Rhododendron publication – VOL. VI. No.2 May-June 2003

VOL. VI. No.2 May-June 2003 CONTENTS

Human Rights:


Surviving Torture


A Chin Woman’s Struggle for Justice


Jailed Professor On Hunger Strike


Interview with Mr. Ngun Thawng


New Town Makes People Cry




UNHCR Office In India Comes Under Severe Attack By The Scandinavian Burmese Committees


Letter & Statements:


CHRO Presentation at the United States Department of State


CHRO Condemns Attack on Aung San Suu Kyi, Calls for International Action


Letter to Hon. Stanley Peter Dromisky


Scholar Section:


Constitutional Crisis in Burma


(Toward the Political Dialogue on Constitutional Issues in Burma)




Surviving Torture


Interview with ex-political prisoner




Chin Human Rights Organization


April 27, 2003


New Bern




CHRO: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?




Pu Ral Luai: My name is Pu Ral Luai. I am originally from Hriphi village, Thantlang Township Chin state of Burma. But I moved to Thantlang in 1987. I’m 49 years old now. I have four sons and seven daughters. I used to make my living by cultivating a seven-acre paddy field.




CHRO: We heard that you were arrested and imprisoned in Burma. Can you tell us the reason of your arrest?




Pu Ral Luai: I was arrested because I gave out some donations to the Chin National Front, a group fighting for the rights of the Chin people. I was a member of the Village Peace and Development Council when I made the donations to CNF. My arrest took place a year later when the military intelligences were tipped off about it. I was arrested right at the VPDC office where I was working.




CHRO: Were you the only one arrested?




Pu Ral Luai: I was arrested on the evening of August 27, 1999. But Ceu Hnin, one of my associates, was arrested early in the next morning on the same count.




CHRO: Can you describe to us the conditions of your imprisonment?




Pu Ral Luai: It was horribly harsh! Right after I was in MI’s (Military Intelligence) custody, they blind folded me and tied my hands behind my back. That was the beginning of what would be a long interrogation and torture. They asked me whether I was helping the CNF, to which I didn’t respond. Because I didn’t respond to any of their questions, they hit me with a wooden rod in my chest and in my head. They rolled the rod up and down my shins, which felt like my skins were all going to peel off. The torture went on and on for hours until I fell down unconscious from the pain. Since I consistently refused to say anything over the course of my interrogation and torture, the MIs then called a local hospital doctor to give me some treatment. This was because they wanted to make sure that I didn’t succumb to the tortures before I confessed to the charges. The doctor apparently had tried to revive me from my unconsciousness by giving me some medicines that night because I noticed there were bits of tablets left in my mouth the next morning.




On September 2, 1999, they sent me to an interrogation cell at Rungtlang army base in Hakha. The moment I was there, the interrogations and tortures continued. Little did I realize that I was to be deprived of food for the next nine consecutive days. They wanted me to disclose the names of those who were supporting the CNF in Thantlang. But I persistently refused to say anything. The result of my silence was more tortures and beatings. On the ninth day one of my torturers said to me “We are going to kill you today, this is the end of your life, you may write a short letter to your wife or you may pray to your God loudly”. I told them I would not write a note to my wife nor would pray to God because I was all set to die at their hands. After a moment of silence, they blasted what appeared to be a big balloon right beside my ears to make me think that I had been shot. I fainted three times during the course of my interrogations. After all the tortures, I was given a two-year prison sentence to serve at Kalay prison camp.




CHRO: Under what specific acts or provisions were you convicted?




Ral Luai: I was convicted under so-called Section 17 (a) of the Unlawful Association Acts. The charges were that I supported an organization opposed to the government.




CHRO: Can you describe conditions in the prison? Were inmates compelled to do hard labor?




