The election of a new government in Mizoram is causing renewed uncertainty about the future of the tens of thousands of Burmese Chin refugees in the State who have been the target of scapegoats and massive immigration crackdown during previous legislative elections. An estimated 60, 000 thousands Chins are currently living in Mizoram.
“Generally speaking, public sympathy for Chin refugees in Mizoram has steadily risen over the last few years, but we really don’t know what the future will hold for us,” says a Chin refugee and long term resident of the State.
In the past, Mizoram authorities and youth groups had regularly rounded up and deported thousands of Chin refugees to Burma, often in close correlation with the election cycle of the State Legislative Assembly.
“The fact that the Central Government is led by the Congress Party, which is traditionally on the side of the Burmese pro-democracy movement, might probably deter the new State government from taking any drastic actions against Burmese refugees” observes a Burmese activist in New Delhi.
CHRO’s Highlights of Activities – 2008
(1) INTERNATIONAL ADVOCACY
(a) Advocacy Activities in the United States
From 5 January to 16 January, CHRO conducted an advocacy trip to the United States to update agencies of the U.S. government and advocacy agencies on the situation of the Chin people and to meet with the resettled Chin communities in the U.S. During the meetings with U.S. government and advocacy agencies, CHRO highlighted developing issues of concern for the Chin people and provided recommendations for action. In meeting with the U.S. resettled communities, CHRO provided an overview of the situation in Malaysia, India, and Burma, an account of our activities during 2007, and our plans for activities in 2008. During the trip, CHRO had also prepared and distributed the report, “Action, Words, and Prayers: Chin Solidarity for the Protests in Burma.”
Meetings: United States State Department
Office of International Religious Freedom
Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration
Burma Desk Office, Office of Mainland Southeast Asia
The National Endowment for Democracy
International Agencies and NGOs
Refugee Council of USA
Southeast Asia Resource Center
US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Migration & Refugee Services
Church World Service
US Committee for Refugees & Immigrants
Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services
Foundation for the People of Burma
In addition, the CHRO team also met with resettled Chin communities from five US cities; Dallas, Texas, Maryland & Washington D.C, Battle Creek, Michigan, Indianapolis, Indiana and San Francisco, California.
(b) Advocacy Activities in CANADA
From July 22 to 25, in collaboration with the Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB), CHRO Director Salai bawi Lian and two CHRO board members Victor Biak Lian and Salai Sang Chin conducted an advocacy trip to Canada in order to update the Canadian government on the post-referendum/Nirgis political and human rights conditions in Burma and to draw attention to the food crisis faced by the Chin people in western Burma.
Meetings: Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade Canada
Deputy Director for South East Asia & Pacific Division
Director for South East Asia (Mainland) – Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)
Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister of Citizenship & Immigration Canada
Paul Dewar MP (New Democratic Party)
Primate World Relief & Development Fund
Burma Buddhist Association of Ontario
(c)Advocacy Activities in the United Kingdom and Czech Republic
In June, CHRO board member Victor Biak Lian together with Cheery Zahau of the Women League of Chinland an advocacy tour to Europe to highlight an ongoing humanitarian crisis in western Burma and to update European governments on the political and human rights situations in Burma.
Meetings: UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Meg Munn MP, Foreign Office Minister
Department for International Development (DFID)
William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary
John Bercow MP
All Party Parliamentary Group on Burma
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
Humanitarian Aid and Relief Trust (HART)
Meetings: Department of Foreign Affairs
Director, Asia-Pacific Division
Human Rights and Transition Policy Department
Burma Desk Office
(d) Advocacy Activities at the United Nations
As in the previous years, in 2008 the CHRO continue to focus on utilizing available international mechanisms by attending relevant United Nations conferences, and meeting with relevant agencies and staff at the United Nations. The CHRO maintains communication with UN agencies and participation at various UN forums: They included;
The Human Rights Council
The Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the Special Human Rights Rapportuer on Burma
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
The World Food Programme
The World Council of Churches etc.
(f) Advocacy Activities in Asia
In order to more effectively raise awareness about the Chin issues in Asia and coordinate advocacy activities with national and regional actors, in 2008 the CHRO opened a Regional Advocacy and Campaign Office in Thailand. Through this new initiative, the CHRO continues to focus on coalition-building activities and maintains communication with various government institutions, non-governmental organizations and international agencies. They included, among others:
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) based in Thailand, Malaysia and India
United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (Malaysia & Thailand)
International rights groups and humanitarian agencies based in Asia
Regional and international indigenous groups
Chin civil society and political organizations
Burma advocacy and humanitarian organizations
(2) INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES/SEMINARS
7 March 2008; Salai Bawi Lian, Director of CHRO attended a conference on “How the International Community can Support United Nations Efforts in Burma” organized by Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and University of Laval at Quebec City. The conference was attended by some Burma activists, scholars, Diplomats including United Nations Special Envoy on Burma Mr. Ibrahim Gambari.
