VOL.IV No.IV MAY-JUNE 2001
Interview with an excaped prisoner from Sayasan Hard Labor Camp
Inter View with a Chin NGO Worker
A Cry Unheard
Letter & Press Release:
No Shelter for Chin Refugees In Malaysia
Chin Students and Youth Organization’s Letter to UNHCR Office, Kuala Lumpur
Congressman Underwood Secures HHS Refugee Aid For Myanmar Nationals in Guam
CHRO’ Oral Intervention on 57th Session UNCHR
Facts & Arguments:
The Unkept Promises
Fleeing Burma Where Life is At Risk And Liberty Curtail
Interview with an escaped prisoner from Saya San Hard Labor Camp
(Rhododendron Note: Saya San Force Labour Camp is located in Kabaw valley of Sagaing Division, Western Burma )
Name : Thang Hnin (name changed)
Town/Village : Haka
Age : 41
Marital Status : Married with three children
Nationality : Chin
Religion : Christian
Interview date : 28/3/2001 at Aizawl.
CHRO: Why were you arrested?
Thang Hnin : I was arrested by the Military Intelligence for carrying teak lumber without permission. I used to obtain a permission for doing this business on previous occasions but unfortunately I did not have one with me when I was arrested.
CHRO: Where were you kept after your arrest?
Thang Hnin: After being arrested, the MI had the Forestry Department lay charges against me and the court sentenced me to two and a half years in prison. After being convicted, I was sent to Kaley prison for three months after which I was again sent to Saya San Hard Labor Camp.
CHRO: Can you tell us about the names of officials in charge of the camps and how they behaved in terms of treating the prisoners?
Than Hnin: Captain Soe Win was in charge of the Camp. Just below him were one lieutenant and a 2nd lieutenant. I can’t remember the names of the rest officials. They all are from the Jail Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs. All of them are heavy drinkers. The worst thing is that we got beaten up whenever they were intoxicated. Capatian Soe Win was a very violent and brutal person and so were the rest officials.
CHRO: Can you give us a sense of how you keep up with in the prison?
Thang Hnin: We didn’t have to work in both Haka and Kaley Prisons. However, once we landed in the Saya San Hard Labor Camp, we realize that there was hardly any chance a person would survive.
CHRO: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience and how difficult was the work there in the Camp?
Thang Hnin: There are many things to say about. I don’t know how to even describe. But to describe it in brief, there were over 450 prisoners in the Saya San Hard Labor Camp, most of whom were Burmese Amy deserters. Inmates from Monywa and Kaley prisons were usually sent to this camp to serve hard labor sentence.
CHRO: What sort of work did you do?
Thang Hnin: The most common work was digging drains for irrigations, digging soils, ploughing & tilling rice fields, cutting firewood and preparing char coals. The paddy fields we ploughed were primarily for their own use and the jail officials often sold the rice for their personal ends. Charcoals that we made were also for the personal use of the jail officials. Since there were no oxen or buffalos available for the tilling, three people have to pull the yoke like animals.
CHRO: What is the time of your work hours and how do you keep up with that?
Thang Hnin: We never had a rest time. Between 4-5 a.m. in the morning, they conducted regular checks to make sure everyone is present. Beginning from 5 a.m. we work until 12 noon. We are given a breakfast break at 12 noon and the work resumed at 1 p.m and lasted until 5 in the evening. The work proceeds even on Sunday. Even sick people are not allowed to take a rest. We are whipped if we take even a short break during the work. We had to rush to work if called even when we are having meals. We can’t rest no matter how hot the sun is or no matter how hard it rains. It makes things even more difficult as our feet are chained with a two-Kilo-weigh manacle. The shackles remained fastened on our feet from the day we landed in the camp until we got out. It remained attached to our feet wherever we are – during work or at bedtime. We had to work even at night in preparation for the arrival of high officials from Rangoon. I remember the Home Minister and Deputy Home Minister visiting our camp on separate occasions. There were other high officials visiting the camp but I can’t remember their names.
CHRO: What type of food were you fed in the Camp?
Thang Hnin: The foods we received were nothing better than those we usually feed pigs with. The rice was half un-husked and husked grain mingled together. Everyone received only a handful each. We have no more to eat than just a handful of those. We never had curry or soup to go with the food. There is nothing else to express than it was very very bad.
CHRO: Do you receive any medical treatment when you are sick?
Thang Hnin: No, not at all. We have to work even when we are sick not to mention the medical treatment. They wouldn’t let us rest just because we are sick. Sometimes people took a rest out of exhaustion from sickness. But as soon as the guard discovered them they whipped them and beat them up. Many prisoners died from this. There was absolutely no medicine to be seen in the camp.
CHRO: How many prisoners do you think died while you were in the camp?
Thang Hnin: About 70 of them died in only the three-month period that I was there. It was almost an average of one person per day that died in three months. There might even have been more deaths that I didn’t know of.
CHRO: What was the most common cause of death?
Thang Hnin: How on earth could a human being endure those kinds of conditions? The work was extremely hard and the food was extremely bad, and in addition we couldn’t rest during sickness and there were no medical treatment. Everyone was just waiting to die.
CHRO: How were they buried after they died?