Pu Ral Luai: It’s really indescribable. Once we landed in the prison, we have no value as human beings. Prison authorities always recruited people for forced labors from among the inmates. The recruits were then sent out to the fields for plowing. Out of a hundred recruits, only a handful of people would make it back to the prison with serious sickness. Those who made it back said they were literally used as cows because they are yoked on their necks and were made to pull the plough. Under the intense heat, they are forced to pull the plough all day. This was exacerbated by their hunger because they weren’t given adequate food. Due to their hunger, they resorted to eating frogs and anything they could catch in the field. Worst of all, they are forced to do double workloads, which meant that on top of the workload officially assigned to them by prison authorities, they had to work extra hours for the personal benefits of whoever is supervising them. For instance, if a hundred acres of paddy fields are allocated to them for completion within one month, the camp supervisor would still force them to plough an additional 100 acres of land for his own benefits. These people are slaves in every sense. People were dying every day from sickness and exhaustion, and they were just buried together in a mass grave. The Burmese military government is literally enslaving its own citizens.




CHRO: Were you not doing hard labor yourself?




Pu Ral Luai: No, because I was physically too weak and unhealthy; I didn’t perform the forced labor.




CHRO: Did you receive any kind of assistance in jail?




Pu Ral Luai: I did. God is so great. I was given Kyats 20000/ per month by the International Committee of Red Cross since March 2000 up until my release in September 2001.




CHRO: How was the condition of your health in prison?




Pu Ral Luai: I had a very serious health problem. I was suffering from Tuberculosis. Moreover, because of the tortures during my interrogation, I couldn’t eat anything for the first few months in prison. I was physically very weak and I developed poor vision as a result.




CHRO: How did you manage to come to the USA?




Pu Ral Luai: I was released from Jail in September of 2001. But things didn’t just get normal again even after my release. The military intelligence wouldn’t give me a day of peace. They wouldn’t allow me to travel anywhere without their prior authorization. To ensure I stayed in town, they asked me to report myself to them everyday. I was literally confined in the town. I knew it was still unsafe for me to remain there and I sneaked out of the country to go to Malaysia in February 2002. I immediately approached the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees office in Kuala Lumpur, which recognized me as a refugee. I came to the US as an international refugee.




CHRO: What made you go to Malaysia when India and Bangladesh are closer to go to from where you were?



Pu Ral Luai: I knew some people who went through similar situations as I did that went to Malaysia. When I heard that they were being given protection there, I thought I would be safe there too.




CHRO: What do you think about the USA?


Pu Ral Luai: It is wonderful. May God bless the USA. This is my only safe place in this world. But it is very hard to stay alone without my family.









A Chin Woman’s Struggle for Justice




(Editor’s note: the following account is given by Mau Bu, a 33 year-old Chin widow with 4 children who is currently seeking asylum at the United Nations High Commissioner office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia after fleeing her native country of Burma. Mau Bu’s husband, a school teacher in rural Chin State died in a forest fire which was started by members of the Burmese military. This personal account tells just how a determined woman had struggled hard for justice at the risk of her own life in a country where justice is dictated by guns and power.)


Chin Human Rights Organization


April 29, 2003


Kuala Lumpur




My husband was a middle school teacher. He died in 1999 in a fire. It all started when the Burmese soldiers started a forest fire by our village. The fire was intended to clear the way for road construction between Lailen and Ruazua. Local military authorities were forcing villagers to work on the road construction. The fire was burning out of control threatening our village. As the fire came close to the school where my husband was teaching, all villagers came out to battle the raging blaze. The soldiers then asked all male school children to join in the effort. But three six graders, Ngu Thein Lian, Nawl Thang and Maung Maung Oo, trying help put out the fire, were caught in the fire. Crying for help, my husband who was their class master tried to rescue them. But it resulted in all of them being consumed by the fire.




That was on January 9, 1999. It was only hours later at 8:00 P.M that we succeeded in recovering their charred bodies.




At the time of my husband’s death, the youngest of my four children was only two months old with the oldest one being only 9. As a mother of four minor children, it’s just heartbreaking just looking to the future without my husband. To make matter worse, the authorities refused to pay me any compensation for the death of my husband. Neither was I eligible for pension from my husband’s job since he had only been working for 8 years. I felt totally abandoned just thinking of how my life had been totally destroyed and how I was completely left alone. Of course the deaths of my husband and three other children were caused by the Burmese military who are in fact the government.