3 -14 June Victor Biak Lian, CHRO Board Member attended the Global Youth Conference held in Liverpool, United Kingdom
20-22 June CHRO representative attended the Europe Burma Ethnic Seminar held at Frankfurt, Germany
26 Sept – 3 Oct: Victor Biak Lian, CHRO Board Member attended a meeting of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples held in Geneva, Switzerland
4-5 Oct Victor Biak Lian, CHRO Board Member spoke as a panelist at a conference organized by the Burma Centrum Netherlands in Amsterdam
10 – 16 Oct CHRO team attended the Chin Historical Seminar held at Mizoram University in Aizawl, jointly organized by the Mizoram University and the Chin Forum
20-21 Nov Victor Biak Lian, CHRO Board Member spoke as a panelist at the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on the Protection of Refugees in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
(3) REFERENDUM AND PUBLIC MOBILIZATION CAMPAIGN
To oppose the passage of the military-backed constitution in the May 10 referendum, the CHRO, as part of a larger “Vote No” campaign of the Burma pro-democracy movement, conducted a variety of activities inside Chin State and surrounding areas of western Burma. Some of the activities carried out included; printing and distribution of ‘vote no” campaign materials in 13 major locations inside Burma, telephone campaign, monitoring of polling stations and documenting of voting outcomes from nearly 200 polling stations in Chin State, and working in coordination with other Chin opposition parties and civil society organizations inside and outside of the country.
(4) AWARENESS AND FUND RAISING ACTIVITIES
During the months of August and September 2008, in cooperation with Chin communities from various countries in Asia and groups such as the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee, the Chin Human Rights Organization organized a series of Live Aid Concerts in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, to raise awareness on the humanitarian crisis in Chin State and to benefit thousands of famine victims in western Burma.
The CHRO also engaged in fund-raising and relief provision for victims of Cyclone Nirgis during this period.
(5) REPORTS, PUBLICATION AND MEDIA COVERAGE
January Published “Action, Words & Prayer: Chin Solidarity for the Protests in Burma”
July Published “Critical Point: Food Scarcity and Hunger in Burma’s Chin State”
Jan-Dec: Published six issues of Rhododendron Human Rights Newsletter
Contributed Article “Without Refuge: Chin Refugees in India and Malaysia” for The Oxford University Refugee Studies Center’s publication FORCED MIGRATION April 2008 Issue.
The CHRO team in New Delhi conducted comprehensive survey on the situations of Chin refugees in New Delhi and produced a draft report.
CHRO’s reports and the food shortages in Chin State were covered by a number of international media including BBC News, the Guardian, the Telegraph, ABC News, the Epoch Times, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Democratic Voice of Burma etc.
(6) FIELD COORDINATION
• CHRO assisted the delegation of humanitarian aid group from Britain including British parliamentarian Baroness Cox and BBC News crew to India Burma border. This trip is a result of CHRO advocacy trip in Europe in June 2008
• CHRO and Burma Relief Center (BRC) organized a meeting of border based humanitarian groups Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee (CFERC), Chin Humanitarian Relief Committee (CHRC), Public Affairs Committee of Chinland (PAC) and Women League of Chinland (WLC), to cooperate in combating hunger and famine in Chinland. The four groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in which they agreed to work together.
• The MoU assigned the CHRO to act as an oversight body and to conduct international advocacy, fundraising and management of the relief efforts on the groups’ behalf
(7) HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION/CAPACITY BUILDING
March – Chin Human Rights Organization conducted “Capacity Building for Human Rights Defenders: Basic Human Rights Training” in Aizawl, Mizoram
August – CHRO team in New Delhi collaborated in a three-day “Human Rights Workshop” organized by the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
December CHRO conducted “Basic Human Rights Training” in New Delhi, India
Throughout the year, the CHRO Regional Advocacy Office in Thailand was involved in capacity-building programs for the Burma Ethnic Assistance Program (BEAP), a joint community initiative involving ethnic refugee groups in Malaysia
The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) thanks our funders and partners for their continued supports, and the Chin communities, churches and individuals around the world for their financial contributions, advice and prayers, and for continuing to make CHRO the leading voice for the Chin people in 2008.