Thang Hnin: They were buried in a grave of about one foot deep. After about one week, the smells of the corpses attracted strayed dogs and pigs and the bodies are mutilated and eaten up by these animals. It was extremely sad to see this situation. The relatives were usually informed of the death but with a different story. They said that the prisoners died of sickness after being carefully treated in hospital. It was just a bunch of lies that the relatives were informed of. I wonder how could they lie with such things while we never even saw medicines. (Note: While talking about this he becomes too emotional).
CHRO: Was there any discrimination in the camp on ground of religion?
Thang Hnin: Absolutely! There was no room for people like me who are Christians. We were told that once we were in the prison we ought to follow the Burman religion, Buddhism.
CHRO: Wasn’t there any way in which you could be eased from doing hard works?
Thang Hnin: It was only the question of whether we have money or not. Money can do anything. If someone had more than 50,00 Kyats to give to the authorities, then he is made a Section Commander, which means that he no longer had to work. If someone from among the prisoners wanted to be an Office Staff, he had to pay 500,00 Kyats to the authorities. Anyone being able to pay that amount is automatically made the Office Staff. (Note: There are 10 Office Staffs in the Camps with half the number being from the Jail Department and another half from among the prisoners).
CHRO: How did you escape?
Thang Hnin: I simply could no longer bear the conditions that I took the risk to escape. It was on the night of 29th January 2000 after everyone was asleep when I made the escape. I was among those lucky enough to be an Office Staff; I fled while there was nobody in the Office.
CHRO: Where did you flee?
Thang Hnin: I fled to the Indian side. Our camp was located just one mile away from the Indian border and I just ran desperately towards the border until I reached Manipur State. I stayed in Manipur with one of the local families for eight months. I did not even speak the local language so I had to use body language and gesticulations to communicate with them. After eight months I came here to Aizawl of Mizoram State.
CHRO: Had there been any other prisoners who escaped like you did?
Thang Hnin: There had been many incidents in the past where prisoners tried to escape because they could no longer bear the conditions. But there were many people who are not lucky enough and were recaptured. Only a few of them had been lucky enough to survive from the beatings and torture after being recaptured. Most of them died from the torture. Those who survived these tortures were usually given additional one year prison term.
CHRO: Can you give us a picture of how you lived in the camp?
Thang Hnin: There are three prison hostels. When we sleep, there was no space left so as to be able to stretch our legs. But when we tried to bend our legs, again the space become too tight for us. There were two minor prisoners who are under 18. Most of us were between the ages of 20 to 40. If we want to shit, we have to do it in an open atmosphere where every sees us.
CHRO: How do you plan to move on?
Thang Hnin: The future is too grim. Everything is like closed for me. I don’t know how I am going to look after my wife and my children.
Interview With NGO Worker From Burma
“Mr. Green” Male.
From: Chin State.
Occupation: training officer for an NGO.
Education: BA, Mandalay University.
Left Burma: December 2000.
Q: Why did you decide to leave Burma?
A: I was afraid I’d be chased by the Burmese military. I was told by my uncle that I was going to be arrested by the Burmese military. [because he helped to get a list of political prisoners to give to the Red Cross].
Q: Had you had problems with the authorities before?
A: Yes, I did. While I gave the training about the NGO. I showed my card from the NGO to the military, but they did not know that card or about the NGO, so they arrested me and detained me for one night. They got all my speeches with a recorder. That was in June 2000.
Q: When did you start working with the NGO?
A: I joined the NGO from 1999. My friend had told me there was a post at the NGO.
Q: What was your work with the NGO?
A: The aim of the NGO is the prevention of HIV infection. So we worked for the prevention of HIV, awareness of HIV and distribution of education about the prevention of HIV.
Q: How aware of HIV/AIDS were the people in the area?
A: In the town, we could teach the people and the people know about HIV. But it is not easy to travel around the remote areas, so the villagers did not know about HIV.
Q: How were people becoming infected by HIV?
A: It is hard to find out the mode of transmission in that area, because the government did not do any research about HIV infection. They want to cover all things up. So it’s hard to find which mode of transmission is the worst thing. The government always denies about HIV, so it’s very hard to find out the actual and the real situation in that region.
Q: What materials did you have in your program, and what language were they in?
A: Posters and flyers in Burmese and Chin. We didn’t have enough for each and every person, but to some extent we can do. Because of the limitations of the facilities we had not enough funds. Q: Did you have any idea of what percentage of infection was happening in that area?
A: It is hard to find the actual facts in the country, because the government wants to deny HIV infection. According to my own research, in one clinic in Kalemyo, I reviewed the blood tests, and 8 to 9 percent of those blood tests showed positive for HIV. That percent is of people who they think may have the HIV infection, the high risk group. In the Kale Hospital, the percentage was lower than that percentage.
Q: What kind of treatment could people get if they were diagnosed with HIV or if it had progressed to AIDS?
A: In that place, when people know that a person is infected with HIV/AIDS disease, the persons around that patient are afraid of him, of the threat of that disease, and they don’t want to take care of the patient. Even in the hospital and the clinic, they don’t want to take care of that HIV patient. The patients didn’t want to stay anymore in the hospital, because they got depression, because they were outcast by society. So the patients leave the hospital and stay at home and the patients’ parents take care of them.
Q: Do people advertise medicines that will cure HIV/AIDS?
