Volume VI. No III. July-August 2003
Chin Human Rights Organization
• View from Inside
(Interview with Major Thawng Za Lian)
• Chin Christian church demolished
An account by eyewitness
Refugees: Letter and Press Release
• Updates on the Situation of Chin refugees in India
• CHRO: Chin Refugees in India Face Forced Repatriation to Burma
• CHRO’s Letter to the National Human Rights Commission of India
• Refugee International’s Letter to Prime Minister of India
• RI: Forced back: Chin refugees
• CHRO’s Oral Intervention at 21st UNWGIP
Rhododendron has once again proved its worth as a symbolic Chin national flower. The continued support given to the work of Chin Human Rights Organization by international support groups, sympathizers and institutions as well as Chin people across the world have Rhododendron continue to serve as a vital source of information about the conditions of the Chin people in Burma. Our special thanks are due to the National Endowment for Democracy for its generous support for the work of CHRO.
The last few months have seen a repeat of a tragic trend in Mizoram where 5, 0000 Chin refugees are taking refuge. On July 19, 2003, an individual described by local authorities as a migrant from Burma raped a 9-year-old Mizo school girl. The incident sparked mob violence across the Mizoram’s capital city. Irate local people quickly turned their fury on “foreigners from Burma” and forcibly evicted them from their homes and shelters across India’s northeastern State. By orders of an influential local NGO, Young Mizo Association, at least 4,000 refugees were forcibly returned to Burma. Thousands escaped the deportation and went into hiding, making them ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ in a country they where they have come to seek shelter.
Those carrying out the eviction might think that they are helping the rape victim by inflicting suffering on innocent Chin people. But various inside sources have disputed the perpetrator is in fact a Burmese migrant. The victim’s description of the rapist was of no match to the physical appearance of the one apprehended by the police, according to a relative of the accused. Moreover, the arrested person has three alibis to confirm that he was elsewhere at the time of the rape incident. Nevertheless, authorities sent him to jail to get intense public pressures off their back. If this really is the case, then those involved in eviction of thousands of Chin nationals, have in fact let the real perpetrator roam freely while an innocent person is rotting in jail. And by so doing, they have either inadvertently or intentionally denied justice to the little girl who was brutally raped. After two months since his arrest, the alleged rapist is still being held without trial. For whatever reasons he has not been tried in court, even if he is in fact the real perpetrator, his right to due process seems to have been violated, let alone his right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Of late, the Government of Mizoram was forced to intervene in the crisis. The Home Minister issued a statement calling the eviction illegal. Local opposition parties accused the State government of ‘idly watching and standing by’ while people are illegally being evicted from their homes. In fact, it was the same government which received widespread international condemnation for forcibly repatriating hundreds of Chin refugees to Burma in 2000. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the Chin people in Burma had once supported and given shelter to many of the present ruling members of Mizo National Front in the 1960s when the MNF was leading an armed struggle for Mizoram Statehood.
On the other side of the border in Burma, political repressions and human rights violations pervade. Forced labor, religious persecution, extortion and arbitrary arrest and detention are some of the worst forms of violations of rights that have been well documented among the Chin people. Meanwhile, Chin people remain under siege by the Burmese army whose members commit gross human rights abuse against Chin civilians, a grisly reality many Mizos refuse to see. However, every cloud has a silver lining. There are still a great number of Mizos across the globe and in Mizoram itself who feel profound sympathy for innocent men women and children who have been punished for a crime they didn’t commit.
In Rangoon, against the increasing international outcry for the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, and economic sanctions recently implemented by the United States, the ruling junta is desperately trying embellish its image. A cabinet shake-up ousted General Khin Ngunt from his once powerful position of Secretary One of the State Peace and Development Council. Most people are skeptical of the reshuffle; it will neither lead to real political reform nor improvement of human rights conditions in the country.
Refugee situations in India still pose an urgent concern. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office in New Delhi has said access to Mizoram is still impossible because India has not given permission to the agency. But it has also said UNHCR presence in the border areas will create a pool factor whereby more refugees will flood in from Burma. It is by the same logic that UNHCR has denied protection to many people in New Delhi fearing the same kind of pool factor whereby more refugees from the border will come to New Delhi.
Chin refugees in India deserve greater international attention.
View from inside
Interview with Major Thawng Za Lian
[Editor’s Note: Major Thawng Za Lian is now in political asylum in the United States. An ethnic Chin, 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. A personnel with excellent performance record, Major Thawng Za Lian has close personal association with present members of Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council, including former SPDC Secretary 2, General Tin Oo, and General Maung Aye, who is Amy Chief of Staff and second highest ranking member of the SPDC.]
CHRO: Can you give us a description of your personal as well as career background?
