Volume VIII. No. III. May-June 2005
Chin Human Rights Organization
TABLE OF CONTENTS
General Human Rights Violations:
• Army Officer Abducts Village Headman for Ransom
• Villagers Flee to India to Escape Army Brutalities
• Youth Organization Abolished and The Leader Arrested
• SPDC Commander Justify His Barbaric Action
• Compulsory: You Must Buy USDA Calendar
• New High School Being Constructed with Forced Labor
• New Military Camps: Anguish For The People
• SPDC Use Prisoners for Construction of Hospital
• SPDC Forced 600 Villagers to Engage in Road Construction
• Chin Christians Forced to Supply Construction Materials for New Buddhist Monastery
• Canadian Parliament Passed Burma Motion
• Indian NGO Expressed Concern Over UNHCR Handling of Refugees from Burma in New Delhi
Facts & Arguments:
Persecution of Chin Christian in Burma (By Salai Bawi Lian Mang)
Back Cover Poem:
A letter to My Mother (By Van Biak Thang)
Army Officer Abducts Village Headman for Ransom
15 May 005
Aizawl: Lieutenant Aung Naing from Light Infantry Battalion 268 and commanding in charge of Tihbual army camp is holding U Chan Kung, headman of Tlaungkhua Village of Thangtlang Township for money ransom, after arresting him for failure to report the activities of Chin National Army. The victim has been ordered to pay 500,000 Kyats in monetary fine, a villager of Tlangkhua village reported.
Lt. Aung Niang and his troops forcibly took away U Chan Kung and another person working as a clerk at Tiahdai village for military patrol along India-Burma borders for nearly one month. The two victims were brought back to Tlangkhua village in the first week of May, 2005.
Tlangkhua villagers sacrificed a cow (a Chin customary practice to ask for one’s forgiveness) in order to plead with the Lieutenant for U Chan Kung’s freedom but was not accepted. Instead, Lt. Aung Naing ordered the villagers to come up with ransom money to buy their headman’s freedom.
“We don’t know how we are going to get that kind of money. It will be very difficult to come up with even half the amount he’s demanded. We’ll have to borrow the money with interest from moneylenders,” explained one villager.
Although a village clerk of Tiahdai village was set free and sent back, Lieutenant Aung Naing collected money from Tiahdai Village too.
Since Lieutenant Aung Naing was posted as camp commander at Tihbual military camp, he has regularly extorted money and confiscates livestock from cattle traders trying to sell their cattle to Mizoram of India.
All the headmen of every village in Chin State have been ordered to make reports on the activities of Chin National Army twice a month to the nearest military station and the villages were demanded a huge amounts of money if the reports have not been submitted before a given deadline.
Villagers Flee to India to Escape Army Brutalities
5 May 2005
Aizawl: Several villagers of Salen village, Thantlang Township, northern Chin state have been forced to flee to India’s Mizoram State to escape torture, brutalities and oppression by Burmese troops operating in the area.
Mr. Kham Peng Lian, one of the villagers who fled to India told Chin Human Rights Organization about his experience:
“Since a clash took place between Burmese army and Chin National Army near Old Hriphi village, Burmese troops from Light Infantry Battalion 266 stationed in Hakha and LIB 268 stationed in Falam town have been coming to our village almost on a daily basis. At any given day, at least one army unit would always be stationing in the village. The soldiers interrogate and torture civilians so badly and some people are so frightened they went into hiding in the jungle. The army accused Village Chief Cia Hmung and village councilor Ceu Cung of supporting the Chin rebels and beat them so badly that both had to be sent to Thantlang Hospital. They were later sent to Hakha because their injuries were so serious they could not be treated in Thantlang. They were released from hospital only in April. One of our friends, Pu Hmet Lian was killed because the army accused him of being a staunch supporter of Chin National Army. We were also accused of the same offence since the army was aware that we provided held to CNF activists when they came to our village. We would have faced the same fate had we not flee before they could catch us. The army has all our names as rebel supporters and that’s why our group decided to flee to Mizoram to avoid death,” Kham Peng Lian said.
He added that Rev. Tial Hre, Baptist Church Pastor, Saya Tlaung, a Minister at United Pentecostal Church and one civilian by the name of Hrang Kem were arrested currently held by the army at Hakha prison.
Kham Peng Lian and his group escaped to India on 18 April 2005. His group includes Tluang Hei Thang, Peng Bik, Ram Uk, Lal Cung and his wife.
Youth Organization Abolished and The Leader Arrested
12th June 2005
Aizawl: Mr. Ram Kung, youth leader of Lungngo from Matupi township was arrested along with two other villagers on March 13, 2005. The local SPDC authority accused that the youth organization has links with the Chin National Front (CNF), and the organization called “Lungngo Mino Bu” (Lungngo Youth Organization) was abolished.
On March 12, there was a brawl between the CNF operative and Burmese police where one policeman had been killed and two injured seriously. As Mr. Ram Kung and his two friends Pau Za Mang and Maung Thang happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time where incident was taking place, the three of them were arrested and taken to Matupi town on the next day.
Reports said that the youth leader Mr. Ram Kung was sent to undisclosed place by the local SPDC to face long term jail sentence charging him of unlawful association with the rebel. When relatives of the victims made inquiry to Colonel San Aung the where about of Mr. Ram Kung, the colonel yelled them back that it is not their business to inquiry where he sent Mr. Ram Kung.
The colonel then issued an order to abolish the youth organization “Lungngo Mino Bu” effective the end of May. Commander of Burma army Light Infantry Battalion (140) Lt. Colonel Ye Lwin declare the elimination of the youth organization to the local people.
The Youth Organization used to be very active in social activities and ensuring harmony and peace in the village. The organization reportedly prohibit public nuisance due to drunkenness and selling of liquors in the village. It guards the village against robbery and theft. Besides being the precursor of the village, it is a goodhearted organization aiding the people in need- such as transporting the sick to the hospital. Pilfers and liquor hawkers dare not operate in the village.