Q: Are there people who are not real doctors who give injections in the villages? A: Yes, a lot of the illegal ones. The villagers told me about it. One person, previously he worked in mining, some other place in Burma, and later on he went to Malaysia and worked, and he came back to that area [Chin State] and he was tested HIV positive. He was tested in Rangoon. And he went back to his native village near to Kale. The people in that village thought that HIV positive is the AIDS disease. He was treated by a person who practices illegally, and he gave some IV [drip] line with some glucose, some vitamins and other things to that patient. The patient is so weak, he cannot bear that IV line, and half of the bottle was left. They don’t want to discard the remaining [IV solution] so the father of that patient went to continue that IV line, because it is good for that person, it has a lot of vitamins. So the person who practices illegally, he made the IV line to the father of that patient. And later on, the patient died. After that, then the father also died, because of the infection.
Q: In the hospital and clinics, is the equipment clean?
A: In some places, they use disposable syringes. But in some places they cannot use the disposable syringes, they just flush the syringes and other needles with hot water for one time. Just one time. The hot water that they use to flush the needles and the syringes, they use that same hot water to do that again.
Q: Did you notice the rate of tuberculosis infection? A: I was not familiar with that. Q: Were people using narcotics by injection?
A: Around the Kale area, Tamu border area, I found a lot of narcotic abuse in that area. In that area they used the IV method, they got that habit from the people in mining areas, where they dig for the jade.
Q: What were the conditions for the workers in the mining areas?
A: I went to Maishu in 1994 and 1995 and Mogok in early 2000. And the conditions of the workers are very poor. Most of the time they didn’t find any stones or any valuable things so they have no money. They got depression because they didn’t get anything from that mine, sometimes and to replace their depression they use the narcotics. Some people. The heroin is sold by somebody, and they can buy it easily, they can buy it freely. And the syringe and other things, they can buy it easily. It’s available easily. They can inject it, the shot they can give by themselves or to each other, sharing.
Q: Do you know about mining in the Chin State in an area called Mwe Thaung at all?
A: I have heard the name of Mwe Thaung, before, several times, but I don’t know the work there. It’s near to Kalemyo.
Q: Were you visiting the mining areas for AIDS education?
A: I visited to Maishu mining area because I wanted to know the conditions for my own personal interest, and Mogok is for my NGO job. The trip there was not very successful. The mission of the trip was to distribute the condoms to the workers of the mining and to give the health education for the workers of the mines. But that trip was not very successful because of the people in that area were very busy with their work and they couldn’t take the time to hear that speech on prevention of HIV.
Q: Had the availability and affordability of condoms changed?
A: The NGO sold the condoms to the public at very cheap price. After that service, the condoms were more easily available than before. They can get them easily in the marketplace and anywhere around that area.
Q: How did you get information, news?
A: The main way we heard information is through the broadcasting services of foreign countries like the VOA, BBC and RFA, Radio Free Asia. And other democratic broadcasting services. The newspaper that’s issued by the government in Burma, we’re not interested about, because we couldn’t get any information about politics from that newspaper. We rely on only the foreign broadcasting service. Q: Did your office have a computer, fax, international telephone?
A: They had one computer for the office work, and one telephone for local use only. They had no [internet access].
Q: Tell about any Chin cultural problems…
A: They want to change our Chin people and other minorities to become Burman, by the government, all the time. Since the Burma Socialist Program Party time, the way they want is “one nation, one race, one religion, one country.” They use this method in this time by the military more than before. Even in our Chin State, our people cannot learn Chin language in the school at this time. The Chin language is not examined in the primary level. Even if they taught it in the school they didn’t cover it in the exams. The Chin language is not included on the schedule for the students. They meet only once a week [for Chin language study], only when they have extra time. In Burma, each and every state and division has the college and university. In the Chin State we have none up ’til now.
Q: Can you buy publications in the Chin language?
A: Only some books that are released by religious permission, we can get a small number of. Other magazines and books, we cannot get it. Years ago, to teach the ABC alphabet in the Chin language, we used, “A for Aung San” and “B for Bible” but the military doesn’t allow to publish that poem anymore. Because of the restriction of the military, except for the books issued by the church and the mission, there’s no other books [in Chin] available. There’s a lot of restrictions about cultural things, about shows, even in the ceremonies, we have to get the permits before. Because of all the restrictions, the cultural shows are less than before. In the country, there’s a Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the Ministry, there’s a Department of Religion. In that department there’s only a branch for Buddhism. No other religions. The government opened the school for the “Hill Regions” but in that school they teach only the Buddhism. For that school, the teacher, the headmaster, must be a Buddhist. After they implemented that project, before that my friend was principal of the school, but after that policy my friend was shifted because they didn’t want a Christian to be principal of that school. So it is clear that they want our Chin people to change to Buddhism and be made Burman. In the schools in the Chin State, they forced the students to pay homage whenever the elders come in [with a “Buddhist” gesture], and say the Buddhist words. The Burmese soldiers, whenever they went in the Chin villages, they arrest people and they persecute people whenever they want to, anywhere in the Chin State. The military check each and every household in the town, with their full equipment, about the guests. Even in my house, my sister in law was back from Rangoon because of a terminal stage illness. And some relatives and friends came to the house to stay with the patient to comfort her. But the military came to the house with their uniforms and didn’t listen to them, and the military threatened them and treated them rudely.
Whenever they went in the town or the village, the Burmese military opened fire in the air or somewhere, every night to alarm the people or to threaten the people. So the people, the Chins, in their heart, they have in their minds, fear and anxiety about the uniformed people who don’t speak the Chin language. Most of the people have anxiety even when they hear the footstep or song of the soldiers, or bark of the dogs.