Major Thawng Za Lian: I am the second of five siblings born to parents Pu ( Major) Za Hup and Pi Sun Doi. Because my father was a professional soldier, we lived in different parts of the country, mostly in plain areas. I was born on April 2, 1956 in Lashio of Shan State. I first started attending school in Mandalay. I went to at least 5 different schools before I graduated from high school in 1974. I enlisted in the military in April 1975 to take the officer training course in May Myo. Upon my successful completion of the course in 1977, I was sent to field to serve as an Apprentice officer in 106 Light Infantry Battalion. The very next year in 1978, I was promoted to the rank of a second lieutenant. Again in 1979, I got promoted to a lieutenant and in 1982 I became a captain in the battalion. I got married in January of 1983, and in the same year, I became a Major. So I was in the armye from April 1975 to January 1997.
CHRO: Did you hold any other civilian positions other than the military?
Major Thawng Za Lian: When I was a captain, I worked in the Township People Council of Hakha from 1985 to 1988. Again during my post as a captain, I worked as a secretary of Township Law and Order Restoration Council in Eame in Irrawaddy Division from 1988 to 1989. From 1990 to 1991, I worked as chairman of Township Law and Order Restoration Council at Zalun. Following my retirement from military service, I worked in Myanmar Railway from 1997 to 1999.
CHRO: Looking back at your military as well as non-military careers, how do you feel about them?
Major Thawng Za Lian: As you could easily imagine, being in the army means to be in the battlefield almost all the time. So we were always walking on the thin line between life and dead. What is even worse is that the non-Burman ethnic soldiers such as me were always asked to go to the frontline and other zones that are considered more dangerous. What I hated most in the army was the need to comply with orders from above regardless of whether you think they are right or wrong. These kinds of situations do not exist in civil service. Moreover, in the civil service, we have the opportunity to work for other people, which I found it satisfactory and rewarding.
CHRO: Where in the country were you based mostly during your military service?
Major Thawng Za Lian: Mostly I was in the Shan State. I was there for about 9 years. A single trip in the frontline would usually take anywhere from 6 months to one year. Also, I was in the delta region and Tavoy for a few years.
CHRO: As an army veteran, do you know or have close working relationship with any of the well known members of the State Peace and Development Council?
Major Thawng Za Lian: General Tin Oo, the former Secretary 2 of SPDC (Now deceased) was a close colleague of mine. I’ve worked together with him when he was a Major, and had a very good personal relationship with him even after he became a General. I’ve also worked under the command of General Maung Aye (Now SPDC Vice Chairman) when he was a Colonel.
CHRO: It has frequently been claimed that there is a power struggle among some of the top SPDC officials? What is your view on these claims?
Major Thawng Za Lian: Each official of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) seems to be trying to entrench their position by seeking a base support and loyalty within the army. My observation is that none of the top-ranking SPDC members trusts one another. Just before I quit the army, they made a new rule within the army top ranks who could or could not have lunch inside the War Office in Rangoon. This new rule only permits Brigadier Generals and higher ranks to enter the War Office with their lunch pack. All people below the ranks of Colonel must eat their lunch outside of the War Office, which means they have to go out to eat every mealtime. Moreover, nobody is allowed to use the telephone during lunch time. This new rule was implemented for fear that people might smuggle in bombs and explosives. As for top members of the SPDC, they locked themselves up inside their office with their personal security guards, which is also new because security guards used to be only posted outside of their doors. It was due to these security measures that the posting of all officers above Major to Rangoon need to be authorized by General Than Shwe, who runs background check on these officers.
What this means to us, the non-Burman ethnic officers, is that we became automatically disqualified for considerations for posting in Rangoon. It was for the same reason that even those ordinary officers who are assigned in Rangoon for security are not allowed to carry ammunitions. Only commanding officers are given ammunitions at their disposal for emergency situations. In spite of all the mistrust that exists within the military, the SPDC leaders are nevertheless cooperative and working together when it comes to their collective survival as military dictators.
CHRO: Why did you quit the army?
Major Thanwg Za Lian: I had waited for at least four years for the order of my promotion to come and I realized that nothing had happened in those four years. Then I decided to ask to my superiors about it. But they told me outright that I would get promotion within a week if I converted to Buddhism from Christianity. It was then that I realized that the rank of Major is the highest position I could ever get in the military and decided to quit the army. One interesting fact I should tell you is that at the time of my leaving the army, all of my peer officers were already promoted to either Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel.
CHRO: You have mentioned that you faced discrimination on the ground of your religious identity as a Christian. Do you think that the Generals would still have placed the same level of trust on you like all other Burman officers had you converted into Buddhism? Or do you think you would still experience discrimination for you not being a Burman?
Major Thawng Za Lian : I believe I might have been promoted if I had converted to Buddhism, at least to the position of a Colonel. However, I am sure this wouldn’t have worked in a long run because there would still be certain limitations as to how high a rank I could get due to my ethnic background as a Chin national. This is nothing new for me throughout my military career, and the Burman military officials have never trusted their non-burman ethnic counterparts.