The SPDC authority said that since there are police and army are station in the village, there is no need to form youth organization.
“In fact, these policemen and army personals are the one who create public nuisance” said the local man who report the incident to the CHRO.
SPDC Commander Justify His Barbaric Action
18 June 2005
Aizawl: During the public meeting called by the Burmese military authority in Matupi town, Colonel San Aung, the commander of Burmese army tactical II announced that he has the authority to abolish any symbols, building, monuments including Christian symbol in public. The meeting was attended by various government departments and several village headmen.
Colonel San Aung called this meeting to justify what he has done to the Chin Christians in Matupi town. He is responsible for ordering the dismantling of two Christian cross in Matupi and confiscation and razing dawn of at least 20 houses without compensation in Matupi.
A person (name withheld for security reason) who participate in the meeting report to CHRO that the colonel was furious about the radio reports of his action, especially dismantling of a giant Christian cross at Boltlang, by Washington DC based Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America, along with Oslo based Democratic Voice of Burma which was broadcast in Burmese. The colonel has reportedly said that “I have the power to destroy any symbols and monuments except General Aung San, for the betterment of the people”.
When the Colonel ordered to dismantle a giant Christian cross in Boltlang of Matupi town in January 3, the Chin people around the world have fiercely condemned by staging demonstration in various SPDC embassy around the world including the demonstration in front of the SPDC embassy in Kuala Lumpur that results in the arrest of several demonstrators by the Malaysian authority.
Chin Christians around the world and have also observed international day of prayer for persecution of Chin Christians by the Burmese military regime. These incidents were covered by several international news agency including the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and Democratic Voice of Burma.
A person who reports the incident to CHRO added that this is the SPDC way of justifying what they have miserably done to the people.
Compulsory: You Must Buy USDA Calendar
20 May 2005
Aizawl: Colonel Tin Hla, commander of Burmese army tactical no. 1 from Haka, the Capital of Chin state have obligate every government employee to buy the calendar published by the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the youth wing created by the ruling military regime State Peace and Development Council.
According to a female government servant who prefers to remain anonymous, the government employees were charge according to their rank and salary for the calendar. The Upper Division Clerks (UDC) were charged 500/-Kyats each while the Lower Division Clerks (LDC) were charged 300/- Kyats each for the calendar.
“We know it is not fair, but you simply do not have a choice, the authority just cut your salary for the calendar” said the woman.
The SPDC commander also encouraged all the government employees to join Union Solidarity and Development Association.
“When the commander ‘encourage’ that’s mean compulsory”. Added the woman; “no one dares to ignore the commander’s ‘encouragement’ to join the USDA. After joining the USDA, it is compulsory to buy the uniform which cost 3500/-kyats, the equivalent of half a month of salary for the Lower Division Clerk.
New High School Being Constructed with Forced Labor
20 May 2005
Aizawl: Residents of Hakha town, Chin State’s capital were forced to construct a new government high school, Basic Education High School No. 3, by Colonel Tin Hla, Chief of Tactical Command No.1, the highest ranking military officer stationed in Chin State. Local residents had to contribute free labor starting from February 2005, despite the fact that there is a 400 million Kyat allocated for the construction project.
Every household from all localities were compelled to carry construction materials such as sand, bricks and woods, with an outstanding order of a one thousand Kyat fine for households that couldn’t afford to participate in the forced labor.
An unnamed resident affected by the forced labor program explained, “Laborers were divided according to their skills and abilities: Those skilled in carpentry, for example, had to work as carpenters while all other unskilled workers were forced to transport sand, bricks and woods to the work site from different places.”
Local headman of Pyidawtha block U Kyi Han and one sergeant from Light Infantry Battalion 266 supervised the construction project.
The local resident complained of the work conditions: “We were forced to start the work from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM and now only one building has been completed, with three more buildings left to be constructed. It is hard to know how many times we were going to be forced to work. My family were called to work for four times and paid 4000 Kyats to the authorities. Some people from other blocks were forced to work for more than ten times already because it depended on the demands of the work. Students from kindergarten to fifth class attend in the morning and students from fifth to tenth classes attend in the evening alternately because the construction is still ongoing.”
A local construction engineer by the name of Sui Kio was appointed for the construction of the school but till today he and laborers were not paid for their services properly by Colonel Tin Hla.
New Military Camps: Anguish For The People
15 May 2005
Aizawl : The residents of Satu village, Matupi Township, Southern Chin state were forced to carry supplies/rations for the construction of a new military camp in Satu village.
“We seldom experienced this kind of forced labor in our village but since we heard about the new military camp coming to our village we experience such sort of labor everyday,” said a villager from Satu village.
The village headmen never informed Satu villagers for the duration of the labor or the quantity of rice to be provided or transport to the army. Furthermore, one person from every household have to carry supplies for a distance of 20 miles from Bawi Ring village to Satu village, our source reports.
“We, the residences of Satu village, were ordered to provide 38 tins of rice to the army with a promise to be excused from transporting the military ration. Our village provided the 38 tins of rice but the army failed in keeping their promise,” complained a villager of Satu.
Second warrant officer, Kyaw Sein, posted as Chief In-charge of Lailenpi village from Light Infantry Battalion-140 allegedly forced the Satu villagers to transport rations, being supplied from Matupi town.
“The supplies are collected from Hnawte village and passes through Dai Hnan village, Bawi Ring village and finally to Satu village. All the supplies/rations have been collected in Satu village but it is not known, when the construction of military stations will be initiated,” said a trader who is currently at the border area.
Meanwhile, the villagers of Lei Sin village are occasionally engaged in this forced labor of military supplies transportation and in the construction of the new military camps, our source reports.