In every [government] department, the head of the department is a Burman. Most of the Chin people don’t speak Burmese, so they are scolded. So they are afraid to go to the departments anymore. Even the small number of Chin people who are educated are shifted far away from the Chin State, so we don’t have our Chin people to rely on.
I was in Thantlang and saw when the military government destroyed the crosses that were erected to mark the Centenary of the Christian missions in the Chin State, 1999 January. At that time, the crosses erected on the hill were destroyed by the Burmese military and the pastors in Thantlang town were arrested by the Burmese military. That’s why I and other people gathered to pray in the church for the release of the pastor. Like we were making a demonstration. So the Chairman of the Chin State [military government] Col. Than Maung, came to Thantlang and ordered us to get out from the church. He didn’t step down from his car. We stood out in front of the church. He said, “don’t worship in the church and don’t make any prayer meeting anywhere. But what you need to do is work in the road for the construction.” The Burmese soldiers and police along with him forced us to scatter out. And only the pastor and the elders of the church to follow him. He told them that, “you are making the anti-government [protest]” and he was going to punish them severely. But they said they were praying in the church to make peace in the region. That’s why later on he released them.
One of the female pastors was warned by that colonel that she spoke to the public about anti-government, so he was going to punish her very severely. And he told all of us not to do this kind of things in the future. Otherwise he would give us very serious punishment. Imprisonment or very serious persecution. And so there’s no rights for religion or politics at all in Chin State.
The education system is also very poor, so there’s no way to progress for education in Chin State. There’s not enough facilities, and there’s not enough teachers. Most of the schools were built by the villages on their own. In some cases, the government forces the students to wear a [military type] uniform and forces them to shout the anti Aung San Suu Kyi slogans. The military government uses that trick.
When they formed the USDA, they used some students in that association too. Most of the time the students are taken by the government to be involved in sports and a lot of activities so the students didn’t have time to study in school. For example, the student festival that was held in Haka, the students practiced for the contests in sports for the whole year, so the students didn’t have time to study their subjects in school. But all the students must have examinations that year. Even though they learned nothing in school, they passed the exams.
Q: In the two or three months just before you left, at the end of 2000, was the army asking people to work for it?
A: Yes, they did, for the plantation of tea in the Chin Hills. They forced all the villagers to do the plantation. They forced the villagers to plant only tea. The military got the tea seeds from somewhere else, and the agriculture department raised the seeds, and the [seedlings] they forced them to plant. They forced them to plant it in many areas of Chin State. Most of the places were forest areas. They cleared the forests and forced them to plant the tea. They started in July and August to force them to clear the forests. They were still doing [the planting] in October, November.
I want to tell about the killing of two people during the construction of the road from Thantlang to Hriphi and Vuang Tu. The [government military] built a new camp in Vuang Tu village, that’s situation on the boundary between India and Burma. The built the road from Hriphi to Vuang Tu. They forced the people to work day and night. They collected the people from each and every village around the township. They brought the oil for the lights from India, and the explosives to use for construction from India, with money they collected from the villagers. That evening I was in that village when the one was killed in the road construction. March 5, 1999. The villagers dared not to say anything about that killing. The dead body was brought by the villagers into the village.
In that road construction, the villagers including the men, women and children, worked in that work camp. Right now, the military forces the people to serve as sentries to watch over it at night time, until today. They forced the villages [each] to collect at least ten people ready in position to carry the things of the military whenever they needed.
The alcohol was previously not used in Chin State very much, but at this time, the government opens to sell the alcohol everywhere, and they even force the village headpersons to sell the alcohol to the local people. They [government] get the funds from that alcohol and they destroy the morals of the young men.
Most of the Chins in the town and the students who are Christians are forced to collect funds for the Buddhist festivals, and they are forced to work in the compounds of the pagodas for cleaning and something like that. The government employees are forced to work in the paddy fields to grow rice for the government. In Tiddim town, the public water was cut off by the military, so the water would be used for the government’s tea plantations. So most of Tiddim has a shortage of water, and even in the township education office they got the water only once a week. That was my experience when I held training in Tiddim. In general they are doing all the things to destroy the morals and the character of the Chin young men and all Chin people.
A CRY UNHEARD
A struggle for survival, dignity, and hope of Chin refugees in India
By Salai Za Uk Ling , Rhododendron News, Ottawa, May 28, 2001
Like many other displaced persons, Chin refugees in India experience enormous daily hardship and difficulty. It seems for many of them the multitude of their problems has increased as they strive to cope with the daily difficulties they encounter while taking refuge in India.
Military repression and gross human rights abuses in Burma have uprooted tens of thousands of Chin people from their homes. About 1,000 refugees from Burma, mostly from Chin State are living in New Delhi under UNHCR protection, a small number out of the 500,00 estimated to be taking shelter in India.
Their situation in New Delhi is one of confusion, denial and uncertainty. Separated from their families, Chin refugees in India find that their life in exile seems like an endless suffering.
Their economic hardship, coupled with insecurity and constant harassment from the local people, is too much for the Chin refugees who have endured so much in their home country under the military regime.