CHRO: You mentioned that non-Buddhist officers can not be promoted to a position higher than a Major. But there are two well-known Christian Generals who made it to the top of the SPDC leadership. How would you explain about General Kyaw Ba and Brigadier General Abel?
Major Thawng Za Lian: It’s true. General Kyaw Ba is a Christian but he never minded bowing and kneeling down before Buddhist monks or Buddhist pagodas. In essence, we could say that his devotion to Christianity is not all that deep-rooted. During the BSPP era following the assassination of Brigadier General L. Hkun Hpa (A Christian ethnic Kachin), General Ne Win felt the need to have a Christian commander in the Northern Command to replace L. Hkun Hpa. Thus, Kyaw Ba was then picked up for Commander of the Northern Command in Kachin State. He was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier General by the SPDC. And he was actually made a Minister of SPDC. But what happened to him in the end? He was eventually dismissed in shame.
In the case of General Abel, he was exceptionally skilled and competent in his job as Chief of Army Supply Unit and there were just no one who could run the job like he did. Moreover, SLOR/SPDC needed him very badly because of his exceptional fluency in English. This was why the SPDC had promoted him to Brigadier General. But in the end, he too was booted from the army and SPDC in the last reshuffle of the junta.
CHRO: At the time of Burma’s independence, the most well-known and high-ranking soldiers in the national army were from Karen, Kachin and Chin etc. Obviously, there are no ethnic people in the top circle of present day’s Burmese army. Is it because the non-Burman people are less qualified or educated or less brave compared to their Burman counterparts?
Major Thawng Za Lian: When Burma became newly independent, the British administrators handed over 5 Karen battalions, 5 Kachin battalions, 1 Shan battalion, 4 Chin battalions, 1 Karenni battalion, 6 Burman battalions and 1 Korkha battalion to the succeeding Burmese government. At that time, there were more non-ethnic soldiers than Burma soldiers within the entire national army. There were also quite a number of Generals who are from the non-Burma ethnic background. Once the above Battalions were handed over to the Burmese government, Burman people started to take over all high positions in the military. This was one of the reasons why the Karen Battalion mutinied and started fighting against the Burmese government.
In fact, this was the start of the Burmans dominating all facets of political power. You can see that at present, there are no non-Burma ethnic people in the Burmese military whose position are higher than the rank of a Major. However, there are exceptions; those who are in legal and medical profession within the military do enjoy the chance of being promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel because they do not wield weapons and therefore are not a part of the political hierarchy. However, during the Ne Win era, one Kachin and one Chin national did became Generals, most apparently as a showoff by the Socialist government that there is national unity in the country. These two Generals were indeed deserving of these honors. Under the SPDC, however a person is qualified in his professional military career; unless he is a Burman or a Buddhist he can’t have the rank higher than a Major. The fact is there are the same numbers of qualified non-Burman professional soldiers within the present day’s Burmese army as that of the immediate post-independent era.
CHRO: Could you tell us about your personal relationship with the local people in the areas where you have participated in military operations?
Major Thawng Za Lian: I would describe my personal relationship with the local populations during the operations as very good. In all the places that I have been, the local people [who are ethnic people] knew me as a good and kind person and had attachment with me. I had once helped a group of Lahu ethnic tribe who were displaced by war to establish a new settlement besides Namkar River in the vicinity of Maishu. Now I am very happy to learn that these people have made themselves a well developed and sufficient village.
CHRO: You have been in the Burmese military from the time of Burma Socialist Program Party to the era of State Peace and Development Council. From your experience, what, if anything, is the difference between the BSSP and the SPDC?
Major Thawng Za Lian: During the BSPP era, discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds did exist. But their desire to demonstrate that such discrimination didn’t exist forced them to avoid blatant discrimination. At least one or two people were actually put in high position of authority during this period. Moreover, there were no restrictions on the ground of ethnicity and religion in applying for military officer training in those days. Now, although unofficial, eligibility for officer training is that one has to be a Buddhist and a Burman. General Maung Aye has on his table four criteria on which to deny promotion of army officers.
These include criteria for those who are Christians, non-Burman ethnic nationals, Burmans married to Christians and those who are Burman but are married to Christians or Muslim girls. Even during the era of State Peace and Development Council (Especially during Than Shwe-Maung Aye era), things have dramatically changed. Blatant discriminations for ethnic and religious identities have become more common.
In the military, 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. For all these factors, the present SPDC regime is worse than the BSPP government, or any other government for this matter.