Since 2003, besides the expansion of Light Infantry Battalions-140 and 204 stations in Matupi town, and Light Infantry Battalion-89 of Falam town, construction of various new military stations have been initiated in the villages along the Indo-Burma border.
SPDC Use Prisoners for Construction of Hospital
23 May 2005
SPDC authority in Chin state capital have been using prisoners from two hard-labor camps from Haka township for construction of Civil hospital in Haka the capital of Chin state. About 100 hard labor prisoners from Khuathar block of Haka town and 120 prisoners from Zokhua hard-labor prisoner camp have been deploy by the SPDC in the construction since January 2005.
The prisoners have to work from 8 AM to 5 PM daily. Since the authority does not feed them well, some prisoners run away from the labor site and steal from the town residents. In April of 2005, a woman from Haka town was killed and looted her jewelry such as necklace, earring and rings. Even though the authority could not make any arrest on the culprit of the crime, the town people believes that the crime must be committed by the runaway hard-labor prisoners.
Reports said that construction of the 400 bed civil hospital is part of government project implemented by the ruling military junta called State Peace and Development Council. The project of the hospital building seems well funded by the government. However, Colonel Tin Hla, commander of Burmese army tactical one commander has demanded every family from Haka town to contribute 800/-Kyats for the construction.
SPDC Forced 600 Villagers to Engage in Road Construction
8 June 2005
Aizawl: About 600 people from 20 villages from southern Chin state were forced to construct a motor road connecting Lungngo – Lotaw, Lungngo – Tingsi village. The forced labor is carried out accordance with the direct order from Colonel San Aung, commander of Burma army tactical II based at Matupi.
Lungngo and Lotaw is 20 miles in distance and Lungngo and Tingsi is about 19 miles.
The forced labor started during the first week of May, and is still continue on the day of this report. Forced laborers were strictly guarded by Captain Htun Myint Maung and his company from Burma army Light Infantry Battalion 140.
According to one of the villagers who witness the working condition report to CHRO that; “the working condition was miserable. They were not even allowed for a day off on Sunday to conduct worship service. As all of the forced laborers are Christians, they expect to get a day off on Sunday, but the Burmese army would not allow them”.
The army compels the forced laborers to complete at least 200 feet per day. Even though the army provided one bulldozer for the construction, it never was working because there was no diesel to run the machine.
The forced laborers have to bring their own food, tools and medicine at the work site.
CHRO source added “The forced laborers manage their own food and tools. Donations were collected from the government servants and the Christian pastors and mission workers, who were exempted from the road construction, in that way vegetable and food were bought with the donation.
“It is weird that the Burmese soldiers who guarded us have demanded food and vegetable from the laborers” said the villager.
Villages who are engage in construction of Lungngo and Lotaw are; Lungngo, Senpi, Balei, Voti, Kelong, Tuphei, Lawngdaw, Nabung, Ranti, Darcung, Khuaboi, Cangceh (Sancet), Suitawng, Daidin, Dinkhua villages while the road between Lungngo and Tingsi is constructed by Tingsi, Tilat, Longka, Theisi, Lungring villages.
Chin Christians Forced to Supply Construction Materials for New Buddhist Monastery
5 May 2005
Aizawl : Deputy Battalion Commander Major Hla Myint of Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 140 stationed at Sabawngte village, Matupi Township, Southern Chin State issued an order demanding every household in the village and surrounding areas to “contribute” one tin of sand for construction of a new Buddhist monastery, a local resident reported.
The monastery is set to be built inside the compound of army camp and a Buddhist monk has already arrived at the camp to occupy the monastery once completed. The order to demand sand from villagers came out as soon as the monk arrived at Sabawngte village, the villager said.
“As of now villagers are busy gathering sand from riverbanks and nearby streams to have one tin of sand ready for every household to give to the army. But for residents of Hlung Mang village, they have been asked to ‘donate’ 25 bags of cement since they are closest to Mizoram of India,” he explained.
Buddhist monasteries and shrines are increasing throughout State while the SPDC is prohibiting the construction of Christian Churches and unlawfully destroying Chins Christian crosses erected on different top of the mountains and hills. Moreover, the people of Chin state are still being forced to contribute money and labor for the construction of Buddhist monasteries and shrines.
Canadian Parliament Passed Burma Motion
[The Canadian House of Commons has passed the Burma Motion by a vote 158 to 123 on 18 May 2005 calling on the Canadian Government to condemn more forcefully the repeated and systematic human rights violations committed by the military junta in power in Burma.]
House of Commons
Chambre des Communes
38th Parliament, 1st Session
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade has the honour to present its
In accordance with its mandate under Standing Order 108 (2) and the motion adopted on October 14, 2004 by the Committee, its Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development has considered the issue of Human Rights in Burma and recommends the following:
That the Committee is of the opinion that the government must:
a) condemn more forcefully the repeated and systematic human rights violations committed by the military junta in power in Burma, particularly those involving certain minority groups, including arrests and imprisonment without trial, summary and arbitrary executions, torture, rape, kidnappings of women, men and children, forced labor, denial of fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of assembly, association and _expression, the recruitment of child soldiers and massive relocations of civilian populations;
b) urge the authorities in Burma to release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners, in particular Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), to end their harassment of them, to abolish all repressive laws and measures contravening international human rights conventions, and to take action to end the appalling humanitarian crisis facing hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees at Burma’s borders (with China, India, Bangladesh and Thailand);
c) provide tangible support to the legitimate authorities in Burma, specifically the government in exile (the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma) and the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament;
d) impose more comprehensive economic measures on Burma, and in particular:
– review the effectiveness of the Export and Import Permits Act;
– review the feasibility of fully invoking the Special Economic Measure Act; and
– impose a legal ban on further investment in Burma
e) bring pressure to bear on the United Nations Secretary General and the international community, in order to establish a framework, primarily though ensuring the spread of embargo, to bring the military junta to negotiate a peaceful transition toward democracy, in cooperation with the NLD and representatives of ethnic minority groups, as set out in all the resolutions of the United Nations on Burma since 1994;
f) call upon the authorities in Burma to include the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other political parties in the on-going process of the National Convention, and warn that any outcome from the convention without the participation of the NLD and other parties will not be recognized.
