Volume VI. No.V. September-October 2004
Chin Human Rights Organization
Table of Contents
Human Rights Violations:
• SPDC’s Chairman Gen. Than Shwe Poster A Must Buy in Chin State
• Bullet Speaks Lauder than Words
• SPDC Captain Tried to Rape a Married Woman
• Civilian Compel to Repair Army Camp
• High School Students Forced as Porters
• The Tale of Cross-border Cattle Traders
• Burmese Soldiers on the Rampage in Falam Township
• Supply Wood or Face Severe Punishment
• Suppression of Christians in Gankaw Towship
• Grievance Over Recent Incidences Around Putrajaya
• CHRO’s Presentation at the US State Department Bureau for Population, Migration and Refugee
• Chin Activists, Refugee International team up to lobby US
Facts & Arguments:
• A Struggle For Self-Determination In Burma: Ethnic Nationalities Perspective (By Lian H. Sakhong)
Back Cover Poem:
• “Where is Papa?” (By Van Biak Thang)
Human Rights Violations:
SPDC’s Chairman Gen. Than Shwe Poster A Must Buy in Chin State
Aizawl: September 13, 2004
To buy the poster of the Burmese military junta State Peace and Development Council chairman Gen.Than Shwe is compulsory in Chin state according to CHRO source.
All village headmen from Rezua township, 45 villages in total, from southern Chin state were summoned for a meeting by U Kyaw Win Naing of Rezua township Peace and Development Council during the last week of August 2004.
The meeting was to brief the importance of hanging the poster of the chairman of State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe in the living room of every household. The township PDC official U Win Naing instructed the 45 villages headmen how to hang the poster neatly and properly. He further warned them that those who damaged the poster will be properly punished.
After the briefing and instruction of how to hang the chairman poster, the village headmen were informed that they must buy the poster at the rate of 200/- Kyats per poster and every household in their respective village must possessed and hung the poster in their living room as instructed. Some village headmen got 50 posters and some more than 100 posters depending on the size of their village.
CHRO source said that, since the poster is not a popular one, no one wants to buy the poster and village headmen are in trouble selling the poster of Gen. Than Shwe. Every village headman is responsible for paying the price of the porters in full before the end of September.
Bullet Speaks Lauder than Words
Aizawl: September 9, 2004
The village headman of Ruava village from Rezua township in Chin state was terrify by unusual order he received from Major Khin Maung Cho, Company commander of Burma army LIB 274.
On August 10, the headman received a letter with G3 bullet from Major Khin Maung Cho saying that he must send 14 porters to Rezua army camp no later than 11 August. The order further threatened that there will be a consequence if he fails to obey the order.
Being terrified by the order that comes with a bullet, the headman and the village elders arrange 14 porters, accompanied by one of the village elders, and send them to Rezua army camp the next day.
The Major demanded 2 more porters on August 12. Thus, two porters and the headman himself went to the army camp as soon as they got the order. They all were kept at the army camp till 16 August. After a several days of waiting to serve as porter in the army camp, the Major told them that he does not want the porters any more since the trip was cancel and he will call them whenever he want.
Since Ruava villager is located near the Burmese army camp, they have been consistently forced to work such as repairing the army camp, and to serve as porters. At the time of this report, Burma army demanded 2000/-Kyats and 10 chickens from the village for unknown reason.
SPDC Captain Tried to Rape a Married Woman
Aizawl: August 26, 2004
The local villager inform the CHRO that Captain Phu Thaw, company commander from Burma army LIB 50 tried to rape a married Chin woman on July 13, 2004 at Sabawngpi village.
Captain Phu Thaw and his troop arrived Sabawngpi village on July 13, 2004 and spent the night. After sunset, Captain Phu Thaw visited the house of Daw Marie while her husband was away. After a few minutes of chatting with the woman, the Captain suddenly covered the mouth of the woman with his hand and pointed his pistol to her and tried to rape her.
Being panic by the sudden action of the Burmese Captain, the woman shouted and struggled. The villager said that the woman could luckily avoid the deplorable incident by shouting and struggling.
The woman is about 30 years old and she is a simple farmer married with two children.
Civilian Compel to Repair Army Camp
Aizawl: September 6, 2004
11 villages surrounding Sabawngte area were summoned to repair the army camp by the order of 2nd Lieutenant Htun Kyaw, Company commander in-charge at Sabawngte army camp, Burma army LIB 274. According to the order, every village must provide 1000 bamboo poles and a chicken without fail.
The villagers have no other choice but to obey the unfair order, and thus they pack their own food and tools to work as forced laborers for the army. It took three days (from August 24 to 26, 2004) each for every village to cut 1000 bamboo poles in the forest and transport it to the army camp.