Chin Christian church demolished
An account by eyewitness
On February 20, 2000, Chairman of Tamu Towhsip Peace and Development Council Captain Khin Maung Myint and his men entered our village on their way to New Tamu Town. It was around 10:00 am in the morning. That morning, members of nine households from our Church and I were putting a finishing touch on the church building, which we have been constructing. As Captatin Khin Maung Myint and his men were driving by, he got out of his vehicle and asked us as to who authorized the construction of the church building. Just as he was asking this question, he slapped U Kan Hla, the Chairman of the Village Peace and Development Council who was standing by him. Two of his men then immediately grabbed both hands of U Kan Hla and Captain Khin Maung Myint began punching and kicking him. The Captain beat him with a bamboo stick for almost an hour. After that he turned to me, pulled his pistol out and pointed in my head and said, “I will kill all of you Chin people, you Chin people are nothing but a nuisance to Burma.” He then ordered us to immediately destroy the Church building. Frightened, we immediately dismantled the church.
The captain himself angrily pulled down some of the bamboos that were used for the church’s wall. What we had built with our time and energy was totally destroyed. We have not had a place to conduct worship service ever since. Local authorities are now making various excuses to prevent us from conducting worship service.
It was with the permission of local Peace and Development Council member U Aung Sein (a Buddhist) that we built our church. He was also the one who gave us Form 105, which entitled us to possess a plot for the Church building. We bought a 150 square feet plot for 7,0000 Kyats from a local landowner U Tha Khin in 1996. After the demolition of the Church, bushes have grown on the site and it know looks like a wilderness. Our church’s membership has now grown to 14 household and we are in desperate need for a church building. Due to the growing membership, it is becoming more and more inconvenient for us to conduct services in my house.
Local authorities have objected to the sound of our singing and the drums we play. They said that we are disturbing peace in our village. Now, they have gone so far as to forbid handclapping during the worship service. I pointed out to them that Buddhists are always using loudspeakers whenever they collect donations for their religious festivals. I asked them if shouting around the village with loudspeakers hadn’t caused any disturbance in the village. They told me that they had been instructed by higher authorities to not permit any kind of disturbance in the village. Only after I told the village authorities that I would also be complaining about the use of loudspeakers, did they stop saying anything to us.
Up until today, the Village PDC Chairman is making all kinds of excuses to stop us from conducting worship service. But we are still holding the service in my house and we will not be submitting ourselves to their coercion.
Refugees: Letter and Press Release
Updates on Situation of Chin Refugees in Mizoram
Chin Human Rights Organization
September 2, 2003
Evictions of Chin refugees have intensified in Mizoram’s capital Aizawl and nearly all villages and towns across the State have joined the effort of Young Mizoram Association, which have vowed to expel every “Burmese” from Mizoram. Active eviction is being reported in most localities in Aizawl. Chanmari, Chhinga veng (ward) and Electric veng are some of the localities in which evictions have been most active. A local source estimates that more than 100 Chin families or households are living in each of the localities, and most of them have been evicted. Those who have gone into hiding to avoid the raid in their house have had all their belongings thrown out, and their houses padlocked by members of local YMA and Village Council. In one reported incident in Chhinga veng, a woman in her late pregnancy who was crying and pleading for more time to organize her household stuffs was manhandled, and forcibly dragged out of her house. All her belongings were then removed from her rented house. One woman who is on the run, and requested anonymity predicts it would be a matter of days or weeks before every single Chin is evicted from Aizawl, the city where she is making her hideout. In a matter of weeks since the eviction started in Aizawl, most major towns in Mizoram have now started carrying out evictions of Chin refugees living in their respective areas. Lunglei, Lawngtlai, Serchip, Hnahthial, Kolasib, Champhai, Saiha are some of the major towns that are actively conducting the eviction.
More people returned
The number of Chin refugees who have been returned to Burma from Mizoram is increasing and sources have told Chin Human Rights Organization that as many as 6000 refugees have already crossed the border into Burma as of September 2, 2003. Unconfirmed reports say many of the returnees have been taken into army custody. Those who have no identity cards have reportedly been given a compulsory three month jail sentence, while Burmese authorities conduct a background check on each individual. Most of the returnees were compelled to go back to Burma due to the evictions in Aizawl and other areas, and threats that the YMA will not take any responsibilities should anything happen to them after the deadline for abandoning Mizoram has passed. One person says that people are really afraid of such threats in view of the manner in which the mobs have conducted themselves by destroying properties and manhandling people. Many of those returned to the border were reported to have escorted by police who supervised their return, a report supported by the fact that the Mizoram Superintendent of Police makes regular updates on the number of those who have crossed the border into Burma.
Hundreds of people who have been evicted and told to leave Mizoram are now on the move. Because of concerns for their well being in Burma, these people are taking their chances to find sympathetic communities inside Mizoram. It has been confirmed that at least 80 people, including women and children are now sheltering at Vombuk village, located about 15 kilometers from Burma border. More people have sought shelter elsewhere inside Lai Autonomous District, where the local people have close ethnic ties with the Chin people. With the eviction spreading across Mizoram, and with the prevalent fear of returning to Burma, it is very likely that more and more people will be on the move inside Mizoram State.