Indian NGO Expressed Concern Over UNHCR
Handling of Refugees from Burma
LETTER TO UNHCR CHIEF OF MISSION, NEW Delhi
May 17, 2005
To: Mr. Lennart Kostalainen
Chief of Mission
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Dear Mr. Lennart Kostalainen,
We are writing this letter concerning the Burmese Refugees in India especially those who are in Delhi and are increasingly under pressure to survive with dignity. Those in the border areas of India’s northeast are no better off. They face threats of insecurity, unemployment and eviction from places of refuge.
But more disturbing are the changing policies and attitudes of UNHCR towards refugees. The UNHCR’s functioning and attitude in the last four years has worsened as most of the policies have been detrimental to the survival interests of refugees. Your programs and your practices have flouted the basic and fundamental philosophy of humanitarian concern on which UNHCR stands. All the new policies and practices since you have assumed responsibility of the New Delhi office seems to indicate an all-out effort to stop all humanitarian programmes of providing legal protection and subsistence allowance to the refugees. The UNHCR has specific mandate with regard to legal protection and survival of refugees with human dignity. On the contrary the policies and programmes of the last four years have created more problems for the refugees and now their very physical survival is under enormous pressure in India.
The policies and programmes, which have been promoted by UNHCR under the pretence of Self-reliance and integration of the Burmese refugees into the Indian society have been failures. There are several flaws in this approach.
The predetermined decision to discontinue the Subsistence Allowance by UNHCR may have been due to resource crunch within UNHCR but is not based on any imperatives of real life situation of refugees in India. The programme of self-reliance promoted by UNHCR was an excuse to hoodwink the refugees into believing that they can get employment in India if they are trained in one or two skills and there was no preparation what so ever in making people self-reliant. Self Reliance programme was promoted basically to withdraw SA as there was steep budget cut within UNHCR. The UNHCR did not do any appropriate study and survey to find out or identify the existing skills of the refugees or the potential they have, which could have been strengthened or upgraded towards equipping people to survive in India with their skills. This was not done. Ad-hoc training programs suited for certain jobs were started. But sadly, the labor market for such jobs was already saturated. The self-reliance program cost the refugees dearly and has now actually turned out to be counter productive and an utter failure! This is evident by the way the ‘New Salary Scheme’ has been floated. This is like covering up one mistake with another!!
Launching of the New Salary Scheme from this month is another strategy to hood wink people in to believing that they will be employed. Please look at your own circular with regard to this; it is not only a shoddily conceived program but also full of holes. The proposal cannot stand any scientific scrutiny. There is no guarantee of employment or of regular salary to all the refugees recognized by you. The scheme is very pretentious of getting employment with private agencies as if they have any obligations to you or to refugees. Even here the options are very limited in terms of the kind of employment the people will be provided with. The scheme will be implemented only if the funds are available and it is only for 6 months! There is no guarantee that all the refugees will be covered by the salary scheme. Would this scheme be sustainable? There are no answers.
The most important question for us in The Other Media is the issue of refugee policy of the Indian State including the right to work in this country. UNHCR seems to have abrogated for itself the right to provide work permit to the refugees in India. At least this is the underlying impression that is given to us! The work permit for the refugees is an area that would have to be taken up with the Indian state, whereas the Indian State is pretty quiet on this issue. There is no policy of the Indian State on the issue of work permit for foreigners especially the Burmese refugees. UNHCR’s primary responsibility is to campaign and advocate with the Indian State to come out with a refugee policy. UNHCR has failed time and time again on this front. UNHCR has the mandate to create an environment for refugees to live in India with dignity and honor. This is not being done. On the contrary UNHCR seems to be preoccupied with evolving strategies and tactics to avoid its primary responsibility of protection and care of the refugees.
UNHCR should realize from its own history of involvement with refugees that when refugees are made to work without any work permit or without any policy in India or in any country, they are made to work for very low wages, in most hazardous working conditions and for long hours without any protection and in very dehumanising conditions. Refugee’s rights, their survival, dignity and honour are at stake and UNHCR would be responsible for violation of all these rights if it does not think through its programme that it is promoting.
The other most important aspect of concern that we have is the new working or non-working relationship you have with Indian NGOs. Of course you call them as implementing partners! The implementing partners are provided with financial resources to carry out UNHCR’s programme. In other words UNHCR is sub contracting/palming off its responsibility to the Indian NGOs who are involved in this work because funds are available from UNHCR. If tomorrow UNHCR stops the funds will these organizations continue the work with refugee concerns? Isn’t it another way that UNHCR is avoiding direct responsibility for the refugees?
The subsistence allowance to the refugees is the only way of survival in India till such time that the Indian State comes out a refugee policy or till such time UNHCR comes out with a fool proof policy and programme of protection, survival support, employment for the refugees or third country resettlement. But this is being either discontinued or stopped completely, without any alternative for the refugees. The refugees are under threat from UNHCR.
All these issues, however, have been raised time and again both by The Other Media and the refugee community themselves. The UNHCR has never bothered, especially since you took over as the Chief of Mission, to address these concerns. Amidst this and with an history of turning a blind eye to the plight of refugees the UNHCR Survey on Myanmarese Refugees has been launched. What purpose will the study serve? In the absence of any clear logic and with an history of transferring responsibilities the study proposal comes out as a ploy to add insult to the injury of the Burmese refugees. The motives of the UNHCR in taking up this study are under doubt. It is being launched to justify the existing policies, programs and practices of the UNHCR. You seem to be promoting this study to establish support to your argument that a majority of Burmese refugees are economic migrants. This will help UNHCR in extending the argument in either discontinuing or stopping SA and Legal protection of refugees.
