Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chins Face Human Rights Abuses: HRW

The Irrawaddy News

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday released a report calling for the Burmese military government to end human rights abuses against ethnic Chin in western Burma.

The New York-based human rights monitors also urged the Indian government and the newly formed Mizoram State government in northeastern India to “extend protection to Chin who have fled to neighboring India to escape ongoing abuses and severe repression in Burma.”

An ethnic Chin child refugee sits with his mother in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Burma's military regime is perpetrating widespread abuse of the mainly-Christian Chin ethnic group, who face famine, forced labour, torture and persecution, HRW said. (Photo: AFP)

In the 93-page report, HRW said that ethnic Chin experience a wide range of human rights abuses, including forced labor, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and religious repression at the hands of the Burmese army and government officials.

The report also accused the ethnic Chin insurgent group, the Chin National Army (CNA), of committing abuses against Chin villagers, such as harassment, beatings and extortion.

HRW called on the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups to end abuses and for Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to allow humanitarian agencies in Rangoon unfettered access to Chin State.

The HRW report included testimonies from about 140 ethnic Chin inside Burma or living in Mizoram interviewed between 2005 and 2008.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, HRW Burma consultant David Mathieson said, “That was just from 140 interviews. There are almost half a million people in Chin State. Therefore, the true number of people who have been tortured is very difficult to calculate.

“Wherever there are soldiers of the Burmese army and non-state armed groups, such as the Chin National Front [the political wing of the CNA], civilians are vulnerable to abuses by armed groups,” he said. “Abuses sometimes happen in towns and cities in Chin state, but they happen most frequently in rural areas. Anywhere where there are Burmese army soldiers and any kind of low-intensity conflict, civilians are vulnerable to these types of abuses.”

HRW quoted one Chin Christian church leader now living in Mizoram as saying, “These underground groups, rather than being a help, make life even more difficult for us.”

However, Chin National Front Joint General Secretary (1) Shwe Khar denied the charges that CAN soldiers extort money, food and property from Chin villagers.

“Chin soldiers used to collect donations from the villagers, but did not extort money,” he said.

There are currently about 75,000 Chin people living in Mizoram and a few thousand in New Delhi. Thousands more have migrated to Malaysia and to other countries such as America and Canada.

Last year, at least 70,000 ethnic Chin were affected by a famine caused by a plague of rats, which ate rice stocks in many of the state’s villages, according to exiled Chin rights groups. More than 30 children died as a result of the famine.

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