I awaited one year anticipating compensation for my loss from the government. But nothing happened. I then lodged a complaint against the Burmese troops responsible for killing my husband with Ruazua police station. In my complaint, I specifically mentioned why I should be entitled to justice for my loss. My case was then referred to the township police station in Matupi. In November 2000, I was summoned to the Matupi police station in connection with my complaint. The head of the police station there had told me that lodging a complaint against the military authorities would put me in danger and that in view of such possibility, withdrawing the complaint was a wise thing to do. But I wasn’t simply ready to give up. I took the matter to the Matupi Township Court. The court then subpoenaed the military officials named in my complaint. But no one showed up to the court from the military side for three successive court dates. As a result, the court simply dismissed the complaint saying that in the absence of the defendants named in my complaint there was nothing the court could do.




Still dissatisfied, I petitioned an appeal to the District Court in Mindat in March of 2001. Again there was no response from Mindat District Court. I went there in person on 6th July 2001 and inquired about my appeal. After being told that the case was still under investigation, I headed back home to Ruazua. It took me five days to travel on foot back to my village.




On October 10, 2001, two police and two military officials came to inform me that I had been invited to appear at Mindat District Court. But rather than taking me straight to the court, they locked me up at Ruazua police station for one night. The next day, they took me to Matupi where I was detained again without telling me the reason of my detention. I was only released on October 24. Upon my release, one police sergeant again persuaded me to withdraw the case. He told me that unless I voluntarily withdraw my complaint, I would be countersued by the military government for being anti-government. I insisted that I would find any means to pursue justice for my husband whatever it took. My persistent insistence again earned me another two weeks in police lockup. When my parents begged for my release, I was let go on the condition that I withdrew the case within one month, which I never did. I instead fled to Mizoram state of India in April 2002 leaving my children with my parents. But life didn’t just get better there. Constant harassments and insecurity in Mizoram were enough lessons to convince that I would be better off going back to Burma so that I could reunite with my children. I had thought that I would be allowed back in the country if I gave in to the authorities by agreeing to withdraw the case against military officials. But when I sneaked back in, my parents had told me that I’d be safer elsewhere since I would be constantly targeted even after I withdrew the case. That was how I decided to leave for Malaysia. I arrived in Kuala Lumpur in March of 2003. I am currently seeking protection from UNHCR. My search for justice is now over, but the search for safety is just beginning.









Jailed Professor On Hunger Strike




Chin Human Rights Organization


April 28, 2003




Dr. Salai Tun Than, a retired professor and a prisoner of conscience who is serving a seven-year sentence in the notorious Insein prison in Burma is staging hunger strike.




The 75-year old professor started a seven-day hunger strike from his hospital bed in Insein prison on Sunday, April 27, 2003 to draw international attention to his inhumane confinement, and to protest his inability to practice his religion while in prison in Burma.




An ethnic Chin Christian, Dr. Salai Tun Than was arrested on November 29, 2001, for publicly petitioning Burma’s ruling military regime, State Peace and Development Council for political reform in the country. He was subsequently sentenced to seven year in prison sparking an international outcry.




The professor’s health is reported to be in severe condition and his health problems are exacerbated by his advanced age and the inhumane conditions of his imprisonment. He is being held in Insein prison where medical facilities do not meet the basic standards.




Prison authorities are denying him possession of the Bible that his family gave to him, although he has been requesting it for more than a year. His requests to receive Christian Holy Communion (with the help of priest) inside the prison have also been refused by prison authorities.




Since his arrest, Dr. Salai Tun Than was allowed visits by the UN representatives and ICRC. However, he is reported to be interrogated by Military Intelligence and prison officials after each visit.









Interview with Mr. Ngun Thawng




Chin Human Rights Organization


April 29, 2003




CHRO: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?




Ngun Thawng: My name is Mr. Ngun Thawng. I am a Chin Christian farmer from Chin State of Burma. I am 28 years old.