India-Burma border sealed off
In an attempt to prevent returnees from entering back into Mizoram, the Mizoram State government has already sealed off its border with Burma. The government has ordered the deployment of police units at all major border passes. The closure has also affected traffic passing back and forth India Burma border.
Although it is still impossible to ascertain the real humanitarian conditions of people on the move, it is almost certain that they are struggling for the most basic supplies such as food, shelter and medical attention. In Vombuk where at least 80 persons are confirmed to have taken shelter, local people have built them makeshift tents and donate eatables and foodstuff. Our source has warned that unless alternate support is urgently arranged, the humanitarian consequence will be serious. Moreover, because news about these people being given shelter has likely spread to others, more people could be attracted to Vombuk, which will then exceed the already meager support currently available to them.
Notes on cause of eviction
The eviction was triggered by an incident of rape in which a 9-year-old girl was brutally raped by an individual alleged to be a Burmese citizen on 19 July 2003. The alleged perpetrator was apprehended by police two days after the incident, and immediately put in Aizawl Central Jail. Local residents then turned their anger on all “Burmese” living in the city of Aizawl by destroying their properties and ordering them to leave. As of September 2003, the alleged perpetrator is still being held without trial in Aizawl Central Jail. Inside sources have disputed the authenticity of the allegation because it has been reported that the picture of the accused was telecast on local TV and the victim has identified him as not being the rapist. According to the victim’s description, the rapist is long-haired and has a spotted and rough face, an opposite appearance with the man in custody who has a short hair and has no such marks on his face. Moreover, family members of the man in custody claim he was being targeted because of his weak mental condition. It is reported that the man in custody has three alibis to confirm that he was elsewhere at the time of the incident, but he has not been produced in court as of this point. Police obtained a confession from him at the time of his arrest, but many believe the confession was coerced.
Although the State government called the eviction illegal and hinted punishment for those carrying out the eviction, it is yet to enforce its statement. Election of State Legislative Assembly is due in November, and this is precisely the reason why the ruling party has made no attempt that might cost its image in the eyes of the public. One comment in an online discussion alleges the Mizoram government has secretly entered into a deal with the Young Mizo Association, an organization spearheading the eviction, that while the government would take no real action against YMA, it would issue a statement condemning the eviction. Observers are pointing the continuing eviction and lack of government action to the absence of international pressure being put on the government.
5 August 2003
Chin Refugees In India Face Threat of Forced Repatriation (Refoulement) to Burma
Thousands of Chin refugees who have been evicted from their homes in Mizoram of northeast India are facing the threat of forced repatriation to Burma. According to reports from Mizoram, on August 3, 2003, at least 107 of those evicted from their homes in Aizawl were herded into buses heading to India-Burma border. Most of them, however, managed to escape halfway en route the Burmese border. Among these escapees were several women and children including women in their late pregnancy.
The eviction is being conducted by local youth and social organizations following a 9- year-old girl was raped by an individual alleged to be an immigrant from Burma on July 17, 2003.
Following the incident, local non-government organizations spearheaded by Young Mizo Association and Mizo Hmeichhia Insuihkhawmna (Mizo Women Organization) have ordered the evacuation of all Burmese nationals living in the city of Aizawl. Yesterday’s issue of Zoramworld, a local online news agency quoting government’s source reported that as many as 2723 individuals have been transported to India-Burma border and the number of those ‘going back to Burma’ are increasing.
An estimated 5, 0000 Chin refugees are currently living in Mizoram State. Most of them fled to India to escape human rights violations in their homeland committed by Burma’s ruling military regime.
Chin Human Rights Organization is concerned about the continuing eviction and reports of activities of forced repatriation of refugees in Mizoram. There have been periodic campaigns of eviction against Chin refugees in Mizoram in the past and the last operation launched in 2000 had resulted in the arrest and forced return of hundreds of Chin refugees to Burma.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Director of Chin Human Rights Organization said, “We have evidence that those who were deported on the previous occasion were arrested and imprisoned in Burma. Those carrying out the eviction need to understand that the lives of these people will be in serious danger if they are forced to return to Burma. We share the pain and anguish of the family of the little girl and the Mizo community, but our Mizo brothers and sisters should understand that the eviction is putting innocent lives in danger.”
CHRO calls upon international organizations and governments concerned about human rights and the protection of refugees to urge Indian and Mizoram authorities to intervene in the crisis of Chin refugees.
According to local sources, eviction campaigns have spread to other districts in Mizoram. In Champhai and Lunglei Districts, local residents have given eviction ultimatums to Chin refugees in their neighborhoods. A meeting resolution of Young Mizo Association on 29 July said that all foreigners sheltering in the town of Lunglei and Champhai leave Mizoram before August 15. Residents have also stepped up pressure on the State government to crackdown on Chin refugees living in Mizoram.