The name of the 11 villages are; 1. Ngaphaipi, 2. Fartlang, 3. Khuapilu, 4. La-U, 5. Darling, 6. Ruamang, 7. Sapaw, 8. Tawnglalung, 9. Sabawngpi, 10. Sabawngte, 11. Hlungmang.
In another incident, 15 villages from Rezua township were forced to construct a new Burmese army camp for Company base at Rezua town. The (oral) order issued by Major Khin Maung Cho of Burma army LIB 274 on August 10, 2004 demanded that one person per household from Rezua and surrounding 15 villages must contribute their labor to construct a newly extended army company base.
According to Pu Khua Do, who participated at the forced labor, his village is 12 miles away from the army camp. They brought 200 bamboo poles and 10 chickens for the army when they come to work as forced laborers. They work at the army camp from 16 to 19 August for four days digging trench, building barrack and sharpening bamboo. The army did not provide tools, food or any thing. The villagers bring their own food and tools to while working for the army.
Pu Khua Do said that another villagers from Lekhan, which is 7 miles away from Rezua were also working at the time. The army demanded at least 50 people from Lekhan village but only 30 people could show up because Lekhan village is too small and could not manage to contribute 50 people to work at the army camp. There are several woman among the forced laborers said Pu Khua Do.
High School Students Forced as Porter
Aizawl: August 26, 2004
On July 24, 2004, 21 high school students including several girls from Sabawngpi High School were forced to serve as porters by Captain Myo Min Naing of Burma army Light Infantry Battalion 274
A group of Burma army led by Captain Myo Min Naing of Burma army LIB 274 was preparing to station at Sabawngte camp on July 24, 2004. The troops requested 70 porters to carry their ration and ammunitions. They just drag whoever they find in the village to serve as porter. Among the porters were 21 high school students including several girls.
The students had to carry army ration and ammunition from Sabawngpi village to Sabawngte army camp. Since the load they carried were too heavy and they have to walk overnight, the students were too exhaust and some of them could not make their class for the following week.
On the previous day on July 23, 67 villagers from Lailenpi village were forced to carry the army ration and ammunition from Lailenpi village to Sabawngpi village by the same Burmese troop.
The Tale of Cross border Cattle Traders
Aizawl: August 27, 2004
5 cattle traders from Kyikan village, Kalay myo township in Sagaing division are driving 26 cows towards India border through Chin state in August. On their way, they met with the police at Duhmang village at Falam township, Chin state on August 12, 2004. The police arrested the traders and their cattle saying that it is illegal to trade cattle to other country without permission from the government. The police told the traders that they will be released only if they pay 150,000/-kyats for cross border tax.
The traders eventually paid the demanded sum of money and continue their journey towards India. When they arrive Manipur river at Teddim township, they met with the patrolling Burmese soldiers led by 2nd Lieutenant Ko Khan and they got arrested again. The soldiers demanded 100,000/- Kyats for their release and for the cattle. The traders eventually paid the demanded sum again.
One of the traders complained to CHRO field worker saying that “we used to pay 1,000/- to 1,500/- per cattle at the most in previous trips, but now the police and the soldiers have excessively and randomly demanding the so called cross border tax and we can’t make no profit at all”.
The cattle traders still have to pay every village about 50 to 100 Rupees per head for their cattle for “village crossing fee” even after they arrived in Mizoram state of India.
The traders explains that due to excessive (illegal) fees and taxes along the way from Burma to India, there are now fewer cattle traders and that results the price hike of beef in Aizawl bazaar. The price of beef used to be 100 Rupee per Kilogram and now it is 120 Rupee per Kilogram at Aizawl bazaar, the capital of Mizoram state.
Another similar incident, extortion of money from cattle traders by Burmese soldiers, occurred at Darkhai village on August 20, 2004. While Pa Maung and his friends are on their way to sell 24 cows to India, they met with a group of Burmese army led by Major Thein Sein of Battalion 269 based at Darkhai army camp near Tonzang town in northern Chin state. The soldiers immediately arrested Pa Maung and his friends saying that they will be released if they pay 200,000 Kyats/-. Pa Maung and his friends eventually paid the demanded money. The 36 years old Pa Maung and his family made a living with cross border trade. He is from Letpanchaung village in Kalay Myo township, Sagaing Division.
On July 19, 2004, Kyikan villager named Run Hlei Te 35 years was drown in Manipur River while trying to avoid the arrest of the police while he was on his way to India for selling the cattle.