“We are concerned at the increasing trends of distrust, hostility, harassment and even threat to our very existence from members of the local community and the police forces,”said a statement addressed to UNHCR by the All Burmese Refugees Committee (ABRC). For instance, a teenaged refugee, David Ral Bik, was arrested after being brutally gang-beaten by the local people and the police. And, entire Chin refugee families, living on the outskirts of New Delhi, were driven out of the area by the local people in the month of March 2001. When they requested intervention by UNHCR, a spokesperson for UNHCR Office said “UNHCR does not concern itself with such criminal cases,” sparking outrage from the refugee community.
Similar incidents are on the increase. Eviction by their landlords and harassment from the local populations are part of the Chin refugees’ daily existence. Meanwhile, dozens of new refugee applicants continue to be either denied refugee status or are compelled to wait as long as one year, without any interim assistance, while the UNHCR office reviews their cases. This has generated frustration for many refugees resulting in protests and hunger strikes to demand due treatment from UNHCR and to bring attention to their plight. Usually, UNHCR has responded to these protests by calling in the local police to threaten the refugees with arrest and thereby force them into submission.
In January 2001, UNHCR Office announced its intention to discontinue paying refugees the monthly Subsistence Allowance (SA) due to budget shortages. It stated that the SA would be replaced with alternate programs such as micro-loan schemes and providing skill-oriented training in its attempts to foster self-reliance among urban refugees.
One underlying fact remains, however. Even if this scheme is implemented, the refugee will have absolutely no use of their skills since they are not permitted to work in India as refugees. No foreigner is allowed to work or receive social aid in India. This raised serious skepticism about the practicality of the plan. Skill-oriented training for urban refugees however, is not a new policy of UNHCR. It has long been sponsoring vocational courses through YMCA. However, this training has done little to improve the self-reliance of refugees and has proved woefully ineffective. Self-reliance seems to remain a total myth. Despite this program’s repeated failure and amid serious scepticism, UNHCR seems to prefer to overlook the impracticality of its plan.
Voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement to a third country are options available to UNHCR in finding permanent solutions to refugee problems. New Delhi UNHCR’s action policy on Burmese refugees clearly states “Unlike some other groups of urban refugees in New Delhi, the Myanmarese (Burmese) do not have residence permits and sometimes the only action is to seek urgent resettlement to a third country.” Despite this claim, UNHCR has seldom chosen the resettlement option for the Burmese refugees and instead has denied many of them assistance, including those who already have groups willing to sponsor them in a third country.
Among countries maintaining annual resettlement quota for refugees are the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Despite the urgent and serious need to address the problems of Burmese Chin refugees in New Delhi, their situation has been overlooked and little has been done so far to ease their suffering. It is important that UNHCR play a more active role in seeking resettlement for the Chin refugees in a third country.
Letter & Press Release:
Chin Students and Youth Organization’s Letter to UNHCR Office, Kuala Lumpur
To: Mr. Shinji Kubo
570 Bukit Petalang
P.O Box. 10185
Fax: 60-3-2411 780
Telephone: 60-3-2411 322
From: Chin Student and Youth Organization (USA)
Subject: Appeal for the Burmese Refugees in Malaysia
With respect to your office we the Chin Students and Youth express our concern for the Burmese Refugees who are facing legal challenge in Malaysia and urge your action for the protection of Burmese Refugees.
The rights of the people of Burma have been violated since 1988 under the oppression of the Burma military dictators which caused the lose of thousands of lives and thousands of Burmese refugees around the world.
However, Burmese refugees, in their exiled states, do not receive essential legal protection such as in Malaysia. While those refugees can not go back to Burma for fear of life threatening treatment by the Military dictators, and if they are deported to Burma they will be tortured which will endanger their lives.
Meanwhile, we have learned that many Burmese refugees in Malaysia are seemed to face deportation such as Mr. Hee Mang who has been kept in the deportation center. We believe that none of refugees whose lives are in danger torture and inhuman treatment in their home country should not be deported from their exile state.
We, therefore, on humanitarian ground, ask your mission to consider the case of Burmese refugees and grant them legal status in their exile state.
On Behalf of Chin Student and Youth Organization
Head of desk for South Asia Bureau for Asia and the Pacific,
94 Rue be Montbrillant CH, 1202
Fax: 41-22- 739 73 35
Salai Za Uk Ling
955 Oliver Rd.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
April 12, 2001
Mr. Shinji Kubo
570 Bukit Petalang
P.O Box. 10185
Dear Respected Sir,
Re: Earnest Appeal for UNHCR Intervention In Burmese Refugees Facing Deportation in Malaysia
It is with grave concern that I am writing this appeal to you. As a concerned individual and being a former UNHCR mandated refugee myself, I have been greatly shaken by the news that some Burmese nationals have been arrested by the Malaysian Police following their peaceful protest inside the Burmese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on March 27th 2001.
I have learnt from a reliable source that one of the protesters, Mr. Hee Man is now in custody awaiting his deportation at the Macap Umboo detention centre. If I am not mistaken, this individual has apparently sought refugee status under the mandate of the Office of UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur before being arrested in connection with his peaceful protest. I have also been informed that preparations are being made by the Malaysian authorities for deportation of Mr. Hee Mang to Burma, the country he fled. My concern is that if deported, it is highly apparent that the safety of Mr. Hee Man will be highly jeopardized.
As you are aware, Burma’s human rights record under the present military regime is, if not the worst, one of the worst in the world. This is clearly reflected in the reports of the United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur to Burma and a series of subsequent resolutions adopted by the General Assembly as well as the International Labor Organization, which imposed punitive sanctions against Burma for its widespread use of forced labor. Further evidence could be seen in repeated EU’s resolutions as well as the United States State Department’s report on World Religious Freedom, which designated Burma as Country of Particular Concern (CPC).