CHRO: Where in Chin State are you from?




Ngun Thawng: I was born in Thau village of Thantlang Township.




CHRO: Where is your family currently?




Ngun Thawng: Our family moved to Kalaymyo (Sagaing Division) in 1983 from Chin State and my parents and other siblings are now living there.




CHRO: Can you tell us about your family?




Ngun Thawng: My parents are Pu Thang Lei and Pi Hniar Tial and we are 10 siblings including myself. Two of my eldest brothers already died. My eldest brother Mr. Mang Chum joined the Chin National Front in 1995. In September, 1998 he was captured by the Burmese troops and executed three days after his capture.




CHRO: Did your family experience any problems once the government was aware that your brother was a member of an opposition group?




Ngun Thawng: For the first three months since my brother’s death, we experienced no problems. Perhaps the authorities weren’t able to establish yet the link between him and our family. But after three months, military intelligence officers came to house and questioned us about my brother. They asked me why I didn’t report to the authorities while I was aware that my brother joined the CNF. They insisted that I tell them about the activities of my brother. I was then taken for questioning. They put me in a dark cell and left me there for three nights without food except for a bottle of water. Afterwards, I was questioned by one plain clothe officer and three other uniformed officers. While one of them was questioning me another officer was beating me.




CHRO: Did you suffer any physical injuries as a result of the beatings?




Ngun Thawng: My tooth was broken and as I was beaten with wooden rod. But there was no physical mark or scars.




CHRO: How long were you kept there?




Ngun Thawng: Seven days.




CHRO: Why were you released?




Ngun Thawng: My release was only temporary. But basically I was released because my brother’s name was already deleted from the family registration list, which meant that my brother was no longer a legal member of our family. They told me my case was still under investigation. And I wasn’t allowed to travel outside of town without the approval of the military intelligence.




CHRO: What else happened after you were released?




Ngun Thawng : They let me put my signature at their camp three times. Later they told me that they would ask me to go to them me if they needed me. However, they told me that I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere outside of Kalaymyo. I was working as self employed carpenter for our family survival.




CHRO: Why did you come to Malaysia?




Ngun Thawng: In March, 2001 I went to Sialam village, Than Tlang township Chin State, to sell Chin traditional dresses. On my way to Sialam, I met three members of Chin National Army who were collecting taxes from traders. When they asked me to pay taxes for my goods, I introduced myself as a brother of Mang Chum who as also a member of CNF and who was executed by the Burmese army. They told me they knew my brother very well and asked me to buy them a rucksack the next time I came around. But in January of 2003, I went to Hakha in connection with my business. There I met an ex-CNF member by the name of Dawt Cung who surrendered to the Burmese military. Dawt Cung happened to be one of the three CNF members who I had met back in 2001 at Sialam village. Because he already surrendered, he was being used by the military intelligence to identify anyone who had contacts with the CNF. Knowing that I was in trouble, I immediately left for Kalaymyo. Thereafter, I proceeded to Malaysia.









New Town Makes People Cry




Chin Human Rights Organization


April 20, 2003




Rihkawdar village as it was known when it was a part of the Falam Township is situated in the Northeast area of the Chin Hills of Burma. Rihkawdar is situated two miles from the India-Burma border river (Tiau). There is a beautiful heart shaped lake that is approximately 3miles square located in Rihkawdar and in the immediate surrounding area there are another 40 villages. Falam itself is 70 miles from this border area.






Rikhawdar has recently been developed as a township in its own right. However, this title has been awarded by the military government and as an award it does not come without a price. A price of ‘forced labour’. The electric department has been instructed to install lights in the new town. By order from the government every eight households which form one group has to supply 13 telegraph poles. They have to be 25 foot long and 500Kg weight of a selected wood called Thingsefim (in Chin language). This specialised wood has to be sought after deep in the jungle it is not easily available in the region. When they find this wood each pole made has to be carried by 8 adults sometimes for many days.