Therefore we urge to you rethink on all the attitudes, policies, programs and practices of UNHCR urgently and then take appropriate measures. In a situation otherwise it will not be possible for The Other Media to cooperate with any of UNHCR’s activities.
E. Deenadayalan Ravi Hemadri Achan Mungleng
General Secretary Executive Director Coordinator, Refugee Desk
The Other Media
PERSECUTION OF CHIN CHRISTIANS IN BURMA
A SPEECH DELIVERED
SALAI BAWI LIAN MANG
CHIN HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PERSECUTED CHURCHES
COLUMBIA, APRIL 15-16, 2005
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to this important gathering of good Christians here in the city of Columbia. I am particularly appreciative that I have the opportunity to speak about persecuted Chin Christians from Burma, who can not speak for themselves, who have been suffering so long under the most brutal and ruthless military regime in the world.
I have come to this conference with the aim of bringing light to the decades-long systematic denial and violation of religious rights of Chin Christians who inhabit Burma’s western territory of Chin State or Chinland by the country’s ruling military junta known as the State Peace and Development Council.
My name is Salai Bawi Lian Mang, from Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). I am an ethnic Chin from Burma.
The Chin people are one of the major ethnic groups in Burma. A South-East Asian Nation with the population of 54 million, Burma is composed with 8 major ethnic groups; Arakan, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan, and Burmese are majority with about 60% of the country population.
I will briefly talk about overall human rights situation in Burma and then my presentation will focus on persecution of Chin Christians by the ruling Burmese military regime.
At present, Burma is ruled by military junta called State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Since the Burmese military took state power by killing thousands of innocent people in 1988, gross violations of human rights is committed by the military regime including political suppression, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, oppression of ethnic and religious minorities, and use of forced labor.
There are more than one thousand political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Noble Peace Price winner.
Burma is the second largest opium producing country in the world and the ruling military regime is directly links with the drug trade as political crisis, civil war and abuse of power is related with notorious drug trade.
In addition to drugs, the spread of HIV/AIDS is of great concern that can affect regional stability in the near future. Burma after India and Thailand has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Asia. HIV/AIDS epidemic is mainly caused by drug addiction and lack of knowledge and prevention program in the country.
There is a report made by Shan Women Action Networks that the Burmese military regime is using rape as weapon of wars against ethnic Shan. The report details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese soldiers in Shan State, between 1996 and 2001.
The military regime in Burma has violated the right to education by closing universities and colleges in the country for about 9 years within the past 16 years because the military regime views students as a threat to their dictatorial rule as students are the only vocal group that have been standing fearlessly against the military regime.
The use of forced labor is so widespread that the International Labor Organization (ILO) has expelled Burma from the ILO for the regime’s widespread use of forced labor.
Since 1991, the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have for 14 consecutive years adopted consensus resolutions condemning the Burmese military junta’s systematic violations of human rights.
In 2003, President Bush enacted Burma Freedom and Democracy Act in response to the continued and systematic violations of human rights by the Burmese military junta.
Starting from 1999 the US Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor annual report on international religious freedom report has branded Burma as country of particular concern for its widespread practice of religious persecution against minority religion such as Christians. In Burma more than 80% are Buddhist and Christians made only 4% in the country while in Chin state, Christians made about 90% of the population and religious persecution is a major concern in Chin state and among Chin Christians.
The military junta which made its way to power through a bloody coup in 1988 has ruled the country at gunpoint. Preoccupied by the idea of “national unity or unifying the country,” Burma’s military regime has embarked on a policy of creating a single national identity based on the policy of “Amyo, Batha, Thatana” or One race, One Language, One Religion” in other words “to be a Burman is to be a Buddhist” through assimilating all identifiable ethnic minority groups into the mainstream Burman society, a dominant ethnic group with which the regime identifies itself.
Introduction to the Chin People
Chin indigenous people inhabited the land bordering with India from the west, Bangladesh from the South-West, Arakan from the South and Burma from the east. It is estimated that the Chin, in a general sense including outside and inside of Chinland, number as many as two million, with the largest and noticeable number concentrated in the Chin State. The Chins were living as independent nation till the British invaded their land in the late 19th century and annexed all their territory into British Empire in the early 20th century.
After the second World Wars, as Burma’s independence movement grew, the Chin decided to participate with Burmese and other ethnic groups in a constitutional process towards the development of a federal union. Thus, the Chins are co-founder of today Union of Burma by participating in a multi-ethnic conference concluded on February 12, 1947, which led to the creation of an independent federal Union of Burma on January 4, 1948. However, a military coup led by General Ne Win in 1962 effectively ended the Chin’s special political status within the Union of Burma as one of its primary constituent member. Today Chin people in Burma are not represented in any form of political decision-making in the national, state or local administration.
Christianity and Chin People:
In 1899, American Baptist Missionary Rev. Arthur Carson and his wife from American Baptist Mission come to Chinland, present Chin state in Burma, and founded mission station at Haka present capital town of Chin state. Following the arrival of American missionaries, the two Chin couples converted to Christianity in 1904. Over the century almost the whole population in Chin state converted to Christianity and it is estimated that about 90 percent of Chins in Chin state are Christians at present.
In 1953 Baptist Chins organized themselves as Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention. The majority of Chin Christians are Baptist and there are around 1,000 local small churches in all over Chin state and several associations.
Today, the impact of Christianity was not only confined within the spiritual and cultural contexts of the Chin people, it manifested itself as a uniting force for different Chin communities. With their conversion to Christianity, the Chins embraced one another as members of a community of faith in Christ. At the same time, there developed a new self-consciousness and political awareness of Chin cultural homogeneity, thus providing a new framework for Chin nationalism.