The circumstances which compel these refugees to flee the country is still prevalent in Burma. You may be informed that there have been cases where deportees have been subject to torture, lengthy imprisonment and even executions in Burma. This was the case when some six Burmese refugees claimants were deported by India in 1996. However, the timely intervention of UNHCR in New Delhi could prevent one Mr. Steven, a Burmese Chin refugee from being deported in 1999. This included a personal visit by UNHCR officials to where he was detained for deportation, and by subsequently issuing him a refugee certificate in the first place.
Also in the case of Mr. Hee Man and other Burmese nationals in Malaysia, I have great confidence in the effectiveness of your good office’s intervention in preventing this dreadful situations from happening. I am fully aware of UNHCR’s certain instruments and criteria in determining refugee status under the definition contained in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which requires the claimants to present a well-founded ground of fear of persecution in their home country. However, I believe that the fact that the widespread human rights violations still exists in Burma, as indicated above, and the fact that Mr. Hee Man and his friends fearlessly expressed their political opinions by staging a peaceful demonstration inside the Burmese Embassy seem enough to constitute the Convention Refugee definition, which will enable them to become refugees within the mandate of UNHCR.
Furthermore, I strongly believe that the dreadful situation that awaits Mr. Hee Mang on his deportation to Burma could be averted if the UNHCR undertake timely intervention by recognizing him as refugees.
Sir, the only hope for the safety of Mr. Hee Mang and other Burmese nationals in Malaysia appears to lie solely on your sympathetic and humanitarian concern. As a concerned individual, I earnestly appeal to you for your timely and effective intervention in respect of Mr. Hee Mang and other Burmese refugees in Malaysia for which I would be extremely grateful.
Salai Za Uk Ling
Cc: Head of desk for South Asia Bureau for Asia and the Pacific,
94 Rue be Montbrillant CH, 1202
Fax: 41-22- 739 73 35
Contact : Salai Za Bik
Tel. +91 11 5534850
Fax +91 11 5510773
April 11, 2001
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NO SHELTER FOR CHIN REFUGEES IN MALAYSIA
Voicing for the Protection of Refugees
The Joint Action Committee (JAC) is shocked and deeply disappointed by news that Mr. Peter Hee Mang, a Burmese Chin refugee, has been held in deportation center in Malacca, Malaysia, for his peaceful demonstration of showing off a T-shirt depicting Aung San Suu Kyi, Leader of pro-democracy in Burma, at the celebration of Myanma’s Armed Forces Day at Kualalumpur Burmese Embassy. The JAC strongly urges the Government of Malaysia not to send him back, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kualalumpur to give him legal status as Burma military junta is still harmful for him and to open access for other Chin refugees to the UNHCR person of concern status.
Reuters news in Kualalumpur on April 3 quoted Shinji Kubo, protection officer of the UNHCR, as saying “Peter Hee Mang had been moved to a detention camp where illegal immigrants ere usually held before deportation’. AFP on April 5 quoted Nasri Mokhtar, head of Malacca detention, as saying there is no request from UN officials to meet me and Peter Hee Mang and the deportation will be done”.
The JAC welcomed the Malaysian Rights group, Burma Solidarity Group, Altsean-Burma and other human rights activists’ call for the UNHCR in Kualalumpur to grant political asylum to Peter Hee Mang.
As a result of ethnic cleansing launched by the military junta in areas inhabited by the ethnic minority, many ethnic Chins from western Burma have been forced to flee to many counties. So far UNHCR in India, USA, Australia, Thailand, recognized them as refugees.
The last event of Chin refugees’ deportation from Mizoram State of India to Burmese military junta last August was a good example. The information we received reveals many deportees being taken by the Burmese army to hard labor camps and many awarded lengthy imprisonment. This shows that as long as the current military regime exists in Burma, the ethnic cleansing policy will exist and there is no guarantee of safety for those who are forcibly returned to the country. “If Mr. Peter H. Mang were deported to Burma, I am sure that he would face lifelong imprisonment” said Mr. Mang Lian, a lawyer and a candidate in 1990 general election who recently fled in to India.
Chin National League for Democracy (Exile)
Chin Human Rights Organization
Chin Students Union
Chin National Council
Chin Refugee Committee
Chin Women Organization
CHRO’s Oral Intervention on 57th Session United Nations Commission on Human Rights
United Nations Commission On Human Rights (57th Session 19th March-27th April 2001), Geneva., Oral intervention on Agenda Item 15., Delivered by Salai Cung Bik Ling Of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO)
As many of my brothers and sisters from Burma have stated to this Commission, the Burmese Army has not stopped committing atrocities against the non-Burman peoples and the civilian population in general. There is no substantial progress in the respect of human rights and no solution to the deep-seated socio-economic and political conditions facing the indigenous peoples in Burma.
Under the long years of suppression and increasing military rule, the Chin indigenous people are experiencing many of the same abuses as other ethnic indigenous groups living inside and along the border regions of Burma. However, a specific human rights abuse suffered by the Chin people is religious persecution, even though the first and second constitutions of Burma accorded freedom of religion. In theory, Burma is a union of multi-ethnic societies founded on the principle of equality and fraternity in which the citizens have the right to practice and enjoy their own religions peacefully in a peaceful way. The practice is very different.