The government said that they would pay Ks 3,000.00 (equivalent $3.35 approx.) for each pole. So far nothing has been paid, this is not an unusual case in Burma, they rarely pay for their labour.




The government has also ordered other villages to contribute by gathering firewood for the kiln in order to make bricks. They have asked for 30 metric ton (1000 kg) of firewood, these villagers from the surrounding areas were then asked to transport without payment the wood to the new town of Rikhawdar.




The villagers of Rihkhawdar were also asked to construct a jeep road for the government, to facilitate their army camp, the villagers were not paid.








The government occupied land owned by Mr. Zasiama in order to build an official township office.




Two houses owned by Mr. Piangthanga and Mr. Tlanlianathanga and some land were destroyed to build a hospital. When an extension was needed for this construction the government also occupied and destroyed the property of Mr. Sawivela and Mr. Zodinglura.


Both projects continue without compensation for any of these householders.


This regional development has utilized the villagers time, energy and expense, causing them to neglect there personal needs to grow food or tend to there own work. They continue to worry and suffer and starve.


[ Translated by Pu Malsawmliana from original Mizo version]









UNHCR Office In India Comes Under Severe Attack By The Scandinavian Burmese Committees




Oslo: The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in India shows absolute disregard to the plight of the 50,000 Burmese refugees languishing in India. An allegation of this nature was conveyed in a letter by the Burmese Committees in the four Scandinavian countries. Gro Anett Nicolaysen, Secretary General, The Norwegian Burma Committee, Tapani Ojast, Chairperson of The Finnish Burma Committee, Penny Davies, Chairperson, The Swedish Burma Committee, Anette Berentzen, Secretary General, The Danish Burma Committee were the joint signatories of a letter addressed to the Office of the UNHCR Chargé de Mission in India, located in New Delhi.




It becomes clear that those officials manning the UNHCR offices in the South and South East Asia consider themselves only as another UN Civil Servants and not as officers with a mission to safeguard the refugees affected with a life threatening situation.




The Scandinavian officials of the Burmese Committee have expressed in their introductory paragraph of their letter dated 27 February 2003: The Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish and Danish Burma Committees have learnt that Burmese refugees who seek protection from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi, India, repeatedly are being neglected and ignored by the office. Moreover, we have been informed that deep frustration concerning UNHCR’s treatment has compelled six Burmese refugees to instigate a hunger strike in front of the UNHCR Office.




The letter which expresses disgust and dismay for the lethargic approach of the UNHCR’s office New Delhi point out: According to the Chin Refugee Committee/New Delhi, around fifty thousand Burmese refugees are residing in the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur. The signatories have been informed that Burmese refugees residing in the State of Mizoram have been living under the constant threat of being evicted by the local authorities, and that this threat has intensified in the last two years. Burmese refugees have therefore fled to New Delhi to seek protection from the Office of the UNHCR. However, according to the information we have received, UNHCR does not respond to the refugees’ demands and rights. Instead, the refugees’ cases are left pending for months.




The Burmese Committee officials from the four Scandinavian countries explained in their letter that the Burmese refugees have fled from a brutal military regime. If those refugees are forcibly repatriated to Burma, they stand the risk of forced labour, forced relocation, as well as arrest and torture for involvement in democratic activities. Burmese Committee officials added: The ruling State Peace and Development Council may officially try to feign that they are eradicating human rights abuses. However, it is well documented that gross abuses are still going on, especially in ethnic minority areas.




The Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland Burmese Committee officials who are signatories to the letter with a specific subject, Regarding Burmese Refugees in India expressed their deep concern about the Burmese refugees’ situation in India and the refugees on hunger strike in particular. They have further emphasised that they have been informed that the health condition of those fasting refugees has seriously deteriorated and expressed fear of fatal consequences if UNHCR does not immediately respond to the situation.