Since the first Chin conversion to Christianity in the early 1900s following the arrival of American missionaries, Christianity has been deeply entrenched in Chin society and has become part of the Chin cultural identity. Burma’s ruling military regime is systematically persecuting Chin Christians in order to replace Christianity with Buddhism and assimilated them into mainstream Burman culture. Evidence demonstrates that the military regime is using religious persecution as a tool of ethnocide against Chin Christians.
Persecution of Chin Christian
As Chin State has the largest concentration of Christians in the whole of Burma in terms percentage, it was not only a large number of Burmese soldiers that was brought into by the Burmese regime, in the name of “Hill Regions Buddhist Mission”, the junta brought in an army of Buddhist monks who were then dispatched to various towns and villages across Chin State. Protected by the soldiers, these Buddhist monks have considerable powers over the Chin population. In many cases, local people have pointed out that the monks are military intelligence operatives who are more powerful than local army commanders. The Chin Human Rights Organization reported about the monks stationed around Matupi Township as follow:
The monks who live at Zakam, Rezua, Leisen, Vangvai and Tinsi villages rule the communities. Anyone who doesn’t abide by the monks orders is reported to the SLORC/SPDC army and he/she is punished by the army. The monks give judgment on all cases. For those who become Buddhist, they are free from any persecution such as forced labour, portering, extortion of money, etc. Whenever and wherever a monk visits, he is accompanied by the army and they arrange a porter to carry the monk’s particulars. The villagers were forced to build a Buddhist monastery and temple. But they refused, insisting “we are Christians”. Even though the army threatened action against them, they didn’t build it yet. Now the monks and army are holding a meeting to discuss this. Nobody knows what will happen.
A 40-year-old Chin Christian from Matupi Township recounted how he was converted to Buddhism, recruited and trained to be part of a campaign against Christians;
“I was invited to attend social welfare training by the [SLORC (now SPDC)] authority from Matupi on 27/2/95. When I arrived at the place, the authority told us that it is to attend Buddhist hill tract missionary training run by a Buddhist monk named U Razinn at Mindat. As we are Christian, we said we didn’t want to go. But the monk persuaded us saying, ‘it is no problem if you are Christian, it is just religious training’. So 5 other persons and I took part in the 10 day training. In the training, we were taught the 17 facts of how to attack and disfigure Christians.”
The 17 points to attack Christians by the regime is as follows:
1. To attack Christian families and the progress of Christians.
2. To criticize against the sermons which are broadcast from Manila, Philippines.
3. To criticize God as narrow-minded and egotistical who himself claimed that “There is no god except eternal God”.
4. To criticize Christian ways of life as corrupted and inappropriate culture in Burma.
5. To criticize the preaching of Christians wherever it has penetrated.
6. To criticize Christianity by means of pointing out its delicacy and weakness.
7. To stop the spread of the Christian movement in rural areas.
8. To criticize by means of pointing out “there is no salvation without purchased by the blood of Christ”.
9. To counterattack by means of pointing out Christianity’s weakness and overcome this with Buddhism.
10. To counter the Bible after thorough study.
11. To criticize that “God loves only Israel but not all the races”.
12. To point out ambiguity between the two testaments.
13. To criticize on the point that Christianity is partisan religion.
14. To criticize Christianity’s concept of the Creator and compare it with the scientific concept.
15. To study and access the amount given in offerings.
16. To criticize the Holy Bible after thorough study.
17. To attack Christians by means of both non-violence and violence.
Christian pastors and ministers secure high reverence and respect among the Chin people. They are highly respected as intermediaries between God and the congregations. Even outside of the Church, they play significant leadership role on occasions such as death, birth or marriage in the community. Also, because there are no Chin people represented in the local or state administration under the Burmese military regime, even in a secular setting, they receive high degrees of respect as leaders of the community. Today, their dignitary position has attracted the attention and jealousy of the ruling military regime, making them the first targets in the regime’s campaign against Christianity and Chin people.
During the past decade, according to Chin Human Rights Organization reports, the Burmese military regime, detained at length, killed or physically abused many Chin Christians.
The following incidents is one grave example how they treated pastors;
In August 1993, the Burmese troop arrested and they (the Burmese Army) interrogated Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the Pastor’s answers did not pleased the interrogators, the army personnel beat him with rifle butts or sticks that eventually broke almost all of his bones after two days of interrogation. They cut open his mouth to the neck and told him “We cut open your mouth so that you will no longer preach”. In the two days that they tortured him, Pastor Zang Kho Let never admitted to using the church fund to help the resistance movement or that he was involved in helping the armed resistance. The soldiers, Non Commissioner Officer NCO’s, and officers tortured the pastor with the intent to kill but he was still alive after two days of their inhuman brutality. When the torturers reported to their Commanding officer, Colonel Thura Sein Win, on the condition of the pastor, the colonel ordered them to tighten a plastic bag over his head. (Thura is an award given for bravery, like the torture of the preacher.)
After Pastor Zang Kho Let died, they dragged his lifeless body out of the school building and shot him. With a bullet wound in his body, the Burmese army unit claimed that they shot the pastor because he was trying to escape. The soldiers brought the dead body of Pastor Zang Kho Let back in the school building and placed together with the leaders of the village community, who were arrested to witness the gruesome state of the body. They were told to feel the bones, which were all broken. They were told, “If you do not tell us the truth and if you do not admit that you helped the rebel, you will face the same fate.”
The headman of the village, Zang Kho Ngam, farmers Ngam Khai, and Thawng Kho Lun admitted to helping the resistance movement in order to escape torture and death. Nonetheless, they were tortured. It took seven days for the three of them to die; they died a slow death. The soldiers cut and burned their skin. They poured salt directly into their open sores. The soldiers zealously repeated the torture that they had just meted out to Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the two farmers died, the soldiers again dragged the bodies outside of the school building and shot. The Burmese Army buried the headman Zang Kho Ngam alive.