Burmese Soldiers on the Rampage in Falam Township
Aizawl: August 27, 2004
2nd Lieutenant Khin Maung Win and a soldier from Burma army LIB 269 along with 2 policemen based in Tibual village, Falam township in northern Chin state come to Satawm village on the night of July 12, 2004. Satawm village is on the India-Burma border trade route and 2nd Lt. Khin Maung Win and his group, who got drunk, come to the village with the plan to extort money from cross border traders. As soon as they arrived the village, 2nd Lt. Khin Maung Win sent one villager and summoned the village headman. The villager come back and said that the headman was not feeling well and he could not come.
The Lieutenant was so angry that he sent two of his inferiors to get the village headman. The two soldiers eventually drag the village headman and started to beat him up, along with the villager whom they sent to get the headman, by 2nd Lt. Khin Maung Win and his men. While beating up the headman and the villager, the soldiers sprayed their gun randomly and hit the nearby Evangelical Methodist Church that the worshipers have to stop their service halfway with great fright.
2nd Lt. Khin Maung Win and his group continue to storm the village by entering house by house and inappropriately acted upon any woman they find. They even tried to molest two of the girls but the girls struggled and escape.
Being unable to tolerate the action of the soldiers, the villagers organized themselves and arrested the two solders and one policeman who are on the rampage. The villagers report the incident to Tibual army camp, but the camp commander was away at that time. Thus the villagers brought the case to LIB 269 battalion commander.
Realizing the anger of the villagers and the local Chin people upon the Burmese soldiers, the battalion commander immediately arrange a meeting with the villagers at New Rih town and beg for their forgiveness for what the Burmese soldiers has done.
Villagers said that this is the only incident that the Burmese soldiers ever beg forgiveness for their action.
Supply Wood or Face Severe Punishment
Aizawl: August 25, 2004
17 villages in Matupi township from Southern Chin state were ordered to supply 200 cubic wood-plank per village to build teachers quarter at Leisen government middle school. The order was issued by Leisen village middle school headmaster U Cang Toi in the month of April with the approval made by Colonel San Aung of Burma army No. 2 tactical commander based in Matupi town of Chin state.
The order mentioned that every village must submit their quota to Leisen middle school before the end of July and those who fail to comply the order will face severe punishment from the authority. Thus, villagers have hired laborers to saw the wood. Since many villages have no car or cart road, the villagers have to carry the wood on their shoulders from their respective villages to Leisen middle school which is several miles away.
When Colonel San Aung visited Leisen village, he told the villagers that the government will supply nails and zinc for the roof of the school and the rest must be contributed by the surrounding villages.
The villagers are routinely summoned to work at the farm of Leisen government middle school headmaster. Since the teachers, like all other government servants, did not get sufficient salary from the government, they have to find any possible means for their survival.
There are 7 teachers and more than 100 students at Leisen government middle school. The following villages are covered by Leisen government middle school;
1. Leisen, 2. Valangte, 3. Koela, 4. Vangkai, 5. Cangtak, 6. Thiboei, 7. Leiring, 8. Bunghung, 9. Khobal, 10. Thangping, 11. Anthaw, 12. Luivang, 13. Boiring, 14. Daihnan, 15. Khohung, 16. Vamaw, 17. Lalui.
Suppression of Christians in Gankaw Towship
Aizawl: August 25, 2004
One of the officials (name withheld for security reason) from the Gankaw Baptist Association (GBA) inform CHRO field worker that Christians and mission workers in Gankaw district, Magwe division are systematically suppressed by the Burmese military authority. The order of restrictions and suppression comes from Lt. Colonel Hte Oo, chairman of Gankaw district Peace and Development Council.
Despite the restrictions and suppression from the authority, the GBA try its best to implement Christian mission works and it has sent a number of evangelists in no less than 10 villages in Gankaw township.
Pastor Maung Maung is one of the evangelists sent by GBA to Ywa-Tha village. In November 2003, pastor Maung Maung was badly beaten up by the village peoples militia accordance with the order from SPDC’s higher authority. Besides, he was fined 3000/- Kyats and driven out from the village after he was badly beaten up. Then, his house and the Church were destroyed. There are about 27 newly converted Christians in Ywa-Tha village at the time.
Likewise, pastor Hram Ceu was driven out from Lung-Yaw village by village Peace and Development Council members in December 2003. The pastor requested the authority for permission of his evangelical works in January 2004, but the authority responded his request in written saying that no Christian mission works is allowed in the area and there will be severe punishment for those who ignore the order.
The GBA official inform CHRO that the SPDC authority had created several problems and troubles upon the Christian missionaries in the area.
There are two churches in Gankaw town; Gankaw Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Church. Gankaw Baptist Church is located at No. 1 Ye-poke block and Calvary Baptist Church is located at No. 6 Taungkung block.