For more than one hundred years, the religion of most Chins has been Christianity, but this has now unfortunately become foreign in the eyes of the Burmese military government.
Allow me to cite two specific examples to support my statement. The Christian Chin community has long wanted to construct Chin centenary building in the Chin Capital, Haka, but is repeatedly denied authorization to build. In contrast, the Burmese government funded the construction of the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Rangoon, which opened in December 1998. The other related example concerns the arrest and imprisonment of Pastor Grace, who was arrested on February 13, 2001. She is now presently detained in Haka army camp, where prison conditions are extremely severe, inadequate and precarious for a woman prisoner. Her brother is currently serving a two-year prison sentence at the Kalaywa concentration camp.
In the process of through human development, free and peaceful communication is essential, among many other things. It is also important for my people to look forward to an open and better society. But regretfully , because of the clear and sustained policy of isolating the indigenous peoples from the international community pursued by the successive Burmese regimes, we have not been able to initiate our own development. A few years ago, the military regime launched a tourism drive. However, in spite of tourist promotion, visits to the Chin State still remain forbidden since the 1960s.
Given the political experiences of our country for the last five decades, we are gravely concerned about the continuing policy and intentions of the Burmese army towards the future of the indigenous peoples of Burma. Ignorance and continued denial of fundamental human rights to the indigenous peoples in Burma will only amount to weaken the stability of the Union , and hinder the peace building process, which is most needed and will lead to the eventual lasting peace for the nation.
In this respect, we hope that the non-Burman groups will soon be able to take part in the peace process that seems to have started in Rangoon. This will make it more likely that the issues and problems that face all the peoples of Burma will be sincerely addressed, and we count on the support of the international community in this critical process.
CONGRESSMAN UNDERWOOD SECURES HHS REFUGEE AID FOR MYANMAR NATIONALS IN GUAM
From Guam Congressional Delegate
ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD
2428 Rayburn HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515
120 Fr. Duenas Ave., Ste 107 Hagatna, Guam 96910
Contact: In D.C.: Esther Kiaaina at 225-1188
In Guam: Cathy Gault at 477-4272
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2001 — Congressman Robert A. Underwood today announced that officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement will soon arrive in Guam to assist the Chin Christians who fled Myanmar earlier this year. The team may also be providing assistance to those Chinese immigrants seeking political asylum.
“Since March, we have been in discussion with HHS, primarily the people in the Office of Refugee Resettlement,” Congressman Underwood said. “We asked that they send out a team to Guam to provide assistance and they’ve complied with that request.”
The team, which will include representatives from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, will arrive in a few days to begin refugee processing, to assist those immigrants who wish to travel on into the United States. The team will also conduct health screening and assist the local church and charity groups who are currently caring for the Myanmar Nationals who began entering Guam earlier this year under the Guam-only Visitor Visa Program. Myanmar has since been removed from the program.
Congressman Underwood said the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, to order such assistance. In response to Congressman Underwood’s formal letter of request for assistance, Secretary Tommy G. Thompson invoked his authority on April 18, notifying all federal agencies that HHS would be making arrangements for the temporary care of the refugees in Guam.
“This invocation of authority will allow the Department of Health and Human Services to provide, among other things, limited medical screening for communicable diseases for approximately 1,150 Burmese and Chinese asylum applicants on Guam awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims, to award emergency grants to provide food and shelter for those individuals, and to arrange transport to mainland U.S. destinations for those applicants who are granted asylum,” Secretary Thompson wrote.
Facts & Arguments
THE UNKEPT PROMISES
” Hope for the Best but Prepare for the Worst” is the unforgotten speech given by our beloved leader Bogyoke Aung San when he came to London to negotiate for independence of the Union of Burma. The speech implies that if we cannot achieve it by peaceful negotiations we will have to fight for it. Today this would also apply to all the ethnic forces in Burma who are at odds with the Burmese military Junta. Currently the secret negotiations between the pro democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military Junta has left out the ethnic forces. If the Myanmar race, both democratic and undemocratic forces construe the Non-Myanmar as an excess baggage that must be accepted as a necessary evil then the Burmese problem of will never be solved. Their actions seem to indicate a Burmese saying “Ka Lae Dwe Tait Tait Ne, Lu Gyi Dwe Sa Gar Pyaw Nae Dae” meaning, ‘Hey you little fellows keep quiet while we adult are seriously talking’. The nature of the so called ‘Secret Negotiations’ is a clear indication that there is something to hide from the public. If that is the case, then the ethnic groups will have to conclude that as the 1947 Constitution was torn up by the Burmese Junta in 1962 and obliterated up the Panglong Agreement then the ethnic groups have no obligation whatsoever to the Union. Hence fighting the Myanmar Tatmadaw (army) is amounted to legitimate war against an occupying force (for the past decade they have behave in such a manner) and cannot be construed as a civil war.
The very fact that the negotiations are bilateral and not tri-larteral underline the fact that the Myanmar tribe, which is a much stronger, more numerous and resourceful and dominating tribe, wants to rough ride shod over the ethnic groups. The writing on the wall exhibit clearly that major decisions will be made between a Myanmar and a Myanmar, and later these discussion will be expended to the ethnic forces for them to decide either to take it or leave it. This “carrot and stick tactic” denotes that a Myanmar does not treat a non-Myanmar as an equal but of a lower level people who are at their beck and call. Of course the democratic Myanmar will be magnanimous and on paper at least, will treat the ethnic races as equal. In other words, the ethnic groups will be at the whims and the fancy of the Myanmar leaders.