Prohibition of Construction of Churchs and Desecration of Crosses
Several Chin Christian churches and infrastructure under construction in the 1990s were forced to stop by the military authority. Those who persisted in constructing their church building had been threatened or punished by the army. CHRO reports that; when the Burmese army ordered to stop construction of Salvation Army Church in Khampat, the pastor of the church ignored the order by resuming construction of the church. He was humiliated and badly beaten up by the army that he was hospitalized for several days.
The military regime reportedly ordered to stop construction of the following churches and Christian infrastructure; Chin Christian centenary building in Hakha – the capital of Chin State; United Pentecostal Church in Hakha; Zomi Theological dining hall in Falam; Church of Jesus Christ in Falam; hostels (both men and women) for Chin Christian College in Haka, Baptist Church in Farhual, Salvation Army church in Khampat, and the Assembly of God’s Church in Kalaymyo, Evangelical Baptist Church in Myoma Quarter, Faith Bible Theological Seminary in Lawibual Quarter, Sakollam Baptist Church, and Lawibual Baptist Church, Lai Baptist Church in Rangoon were prohibited by the authority.
Evidence shows that the Burmese military regime has actively targeted Christian symbols in its campaign of Burmanization and ethnocide against various ethnic groups in the country. Christian crosses erected on the tops of hills throughout Chin State have been destroyed. Many of them replaced with Buddhist pagodas and statue of Buddhist monks. Since the early 1980s, Chin communities in various villages and towns have erected wooden crosses on mounts and hill tops beside their villages and towns to symbolize their faith in Christianity, and to remind themselves of the fact that Christianity has played an important role in shaping their modern society and culture. In some cases, however, the erection of these crosses were in response to what the Chin regarded was the State-sponsored importation of Buddhism into Chin State with the construction of pagodas and temples in certain urban centers which began in the 1970s.
Destruction of crosses started around the early 1990s with the rapid increase in army battalions established across Chin State. Since then, almost every cross in all the nine townships in Chin State had been destroyed by the regime. Destruction of crosses is usually ordered by the township authorities or by army battalion commanders. After an order is issued, the church or community responsible for erecting the cross is given a timeframe during which they must dismantle the cross. Failure to do so within the given period often means that the cross is destroyed by the authorities and that Church leaders are arrested for defiance of orders.
As recently as 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 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.
Since Chin Christians from inside Burma can not do anything in response to this barbaric act, exiled Chin Christians in Malaysia, India, Canada and the US has responded with protest in front of the Burmese embassies.
I would like to share you what was happening in my home town of Thantlang.
The year 1999 marked one hundredth year of the arrival of Christian gospel among the Chins. The centennial celebration was originally planned for March 15 in Haka, the Capital of Chin state where the first Ameriacan missionaries established their first mission center in 1899. Before the official celebration in Haka, advance celebrations were held locally in various townships under the leadership of local churches. In Thantlang town, the celebration was organized jointly by all denominations in the town from January 1-3 1999.
On January 5, when the celebration was over, the organizers erected a Centenneial Memorial Cross on a hilltop on Vuichip ridge, located west of the town. Though primarily in remembrance of the early American missionaries, selection of the location for the cross had other significance. In addition to its good view from town, the spot has spiritual and religious dimension to it. Before the advent of Christianity, Thantlang residents had traditionally believed that Vuichip ridge was the dwelling place of evil spirits and there had been legends surrounding the spirits roaming the ridge. The erection of the cross on that particular location was to signify that evil spirits have been defeated by the crucifixion Jesus Christ on the cross.
The cross was decorated with looking glasses so that it would be more recognizable when it glows with the reflection from the sun.
On the very night of the cross was erected, the township peace and development council ordered the destruction of the cross, compelling the very people who had erected the cross to destroy it. When the people refused, a section of local police were sent to destroy the cross. Six Christian pastors responsible for organizing the Centennial Celebration and the erection of the Memorial cross were arrested and interrogated by the authority.
In response on January 6, the whole town stage a silent protest by closing down their businesses and refusing to go to work, and by observing 24 hour fast and prayer vigil in their local churches and homes. Fearing the news of protest might spread to other towns; the authorities shutdown telephone connection of the town and arrested 20 more Church leaders. Nevertheless, on January 9, Churches in the Chin state capital, Haka joined the protest, prompting Chairman of the Chin State Peace and Development Council to go to Thantlang to end the strike by threatening and intimidating them.
Restriction on Freedom of Assembly and Worship
Like all other freedoms, freedom of assembly is subject to severe restriction in Burma. This restriction does not exempt freedom of assembly in religious contexts.
All gatherings and conferences, including celebrations of religious festivals, require prior authorization by the military regime. However, it is usually extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain such authorization for occasions with potentially large turnout. Citing the risk of security associated with such events, the regime arbitrarily limits the number of people who can attend an event. Moreover, organizations must apply directly to the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs in Rangoon for permission, a process which involves a long waiting period. This time-consuming bureaucratic procedure creates uncertainties, and it often results in the event having to be cancelled or postponed. People suspect such kind of procedure is deliberately used to prevent Christians from conducting their religious affairs.
In rural areas, local army commanders often issue direct orders forbidding worship services, as well as Christmas and New Year celebrations. The following is transcript of radio broadcast by the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma on December 23, 2002.
“The SPDC frontline troops summoned people from Haka and Thangtlang Townships in Chin State and told them they were not allowed to hold any Christmas ceremonies and prayer meetings. They went from village to village and told them if they wanted to hold any ceremony they were to hold it in a simple and discrete manner at their homes. Although the chairmen of the village Peace and Development Councils and pastors argued that Christmas is a very auspicious feast for Christians and requested them to allow Christmas celebrations, the column commander of the SPDC forces refused. He also said that if the chairmen and pastors deliberately held any such Christmas feast in defiance of the order, the village chairmen and pastors would all be arrested and recruited as porters. They also threatened to dislocate people.”