There are about 300 members at Calvary Baptist Church (CBC). The CBC bought the lot with a bamboo house to construct Church building with 400,000/-kyats in 1989 and apply for permission to construct the church to the SPDC authority. However, the authority consistently turndown the request made by CBC. Thus the CBC members have to conduct worship service at a bamboo house at the lot they bought.
CHRO source said that GBA have started its mission works in 1980s and it still has an office in Gankaw town near the airfield. GBA is functioning under the Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention. The GBA have faced many trouble and hardship due to the government’s officials attitude towards Christianity and Christian mission workers.
Grievance Over Recent Incidences Around Putrajaya
Chin Refugee Committee
October 30, 2004 (as posted in Chinland groups)
We, Chin Refugee Committee, deeply regret and grieve over the incidence in which one of our beloved Chin asylum seekers sacrificed his own life in a bid to avoid the arrest by the police force. In that tragic incidence, a group of Chin people waded out from the jungle where they make themselves home for the past few years, and while they were crossing one and the only bridge, group of police who were covertly lying in wait suddenly jumped and blocked out both ends of the bridge. They were trapped, seemed no way out. There was only one certainly that lay ahead for them was deportation to their original country. But one of the asylum seeker closer another alternative for his freedom by jumping down under the bridge but unfortunately his attempt was failed and minute later he succumbed to tiredness and drawn.
We do not blame the police but we were shocked and appalled on the fact that the police did not even try to launce taken attempt to save his presumable risk of life. But any way, very sadly, he has got his freedom. The police found his body only three days after the incidence. In another three days, conceivably, the police raided and destroyed all the make-shift tents in the surrounding jungle by burning down including the Church.
Here, we need to look into the grim facts behind his motive of risking life rather than being arrest. It is very obvious that he had more fear on the imminent persecution that lay before him upon his return home than the immediate persecutions he might faced if he chose to being arrested. He might obviously know that he can only be sentenced on breaching immigration law which can only be punishable by a few months jail term with one or two stroke of unshipping that can also be avoid like many thousands of illegal immigrants, if one is not charged and that will be follow by a transient detention in immigration concentration camp before deportation. All of these are not deserved to exchange with one precious life.
Hundred of Chin asylum seekers are in the same situations. If such kind of repetition occur who will take the responsibility. Most of the Chin persistent in living against constant threat their security, deplorable, abject privations, and perilous living condition clearly pointed that they all have more fear back home than in Malaysia.
The Malaysian government intolerant attitude towards illegal immigrant and refugee alike is understandable and will never be changed. It can only be more and more intended.
Therefore, we, CRC humbly request UNHCR to take additional measures and a more speedy assessment on cases of person seeking asylum. We strongly believed that postponing and relegation of interviewed on flimsy ground only cause unnecessary delay which at time also cause unnecessary lost of life. We resend on the UNHCR resent assessment on some of the Chin’s cases. It seems that there is prejudice as every one of asylum seeker is entitled to refugee status interview, reschedule and relegation of interviews will only make worse the conditions most of the Chin asylum seekers.
In conclusion, we would like to reiterate that all of the Chin asylum seeker desperately need a speedy assessment of their cases by the UNHCR.
CHRO’s Presentation at the US State Department
Bureau for Population, Migration and Refugee
12 October 2004
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today. We are very grateful for the Bureau’s longstanding and active involvement in helping Burmese refugees displaced by civil war and political repression in Burma. The recent resettlement of Burmese refugees in Thailand to the United States helped ameliorate the suffering of hundreds of displaced people who encountered enormous daily difficulties in their lives.
We are here today to bring to your attention our continuing concerns about the situations of Burmese refugees in India.
The conditions of more than 50,000 refugees from Burma (most of them are Ethnic Chin) in India have not improved since we last brought up the issue to your attention last year. In many respects, conditions have worsened steadily for Burmese refugees in India over the last year.
Continuing human rights violations inside Burma, especially in Chin State, have triggered a steady movement of refugees into India. There is increasing incidents of forced labor activities inside Chin State, especially along the areas where a transnational highway between Burma and India are being constructed. With new refugees crossing into India each day, conditions are not better for those seeking shelter in India.
In Mizoram State of India, which borders Chin State of Burma, intolerance against Chin refugees has heightened, and for the past several months there has been a massive campaign to evict and deport Burmese Chin refugees. This campaign resulted in the forced return of over 6,000 Chin refugees to Burma. Many were either forced to go into hiding in the jungles to or to travel to New Delhi in order to seek protection from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. But for many of these people, life is no better in New Delhi.