For more information please contact:
Chin Human Rights Organization at
Phone/fax (613) 234-2485
From: Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
50 Bell Street N # 2
Ottawa, ON K1R 7C7
Tel: (613) 234 2485, (301) 468 9255
Fax: ( 613 ) 234 2485
CHRO’s Letter to the National Human Rights Commission of India
To: Dr. Justice A.S. Anand
National Human Rights Commission of India
Sardar Patel Bhavan
Date: July 28, 2003
Subject: The Chin/Burmese Refugees and Externally Displaced Persons in Mizoram State of India
Dear Honorable Dr. Justice A.S. Anand,
It has come to our attention that Chin refugees from Burma who have been taking refuge in Aizawl, Mizoram State, are being evicted by some local Mizo organizations and elements of local governmental unit. The eviction is being carried out in response to the rape of a nine year-old girl reportedly by an individual identified as Mr. Vanlalchanga, an immigrant from Burma on July 17, 2003.
The alleged rapist, Mr. Vanlalchanga, son of J.H. Laikhama, was arrested on July 20, 2003 by the Miroram police and was subsequently charged under U/S/ 376 (2) (G)/43 IIPC for raping a minor. He is currently being held in Central Jail of Aizawl.
According to News Link, Vanglaini, Aizawlpost, and other reliable sources, angry local residences have destroyed five houses – including three hotels managed by the alleged rapist family members at different locations.
Through a local newspaper Vanglaini, Mr. R. Lalringtluanga, secretary of Electric Veng (Ward) Young Mizo Association (YMA) branch, has informed all Chin residing in his locality to evacuate the area immediately. Similar orders have been issued by other branches of Young Mizo Association in Aizawl.
The majority of refugees from Burma who are living in Mizoram State are ethnic Chins who have fled their homeland to escape grave violations of human rights, including religious persecution, forced labor and policies of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Burma’s ruling military junta against them. We are very concerned that the evicted persons will ultimately be deported to Burma where their lives would be in serious danger.
We condemn in the strongest terms the act of the rapist. We also hope that the perpetrator will be brought to justice in accordance with Indian penal and criminal law. On the other hand, we are very concerned that innocent Chin refugees are being targeted and their lives put in danger.
We sincerely urge your office to intervene in the matter to ensure that the fundamental rights of Chin refugees are protected and that they are not forced repatriated to Burma.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
1) Board of Directors & All Field Officers, Chin Human Rights Organizations
2) Asian Human Rights Commission
3) United States Committee for Refugee
4) Chief Of Mission, UNHCR, Delhi
5) Refugee International
6) US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration
Refugee International’s Letter to Prime Minister of India
The Honorable Atal Bihari Vajpayee
South Block, Raisina Hill
New Delhi 110011
September 3, 2003
Dear Prime Minister Vajpayee:
We are writing to express our concern for the well being and safety of close to 50,000 Burmese who have sought refuge in the Northeastern State of Mizoram since the 1988 pro-democracy uprising that ended in violence and on-going persecution in Burma. Refugees International (RI) has learned that recent campaigns by local Indian groups with the support of local government authorities have forced over 5,000 Burmese Chin to abandon their homes and either go into hiding or return to Burma, a country with a well-documented record of human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.
As an organization that monitors the humanitarian and protection needs of refugees, RI applauds the Government of India for providing a safe haven for Burmese in India. Based on RI’s on-going research in the region we can confirm that many Burmese have sought refuge based on political persecution or human rights abuses by the military. This is true for members of various ethnic groups, including those from Chin State.
Over the past two months, more than 5,000 Burmese living and working in Mizoram, have been forced to leave their homes by local groups such as the Young Mizo Association (YMA). They have been told to return to Burma where RI has documented abuses of ethnic minorities in the form of beatings, torture, rapes and summary executions. According to RI interviews with former Chin deportees from Mizoram, there is a danger of being sent to labor camps and prisons, where they risk torture, illness, and death.
We understand that local police are supporting the actions of the YMA and are involved in deportations, an act in violation of international customary law. We are aware that some Burmese are involved in illegal activities, including drug trafficking, that your government has every right to address this problem under Indian law. These individuals, however, should not be confused with law-abiding people who have found refuge in India from persecution by the Burmese government.
We request that the Government of India take steps to stop the harassment and forced deportations of Chin refugees in Mizoram. We request that the Government of India allow those Burmese fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution to stay in Mizoram and that local police allow entry to those fleeing persecution in Burma. Finally, we encourage you to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist these people so that India does not have to shoulder the sole burden of protecting them or caring for their humanitarian needs.
We thank you for your attention to these matters and look forward to learning more about how your government will take steps to protect Chin refugees in Mizoram.