This has been the case since the inception of the Union of Burma when the Karens has no choice but were forced to fight. Then the Mon, Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Arakanese and Chin followed, not to mention the much smaller tribes as the Pa O, Palaung, Tavoynians Rohingys, etc . Today there is no single tribe or ethnic group that has not taken up arm or is still fighting against the Myanmar tribe. Burmese chauvinism and xenophobia run deep into their veins. Until and unless there is cetena, (goodwill) love and sincerity by the Myanmar towards the non Myanmar as showed by our beloved leader Bogyoke Aung San, we cannot visualize a final solution. The Panglong Agreement and the 1947 constitution drawn up under the supervision of Bogyoke Aung San has been trampled upon by the Burmese Tatmadaw belonging to the Myanmar tribe.
A barometer reading of the Junta’s current attitude towards the ethnic forces can be clearly seen in the military offensive against the Karens and the Shans. Their superb diplomacy of “divide and rule ” which translates into “let the ethnic forces fight the ethnic forces” e.g. Wa fighting the Shan, Karen Buddhist fighting the Karen Christians and so on, harkened back even to the Burmese democratic days when the Kachin and the Chins were recruited to fight the Karen. In fact it was the Chin forces that defended Rangoon from the Karen who were in the suburbs of Rangoon now called Insein. How many of the Chins and Kachins have laid down their lives in defense of the Union of Burma only to be changed to the chauvinism name of Myanmar. Currently how are the Chin and Kachin being treated? Do the Myanmar respect their culture and religious beliefs? How many times have the Myanmar negotiated with these ethnic groups and how many times have they betrayed or swindled them?
Of course there are several Myanmar who have not approved the proceedings of those in power. They have identified with the ethnic forces and fought shoulder to shoulder with their ethnic brethren, especially the students and the young generation who were forced to flee for their lives in 1988.. The ethnic groups welcomed them with open arms seeing theses young Myanmar like them being persecuted. This also proved that the ethnic groups are not at all racist but simply fighting the Junta and chauvinism. These Myanmar understand more about their ethnic brethren than those who are in Rangoon who are at the helm of the administration. Why are these Myanmar left out of the negotiations?
The treatment by the Myanmar of the non-Myanmar for half a century or so since the inception of modern Burma has guaranteed that no ethnic leader will trust the Myanmar. This is now being reinforced by the current “Secret Negotiations” which deliberately leave out the ethnic groups. Autonomous regions, self determination, and federalism are the words anathema to the Myanmar under the pretext of dismemberment the Union. But the fact is that these attitude covers up the truth, liberty, equality and fraternity.
The ethnic groups together with the people of Burma and the world have been left in the dark. Why? Is the fate of the 47 million Burmese people to be decided only by two persons alone, Khin Nyunt and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? We have heard about the nature of these negotiation via foreign media only. No announcement or communique has been released. Naturally speculations are rife. Will the blood thirsty Narco- Generals be given impunity in return for an interim civilian government?
Not that we don’t have faith in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Nor do we want revenge over the evil generals but the very fact that important conditions are agreed upon behind our backs indicate that the situation is equivalent to the Burmese saying, “Say Yar Thwa; Khaing Da Loke; Pyan Ma Pyaw Ne” meaning ‘go where you are directed and implement as told and don’t talk back’. Why is the culture of silence imposed on us? Is it a Myanmar way or a Myanmar mentality? We are very much bewildered. If we don’t know the causes, nature and extent of the gross violations of human rights which the Generals are still committing how can the truth be known, not to mention achieving of national reconciliation. We should also remember that the granting of de facto acceptance of impunity for those holding political, military or economic power erodes the very basis of the social order and helps to nurture a culture of violence.
Drawing from the experience of South Africa, it has been found that there is an existential need of the victim to break out of a situation of silence, isolation, fear and falsehood. To know the truth, to recover a shared memory and thus to restore human dignity for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators are MUSTS. We would very much like to find out or how whether this compatible with so called ‘Secret Negotiations’?
Without an intentional attempt to create a space where the stories of humiliation and suffering can be told, where the truth can emerge and collective remembrance restored, the search for justice will continue to divide the community rather than re-establish relationships and contribute to a process of healing. How can forced labour, forced relocation, systematic torture, disappearances, extra-judicial killing, raping of women and children continue even as the ‘Secret Negotiations’ are going on. Why have the Myanmar so stubbornly refused to learn the lessons of the recent past and all this continue to occur? More often than not, we hear the response, “Forget the past, the dead cannot come to life and turn your eyes to the future building of a nation.” This simplistic answer, so easily offered by those who have something to hide, has no healing power. It leaves no room for reconciliation. Until and unless the truth is told, unless the criminals are held accountable, or unless those directly responsible and their accomplice confess their guilt, ask for forgiveness and give concrete signs of repentance, there can be no justice and therefore no healing of society. No body in Burma would want to repeat the errors of the past, trapped in cycles of retributive violence. The people yearn for transformation. And this transformation could start with the opening up of the so called ‘Secret Negotiations’. The people of Burma including the ethnic groups have suffered too much from the unkept promises could be spared from experiencing evil wars and bitterness.