There are about 1,500 Burmese refugees living in New Delhi and only about half of them are recognized as refugees by UNHCR. Last year UNHCR started implementing a policy to phase out Subsistence Allowance that has been provided to Burmese refugees in what it said was due to budget shortage and to encourage self-reliance for Burmese refugees in New Delhi. As of now, much of the 30$ monthly allowance provided to each individual refugee has been phased out. As a result, people are increasingly finding themselves unable to meet their daily needs. Local landlords are evicting refugee tenants because they can no longer afford to pay their rent.
The termination of Subsistence Allowance has not helped Burmese refugees in their ability to become self-reliant. But instead, it has actually created more problems in their efforts to cope with daily hardships they face in trying to survive in India. While Burmese refugees do have Residential Permits from the Indian government they are not authorized to work there, making it both impossible and illegal for them to work in order to become self-reliant.
Termination of assistance has created greater social problems among refugees in a way that more people are resorting to scavenge discarded vegetables in local markets to meet their daily needs for survival. Women and children are no exception. Just during the last two to three months, 19 Burmese refugee women were reported to have been sexually molested and harassed by local Indian men while picking up discarded vegetables in the neighborhood night market. Lack of adequate support has actually increased the vulnerability of Burmese refugees in New Delhi and has made it more difficult for them to integrate into the local community.
In conclusion, the security and humanitarian conditions of Burmese refugees in India are worsening. We strongly believe that Burmese refugees in India, both in New Delhi and Mizoram, deserve special attention and urgent intervention by the United States. Thank you for your support.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Chin Activists, Refugee International team up to lobby US
By Salai Za Uk Ling
13 October 2004
Two leading Chin activists and Refugee International spent a day in Washington DC yesterday meeting with US congressional staff and officials at the State Department in a bid to draw US attention to “Continuing concerns over the situations of Burmese refugees in India.”
The team includes Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Director and co-founder of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong from Burma’s multi-ethnic alliance Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) and Kavita Sukhla, Advocacy Director of the Washington DC-based Refugee International (RI).
“The situation of Burmese refugees in India was the main issue and our concerns were received with great interests on Capitol Hill and at the State Department,” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang. The team visited the offices of Senator Brownback, Chairman for East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Wolf, Congressman Joe Pitt, and State Department Bureau for Population, Refugee and Migration.
Refugee International and Chin Human Rights Organization recently conducted two separate field assessments on the situation of Burmese Chin refugees in India. The reports found that over 500, 00 Burmese refugees living in India face serious security and humanitarian problems, including harassment, arrest, and deportation.
While the majority of Burmese refugees live ‘illegally’ in Mizoram State, “Only a small population of Burmese has been able to gather sufficient money to make the expensive trip to Delhi to seek asylum with UNHCR, but for most that is not possible,” Refugee International said in its latest report “Between a Rock and Hard Place: Burmese Chin Refugees in India.”
But life is no different even for those who managed to reach New Delhi because there is no guarantee that UNHCR would recognize them as refugees. A report recently prepared by Chin Human Rights Organization jointly with two Indian NGOs says that only about half of Burmese refugees in New Delhi enjoy UNHCR recognition and assistance. The report also notes that “Even recognized refugees experience considerable hardship and problems,” largely because UNHCR has terminated Subsistence Allowance to refugees, the primary source of survival for Burmese refugees living in New Delhi.
In the meetings yesterday at the State Department Bureau for Refugee, Migration and Population, the team emphasized the need for not relying solely on existing UNHCR mechanisms in order to effectively address the problems facing Burmese refugees in New Delhi. The team also stressed the need to urgently consider alternative approach such “providing adequate humanitarian assistance or resettlement” in order to address the problems.
As an outcome of yesterday’s lobby mission, Refugee International and Chin Human Rights Organization are expected to jointly prepare a report on the situation of Chin refugees in India to be distributed to a wider audience in the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Other issues discussed during meetings include current human rights and political situations inside Burma. Ethnic Nationalities Council’s Secretary Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong conducted briefing on the role and activities of ENC in relation to current political situations in Burma.
A Struggle For Self-Determination In Burma:Ethnic Nationalities Perspective
By Lian H. Sakhong•
(Note: A speech delivered at “Conference on Indo-Burma Relation”, India International Centre on September 16-17, 2004.)
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to speak about our struggle for self-determination in Burma. The concept of self-determination, as we all know, is rather a new phenomenon in world history; it came into being only after French Revolution, together with the idea of the “nation” as the whole people, as the object of ultimate political loyalty, and as endowed with an alienable right to self-determination and separate statehood. When the “League of Nations” was founded after the First World War, the right of self-determination has become an international phenomenon, especially when “minority protection scheme” was formulated on the principle of “national self-determination”, according to which, as Woodrow Wilson put it, “every people have a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live”.