Censorship on Christian Literature and Publication
Since the military government came to power in 1962, the Christians in Burma, especially non-Burman nationalities have mostly been unable to print the Holy Bible in their own language inside Burma. Chin Christians, for instance, printed the Bile in the Chin language in India, and smuggled it into Burma in the 1970s and 1980s. Even the Holy Bible in Burmese, which was translated by Rev. Judson in the 1820s, never received permission to be reprinted from the Censor Board of the Burmese government, or at least the Old Testament never did. Only the New Testament, together with Psalms and Proverbs, once received permission to be printed during the entire period of the Burmese military regime, that is, from 1962 to present.
The CHRO received a report in the year 2000 that, in the month of June 2000, the SPDC officials in Tamu ordered 16,000 copies of the Bible to be burned in Tamu, Sagaing Division that borders India. These Bibles, which were seized in 1999 by the Burmese Army, are in Chin, Karen and other ethnic languages.
Discrimination Based on Ethnicity and Religion
Under successive Burmese governments, people of non-Burman ethnic and non-Buddhist background find themselves discriminated against their Burman Buddhist counterparts in education, employment and various levels of civil service. Even those in the army and police serving successive governments were systematically denied promotions in rank on the sole basis of their ethnicity and religion.
Since the 1980s, the new Burmese citizenship law required that every citizen of Union of Burma register for a national identity card on which all particulars including the bearer’s ethnic and religious backgrounds should be provided. Although the initial intention was to exclude “foreigners” such as Indian and Chinese immigrants from citizenship, the introduction of the identity card has had a far-reaching impact on ethnic and religious minority groups. Because the card is essential for travel, employment, health care and higher education, people of non-Burman and non-Buddhist background could be easily denied for employment as well as promotion in civil service on the basis of the particulars provided on the national identity card. In many instances, for Christians and other religious minorities, promotion in civil service is conditioned by their conversion into Buddhism. Many Christian civil servants with outstanding service records have been blatantly denied promotion while their Buddhist peers with less qualification and less seniority quickly rose to high ranking positions. Even a few exceptional non-Buddhist individuals securing high ranking positions were sacked or forced to retire from their positions.
Biak To, a Chin Christian who had served in the Burmese army from 1973 to 1990 as a Captain and later became a Lieutenant Colonel in the police explains how he was sacked for no apparent reasons in 2000:
“At the time of my dismissal, I was the only person holding a B.A degree among officers of my rank in the entire nine Police Regiments in Burma. In fact, I should have been the first one to be considered for promotions. Obviously, the authorities did not want to see a Chin Christian holding high position that they made a pre-emptive move to dismiss me without any apparent charges.”
Major Thawng Za Lian, who has an excellent record in his military service in the Burmese army until leaving the service in 1997, recounts his experience during his career as an officer with a background of minority religious and ethnic identity in Burma that;
“In the army, A, B and C are categories designated for those who can not be promoted in rank. A stands for AIDS symptom, B stands for Hepatitis B and C stands for Christians. Under these categories, those who are carrying AIDS disease are discharged from the military and those who have Hepatitis B are transferred to civil service. And all those belonging to category C (Christians) are not given promotion.”
Major Lian eventually left the army when he was asked to abandon his Christian faith and converted to Buddhism by his superior in order to be promoted.
Selective Forced Labor
Although most Chin families have been equally affected by the army’s use of forced labor, in many cases, forced labor is specifically directed against Christians in order to coerce them into converting to Buddhism. There are ample evidences that the Burmese military regime is using forced labor as part of its Burmanization program. The apparent theory is that by converting Chin Christians to Buddhism, an important Chin identity will be stripped away, thereby eventually assimilating them into Burman identity. Forced labor has also been used to discourage people from going to church by compelling them to work on Sundays and other Christian religious holidays.
State Sponsored Expansion Of Buddhism In Chin State
Since 1990 the military government authorities and security forces have promoted Buddhism over Christianity among the Chin. Until 1990 the Chin generally practiced either Christianity or traditional indigenous religions. The Chins were the only major ethnic minority in the country that did not largely support any significant armed organization in active rebellion against the Government or in an armed cease-fire with the Government. Since 1990 government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, coercively have sought to induce Chins to convert to Theravada Buddhism and to prevent Christian Chins from proselytizing Chins who practice traditional indigenous religions. This campaign, reportedly accompanied by other efforts to “Burmanize” the Chin, has involved a large increase in military units stationed in Chin State and other predominately Chin areas, state-sponsored immigration of Buddhist Burman monks from other regions, and construction of Buddhist monasteries and shrines in Chin communities with few or no Buddhists, often by means of forced “donations” of money or labor.
Along with other methods to Burmanize the Chin, the Burmese military government has vonverted many Chin Christian families through coercion. The government rewards people who convert to Buddhism by exempting them from forced labor, fiving them ration and monthly allowance. The government also entice Chin Christian children by offering them government scholarship as part of the border area development program. Parents often entrust their children and enrolled them in the program. However, chindlren are later found to be in Buddhist monasteries with their head shaven to become vonice Buddhist monks.
A People and Culture at Stake
The SPDC’s campaign of ethnocide against Chin people has had serious effect on the lives of the people of Chin State. The physiological dimension is rather profound. Many Chin Christians are convinced that their religious faith is making them targets for abuse, and conversion to Buddhism not only provides them a sense of security but also eases their economic hardships. Yet, there are also people who think that persecution because of their faiths makes their spiritual commitments even stronger.
However, it is already apparent that the ethnocide campaign is taking a toll on the Chin society. Families are increasingly separated and more people are feeling the Chinland to seek safety elsewhere. About 60,000 Chin refugees have fled to India about 12 thousands more are now taking refuge in Malaysia since the 1990s when the military junta began sending thousands of troops to Chinland.