Kenneth H. Bacon
Cc.: Mr. Zoramthanga, Mizoram Chief Minister
Mr. J.H Zoremthanga,Young Mizo Association General Secretary
Mr. Lianzuala- President, Young Mizo Association Central Office
Forced Back: Burmese Chin Refugees in India in Danger
Refugees International has learned that India is sending back thousands of Burmese ethnic minorities from its northeastern state of Mizoram. Reports from local human rights groups state that over 5,000 Burmese from the Chin ethnic group have been forced to leave their homes and live in hiding or cross the river into Burma.
India’s actions are disturbing, given that global awareness is growing of the atrocities committed against the ethnic minority population of Burma by the Burmese State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). People fleeing Burma are responsible for the largest displacement and migration in all of Southeast Asia. In response to continued human rights abuses by the Burmese government, the U.S. Congress recently approved legislation that bans all Burmese imports, freezes the overseas assets of SPDC members, prohibits members of the regime from obtaining U.S. visas, and requires the U.S. Executive Directors for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to vote against all loans to Burma. This legislation sends a clear message that the actions of the Burmese regime are unacceptable and that a failure to improve its human rights record and release the democratically elected leader from house arrest will have significant negative consequences for the rulers.
RI visited Mizoram in May of this year and interviewed refugees who had fled from persecution by the Burmese army within days of the interview. In a church safe house RI interviewed Pa Thang, a disoriented and fearful 32-year-old man who was tied up, blindfolded, and beaten severely with the butt of a soldier’s gun. A group of soldiers brought him to their army barracks, where they urinated in his mouth and threatened to kill him. For two days he was beaten and given no food. He was accused of links to the Chin National Front, an ethnic resistance movement. The man went on to explain that the army had imposed curfews at night and that anyone found outside would be shot. During curfew time, soldiers went around the villages and stole whatever they could; they took two of his pigs. The soldiers also raped women. Pa Thang told RI that a 12-year-old girl from his village was raped by more than five soldiers for a 24-hour period until she died.
To get out of jail, Pa Thang and six others who were also taken to the barracks had to pay close to $500, a huge sum in Burma. As soon as he could, Pa Thang escaped to Mizoram, where a church group offered to give him housing until he found a job doing construction work. He showed RI the scars on his scalp from the beating. His back was still in pain, making it difficult for him to find work. “I have no choice but to become a refugee, what else could I do?”
RI also interviewed two brothers who explained how they had come to Mizoram to work. Although this could easily be interpreted to mean they were economic migrants, these brothers explained that for the past 15 years they had to provide one family member per day for forced labor for the military. The brothers were also disturbed that they, as ardent Christians, were asked to build Buddhist pagodas or forced to work on Sundays and Christian holidays. Between January and the end of March of this year they worked a total of 30 days each with no compensation. Families including theirs were asked to donate wood and tin supplies for the construction of military barracks. If they had disobeyed, they explained, they would have been beaten or killed. Their headman was beaten nearly to death. These circumstances make it difficult for the brothers and their villagers to cover their own basic survival needs. “Even if the Government does not help us, let them not take away what we have. This is our only prayer,” they explained.
Chin who seek protection have not found safety in India. They are subject to deportation and intimidation by local authorities and activist groups such as the Young Mizo Association (YMA), which recently destroyed the hotel of a man of Burmese origin accused of raping a nine-year-old Indian girl. Following this incident in mid-July, the YMA took to the streets to vent their xenophobic views. Its members destroyed homes and belongings and threatened Burmese with harm if they did not leave their towns by a given deadline, the latest of which was August 20th. Since then, close to five thousand Chin have been forced to leave. Reports by local human rights groups state that the police supplied trucks to move refugees back to the border. They also stationed police at the border to prevent anyone who had returned from re-entering India.
Forcing people with a well-founded fear of persecution back to a country with an on-going and well-documented record of human rights abuses is a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which India is not a party, as well as a violation of international customary law. Preventing the Chin from entering India when they are being persecuted because of their ethnicity is a further breach of international norms.
An interview with Mang Lian sheds light on what Chin may experience when they return to Burma. In August of 2001, he was arrested by police in Mizoram for being an illegal resident. After being beaten in jail he was deported into the hands of Burmese police and accused of links to the ethnic resistance and breaking immigration law. He was told he would spend his life in prison, unless he paid bribes to the judge. Mang Lian’s mother borrowed over one year’s salary from friends in Mizoram for the series of bribes necessary to keep her son from a life in jail. While in jail, Mang Lian and one of his friends became very sick. They were not allowed to receive medicines, visit a doctor or bathe, if they did not pay bribes to the guards. Every day he was brutally beaten by guards. After seven months, Mang Lian and his friend were released. The day of their release, his friend’s parents, also severely in debt to reclaim their son, came to collect him; he died that night. Mang Lian immediately fled to Mizoram and lives in hiding outside of the capital; he farms to survive while trying to repay the debt that freed him.