The concept of “self-determination” was a very useful tool for the peoples who tried to free themselves from colonial powers. For them, the right of self-determination was defined mostly in terms of “sovereignty”, “separate statehood” and “independent nation-sate”.
During the cold war, however, both camps of Liberal West and Socialist East put greater emphasis on “territorial integrity” rather than on “national self-determination”. The consensus among the major power was that anti-colonial movement was a particular category of conflict, which provided a potential dilemma and challenge in terms of self-determination. They argued that the goal in the decolonization process was the creation of new states from the territories legally and militarily held by colonial powers. The issue, they argued, was to control over territory within what was, formally speaking, one state.
So, if we looked back the cold war period, it was very obvious that international communities and bodies, including the United Nations, followed the lead given by the two super powers. We can also see that there was relatively little recognition in international law for substantive minority rights, let alone the rights of self-determination. When the United Nations adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all references to the rights of ethnic minorities were deleted. The hope was that the new emphasis on “human rights” and the principle of non-discrimination would resolve minority conflicts. Rather than protecting vulnerable groups directly, through special rights for the members of particular groups, they argued that cultural and ethnic minorities would be protected indirectly, by guaranteeing basic civil and political rights to all individuals, regardless of group membership.
However, it has become increasingly clear that existing human rights standards are simply unable to resolve some of the most important and controversial questions relating to cultural and ethnic minorities. As Kymlicka argues,
The right to free speech does not tell us what an appropriate language policy is; the right to vote doesn’t tell us how political boundaries should be drawn, or how powers should be distributed between levels of government; the right to mobility doesn’t tell us what an appropriate immigration and naturalization policy is. These questions have been left to the usual process of majoritarian decision-making within each state. The result has been to render cultural [and ethnic] minorities vulnerable to significant injustice at the hands of the majority, and to exacerbate ethno-cultural conflict.
Since the end of the cold war, there has been increasing interest at the international level in supplementing traditional human rights principles with a theory of minority rights and collective rights. For example, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe adopted a declaration on the Rights of National Minorities in 1991, and established a High Commissioner on National Minorities in 1993. The United Nations has debated both a Declaration on Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1993) and a Draft Universal Declaration on Indigenous Rights (1998). In 1992, the Council of Europe adopted a declaration on minority language rights (the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages). This new development, after the collapsed of Soviet Union, is the most encouraging sign for our struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma.
On the other hands, as the changing world demands, we have to re-define the term “self-determination” accordingly. After Maastricht Treaty in 1992, most scholars tend to define the right of “self-determination” in terms of two categories; “internal self-determination” and “external self-determination”. While “internal self-determination” is concerned mainly with “collective rights” of a group of people(s) within the boundary of modern “nation-state”; “external self-determination” refers to sovereignty, separate statehood and independent nation-state. A combination of the term “internal self-determination” and the meaning of “collective rights” reflect the fact that “collective rights” is not merely cultural, religious, linguistic, and identity rights, etc., it also includes political rights with its full extend of powers, that is., legislative, administrative and judiciary powers.
Against this theoretical background, let me argue that what we—ethnic nationalities in Burma— are fighting for is a kind of “internal self-determination”, and we are struggling for our collective rights, including political rights and autonomous status for our respective homelands; and we strongly believe that these are our inalienable rights but denied so long by the successive governments of the Union of Burma since independence in 1948. So, let me be very clear that individual rights is not enough for us; we need our collective rights as a people, as an ethnic group, as a nationality who speak different language, who practice different culture, who worship different religion and who also has different historical background and, above all, all of us have territorially clearly defined homelands and nations since time immemorial. And the simple fact is: We want to rule our homeland by ourselves. But we also know that we have to live together with other peoples and other ethnic groups who practice different religions and cultures and speak different languages. So, the challenge here is to find a political and legal system which will allow us to rule our respective homelands by ourselves, and at same time living peacefully together with others. In other words, this is the question of how we are going to find a political system which can combine and balance between “self-rule” for different ethnic groups and “shared-rule” for all the peoples in the Union of Burma.
We believe that the best means to combine and balance between “self-rule” for ethnic national homelands and a “shared-rule” for the Union is federal system, or Pyi-daung-suu, in Burmese. As we all know, federalism can generally be defined as an approach to government that divides public powers not only horizontally, i.e. separation of powers between legislative, administrative and judiciary; but vertically, i.e. division of powers between two or more levels of government. In other words, federalism is a constitutional device which provides for a secure, i.e. constitutional, division of powers between ‘central’ and ‘states’ authorities in such a way that each is acknowledged to be the supreme authority in specific areas of responsibility. The basic essence of federalism, therefore, is the notion of two or more orders of government combining elements of ‘shared rule’ for some purposes and ‘self-rule’ for the other. As such, federalism is seen as a constitutionally established balance between ‘shared rule’ and ‘self-rule’; ‘shared rule’ through common institutions and ethnic homeland or regional ‘self-rule’ through the governments of the constituent units or states. The federal principles of ‘self-rule’ and ‘shared rule’, on the other hand, is based on the objective of combining unity and diversity, i.e. of accommodating, preserving and promoting distinct identities within a larger political union.