Gro Anett Nicolaysen of Norway, Tapani Ojast of Finland, Penny Davies of Sweden and Anette Berentzen of Denmark the four signatories reiterated that this is not the first time that UNHCR has been criticized for neglecting the plight of Burmese refugees in India.While expressing regret over the lackadaisical treatment of the Burmese refugees in India, they reminded the UNHCR office that earlier in May 2001 Burmese refugees in Delhi went on a hunger strike demanding that UNHCR should recognize them as refugees and reminded even two years later the situation for the refugees has obviously not improved as they again see no other solution but to resort to extreme measures to achieve UNHCR’s attention.




Finally, they have urged that in light of the above, the signatories strongly advocate and earnestly press the Office of the UNHCR to immediately act upon the Burmese refugees’ demands by providing the needed protection and by recognizing them as refugees.




Source: Asian Tribune









CHRO Presentation at the United States Department of State




The Chin Human Rights Organization had met with the United States Department of State on April 2, 2003. In the meeting, three bureau; Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights And Labor, Bureau for Migration, Population and Refugees, The Burma Desk Officer for The US State Department




April 21, 2003




First of all on behalf of the Chin Human Rights Organization we would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to meet with the State Department of the United States of America. We are particularly appreciative of the fact that the meeting encompasses Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Bureau for Migration, Population and Refugees, and Burma Desk Officer of the State Department.




The statement issued by the State Department in the Country Reports of Human Rights Practice and International Religious Freedom Reports which touched on the present human right situation in Burma is encouraging to the continued movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. We are deeply indebted and grateful for the longstanding supports of the United States for Human Rights and Democracy in Burma.




In the past few years, in Burma, there’s been some “improvement” seen in the area of human rights situation: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and some political prisoners have been released; the International Committee for Red Cross and International Labor Organization have been allowed to be present in the country; the Amnesty International was once allowed in last February to visit the country. As clearly pointed out, however, in the statement of the Amnesty International, there is still much more to be done for human rights condition especially in the ethnic national areas of the country.




Burma continues to be ruled by the military junta and the Chin along with other opponents of the regime, continue to face a multitude of human rights violations. Under Burma’s military regime, the Chin along with other ethnic group in Burma are not only facing gross human rights violations, but they are also losing their culture, literature, customs, and traditions. This situation has resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis, both inside and outside the country.




Approximately 50,000 Chin refugees, of men, women and children have sought refuge in India. Of these, only about one percent has legal recognition by the UNHCR and a great majority of them are at risk of deportation by the authorities under which they live. Thousands more are scattered throughout neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand while a great number of them are internally displaced. Their humanitarian need is of great urgency.




That human rights violation seems to be more rampant in the non-Burman ethnic regions is evidenced in the fact that one million internally displaced persons came from the non-Burman ethnic nationalities and a large majority of the two million refugees (out of which about fifty thousand are Chins) from Burma in neighboring countries are of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities. This seems to suggest that the ethnic nationalities of Burma are forcibly pushed to face a rather Burmanization systematically imposed by the successive Burmese governments than democratization of Burma.




Several attempts recently made by the United Nations Special Envoy to solve the longstanding political stalemate in Burma turned out to be non-productive endeavor due to emphasis given solely to the emergence of talk between the National League for Democracy and the military junta. This seems suggestive of the fact that the root cause of the unhealthy human rights and political situation in Burma is much deeper than the possible outcome of talk between the above two parties.




In order to solve human rights crisis in Burma, we believe that there need to be a meaningful political dialogue between the military junta, National League for Democracy party and leaders of ethnic nationalities in the country. As the ethnic nationalities (who owned 57% of landmass with more than 40% of the country’s population) are co-founder of the Union of Burma, it is necessary for them to participate in addressing the political future of the Union of Burma. This is crucial for bringing meaningful solution to Burma’s political turmoil.


It is of paramount importance to recognize and respect the right of the ethnic nationalities to determine their political future beginning with any process aimed at breaking political deadlock in Burma, because conflicts long-rooted in Burma are the direct result of failure to recognize this fact. We feel that it is important for the United States government and the world community to remain aware of this and adopt stronger measures against the Burmese military junta so that it will eventually be forced to undertake meaningful dialogue aimed at bringing peace, harmony and democracy to Burma.


Thank you.




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