RI interviewed other Chin who had been accused of links to resistance and so severely beaten they had been left for dead. Yet despite such compelling evidence, both the Government of India and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) consider the Chin to be mostly economic migrants. The UNHCR has never visited Mizoran to assess the situation. Though having limited field experience of the situation, UNHCR staff has expressed doubts that Chin refugees have valid claims of persecution.
As one of the brothers told RI, “We are trapped in a cage that we cannot get out of ourselves. We need help from the outside.” The Government of India and the UNHCR must act now to prevent further violations of human rights. Failure to correct this situation would establish a precedent that could have implications for Burmese refugees elsewhere in the region.
Refugees International therefore recommends that:
The Government of India
• Allow the UNHCR a presence in Mizoram to help protect and care for humanitarian needs of Burmese.
• Take steps to prevent local groups, with the collaboration of the local authorities, from forcibly deporting the Burmese.
• Instruct border police to allow entry to those fleeing persecution in Burma.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:
• Advocate for and establish a presence in Mizoram to protect and assist Burmese fleeing persecution.
United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
21st Session 21-25 July 2003, Geneva, Switzerland
Oral intervention by Salai Za Uk Ling of Chin Human Rights Organization
Agenda item 4 (b) Indigenous peoples and Globalization
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
As we have seen from examples around the world, there is little doubt that there is a close connection between globalization and the suffering of indigenous people. And indeed, for many indigenous peoples around the world, globalization could be said to be a modern manifestation of colonialism and imperialism. Like colonialism, the advent of globalization has today placed the continued survival and development of indigenous peoples at an unprecedented risk. This is no less true for the indigenous peoples of Burma, including the Chin people.
The Chin people and their ancestral territory of Chinland are cofounders of the Union of Burma. One of the most important conditions for our people to join the Union was that by virtue of our membership in a federal state, our people could retain and protect our right to self-determination. But the military take-over in 1962 led by General Ne Win set back our hopes of building a federal state. Mr. Chairman, after over 40 years under a brutal military dictatorship, our cultural, religious, and ethnic identities have been significantly eroded.
I would like to draw the attention of the Working Group to the conditions of the Chin people in Burma. Burma’s junta’s desperate attempt to earn foreign money at any cost is taking a heavy toll on the country’s indigenous population. Permit me to give an example. Since 2001, the regime has arbitrarily designated Chinland as a tea plantation area. The regime confiscated hundreds of acres of land belonging to the local people across several townships in Chin State. In Falam, Hakha, Thantlang and Matupi townships, people are being routinely forced to contribute involuntary labor to work in these “tea farms”. This kind of practice is in stark contrast to the claims made by the regime to the International Labor Organization that forced labor has been outlawed in Burma. Moreover, we do not believe that the tea plantation project will actually benefit our people, but rather it will be sold in regional and international markets, and the profits end up in the junta’s coffers.
India and Burma have agreed to construct a transnational highway linking the two countries. When implemented, and this will be very soon, this highway will cut right through Chinland. While this is portrayed as an attempt to smooth the flow of bilateral trade between Burma and India, we are very concerned that this will have a substantial negative impact on the Chin people. As many examples have indicated, Burma has not demonstrated its full commitment to eliminating the practice of forced labor, and we are extremely concerned that mass forced labor will occur in the region, which will then have a disastrous consequence for the local populations. We already have more than 50,000 refugees fleeing to India and elsewhere as a result of gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the Burmese military, and we fear that more people will be forced to flee their homeland. We urge the Working Group to bring the matter to the attention of the Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Burma.
It is true that we often attribute the growing suffering of indigenous people to the advent of globalization. But what is crucial, in my view, is to recognize that it is not necessarily globalization in itself that targets indigenous people. Rather, it is due to the fact that indigenous people are very often excluded from making decisions, which directly affect our lives and our own existence that we often remain victims of globalization.
The indigenous peoples of Burma, including the Chin people, have always aspired and continue to aspire to a federal democratic state that will enable us to exercise our right to self-determination. And this aspiration is a principle endorsed by the United Nations and the larger international community. But that aspiration is being pushed further from realization because the ruling Burmese generals have recently reiterated their unwillingness to implement political reform. The arrest of Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the violent crackdown on the democracy movement on May 30 this year is a clear indication that Burma’s ruling generals are determined to defy international opinion to the very end. Just this past week, the issue of Burma was brought up at the UN Security Council during a general debate. It is extremely important that we keep this momentum going. Therefore, starting with this Working Group, all relevant UN bodies, including the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly should encourage the Security Council to place Burma on its principal agenda and to take positive action to have Burma comply with its obligations under the Charter of the United Nations.