We, therefore, claims that the ultimate goal of our struggle is to establish a genuine Federal Union of Burma, which will guarantee democratic rights for all citizens, political equality for all nationalities and the rights of self-determination for all member states of the Union. We openly declared that democracy without federalism would not solve the political crisis in Burma, including the civil war, which has already been fought for five long decades. So, let me repeat that for us, the ultimate goal of the democratic movement in present Burma is not only to restore democratic government but to establish a genuine federal union. In other words, we ethnic nationalities in Burma view the root cause of political crisis in Burma today as a constitutional problem rather than a purely ideological confrontation between democracy and dictatorship.
As part of our preparation for the establishment of a genuine federal union, we—the UNLD-LA and NDF, two of the largest ethnic political alliances—have undertaken state constitutions drafting process since 2001. We view state constitutions drafting process as a long term process, through which we are engaging inter and intra ethnic dialogue; we encourage all ethnic nationalities in Burma to discuss among themselves and with other ethnic groups what their problems are and how they want to solve, empower them to define their own political future in preparing for political structures that they wish to establish, and create conditions to safeguard and promote democratic system and federal union that we all aim to establish. We now have seven states constitution drafting committees for the Arankan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan. We also have a study group for Burman State Constitution, a group which is preparing for the future Burman State Constitution. All these state constitution committees are working, helping and networking each other through “Supporting Committee for State Constitutions Drafting Process” (SCSC), a committee formed by UNLD-LA and NDF. The SCSC is working closely also with Federal Constitution Drafting Committee, which is formed under the supervision of NCUB.
In order to achieve our ultimate goal of establishing federal union, we are opting for “tripartite dialogue” as our grand strategy. The term “tripartite dialogue” was first used in the 1994 United Nations General Assembly’s resolution, which called for a negotiated settlement through negotiation amongst three parties: the military government known as “State Peace and Development Council” (SPDC), the 1990 election winning party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and ethnic nationalities—who are the founding nations or national groups of the Union.
The essence of tripartite dialogue is “inclusiveness” and “recognition” which, in concepts, includes all the major political stakeholders, or conflict parties in Burma: military junta, democratic forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic nationalities. Moreover, the UN’s tripartite dialogue resolution recognizes the 1990 election results which have been denied by the military government for 14 years, and recognizes the indispensable participation of ethnic nationalities in the political transition and national reconciliation process in Burma.
The UN resolution also acknowledges the very nature of political crisis in Burma which, as mentioned above, is a “constitutional problem” rather than solely an ideological confrontation between democracy and military rule or totalitarianism. It is not a “minority” problem, or even an ethnic problem which some Burman or Myanmar ethnic politicians argue can be solved later, once democracy is established. The question of democracy, military rule and the constitutional arrangement with special reference to the non-Myanmar (non-Burman) ethnic nationalities—comprising close to 40 percent of the total population—are intrinsically intertwined and cannot be solved one without the other. This is the meaning behind the call for a “tripartite dialogue”.
As we adopted a “tripartite dialogue” as our grand strategy, we have undertaken pro-active and constructive actions to bring about a peaceful resolution to the political conflict in Burma through a dialogue process. As part of our preparation for tripartite dialogue, the “Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee” (ENSCC) was formed in 2001, and worked hard to co-ordinate the following non-Burman political groupings:
(i) Political parties under the leadership of United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD)
(ii) Armed groups which are members of National Democratic Front (NDF),
(iii) Armed groups but not members of NDF, such as Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and Shan State Army (SSA-South).
(iv) Ceasefire groups.
After two years of hard works, the ENSCC now is transformed as a working committee of “Ethnic Nationalities Council” (ENC), which was formed in January 2004, at the 3rd Ethnic Nationalities Conference. The ENC has been entrusted with task of fostering unity and cooperation between all ethnic nationalities forces and promotes peaceful political settlement in Burma through tripartite dialogue. It was also resolved that the ENC would:
Promote the profile of the Ethnic Nationalities on the international stage.
Coordinate and work for tripartite dialogue.
Reviving the Panglong Spirit, based on the principles of democracy, equality and self-determination.
Build or facilitate unity and cohesion among all ethnic nationalities forces, inside and outside, including promoting and supporting political actions inside.
I must also mention that the “Ethnic Nationalities Council – Union of Burma” is the largest non-Burman ethnic political alliance in Burma, which includes all the political parties under the leadership of UNLD, armed groups which are members of NDF, armed groups but not members of NDF, and some members of CF. The main political objectives of ENC are as follows:
(i) To end military dictatorship,
(ii) To establish a genuine democratic federal union,
(iii) To ensure democracy, human rights and self-determination.
For peace in the country, the flourishing of democracy, the establishment of a federal system, and the speedy and timely emergence of democratic transition, the ENC is determined to launch the “The New Panglong Initiative: Rebuilding the Union of Burma”, initiative consisting of the following points:
To hold, at the earliest date, the tripartite dialogue, as called for by the UN resolutions annually since 1994;
To form an interim government comprising of representatives, proportionally, of the SPDC, the NLD and other political parties, victorious in the 1990 elections, and the ethnic nationalities, based on the agreement arrived at the tripartite dialogue;
The interim government is to convene a legitimate “National Convention”;
To form various commissions, with approval of the National Convention, to draft constitutions of the Federal Union and the constituent States;
To hold national referendum for adoption of the Federal Constitution and to hold referendum in various constituent States for adoption of respective State Constitutions;
To hold elections at national level and state level for the formation of Federal government and State governments in various States in accordance with the newly adopted Federal and respective State Constitutions;
Subsequent to the elections, the Federal and State parliaments (legislatures) are to be convened and the respective election-winning parties are to form the Federal and various State governments;
The ENC does not believe that the SPDC’s 7-stages “road map” and its National Convention will lead to democratization and establishment of a federal union. The sole purpose of SPDC’s National Convention is to sustain a military dictatorship and transform itself from De Facto Government to De Jure Government through constitution. The ENC, therefore, issued a statement on 14 May 2004, in support of CF groups’ letter to the SPDC. Part of the statement read as follows:
The National Convention procedural rules should be discussed and revised;
Objective No. 6 of the National Convention (military role in politics) is not compatible with democracy. It should be discussed and revised;
The 104 Articles adopted by the previous National Convention are not compatible with democracy. It should be discussed and revised.
Law No. 5/96, which was enacted on 7 June 1996 to protect the 1993-96 National Convention, should be repealed.
The ENC is willing to cooperate and find ways to bring about a transition if above are met. Politics is about making compromises and the ENC is willing to discuss options if the SPDC considers modifying its 7- points Road Map. And, the ENC still believes that the best means to solve our country problem is through a negotiated settlement; and we, therefore, strongly demands a tripartite dialogue as called for by the UNGA since 1994.
In conclusion, I would like to stress again that the right of “self-determination” that we are struggling for is what we call “internal self-determination”: which will guarantees our collective rights; the right to rule our homeland by ourselves, the right to practice our religious teaching and culture freely, the right to teach, learn and promote our language freely, and the right to up-hold our identity without fear and live peacefully together with others. I can assure you that we are not separatists. We are for a united Union of Burma, but what we want is a genuine federal union where all ethnic groups in Burma can live peacefully together.
Dr. Lian H. Sakhong
United Nationalities League for Democracy UNLD-LA), and
Ethnic Nationalities Council – Union of Burma (ENC)
Back Cover Poem:
“Where is Papa?”
By Van Biak Thang
All the farmers from the youngest to the oldest
Enjoying their social repose from toil and moil
It was time just after the end of the harvest
That she for blessings knew herself from her own soil
And the whole village shared the tidings in rejoice
Under the roof of thatch in a bright moonlit night
With vivid memories of hers in that twilight
By the fir-lit hearth was she fast sitting astride
No one else around apart from the one inside
In reminiscence about their mutual love thrice
It was when a hatch of chickens made their way home
And when a grandpa began his nursery rhyme
And when a family shared a table for pray’r
That he’s cuffed and taken by a lion-headed star
For no other reasons than being a man of price
Nothing was learnt and known about her beloved
Since peace in a family’s disturbed and shredded
Knowing a life deserves more respect than a sword
No one stood against bayonets but as a coward
As the darkness brought its power into practice
As clear as a newly-cut mirror for the queen
She’d still see as if it were shown in a big screen
The time he’s beaten and forced to be a porter
Without even a word of farewell nor whisper
To family and loved ones in fear and sadness
Days and nights marched and so did the age of her son
But the past image’s still stirring like a whirlwind
Her eyes being filled with tears of anger and tension
She couldn’t open her trembling mouth to a question
“Where is Papa?” by his little blood in surprise