*** DEBUG END ***

Ethnic Chins allege coercion

14 September 2012


Colossus: a 300-foot tall concrete cross, near Matupi, before it was defaced and pulled down on the orders of the Burmese authorities, in 2005

Colossus: a 300-foot tall concrete cross, near Matupi, before it was defaced and pulled down on the orders of the Burmese authorities, in 2005

THE destruction of 13 Christian crosses is among the "wide range of religious-freedom violations" in Burma documented in a new report from the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

Threats to Our Existence: Persecution of ethnic Chin Christians in Burma draws on more than 100 interviews, primarily covering incidents that took place between March 2004 and April 2012. Thirty-four of the interviews were conducted in Chin State, a north-western area of Burma that is home to about 500,000 ethnic Chin, who are largely Christian.

The rest were carried out with Chin refugees who have fled to India and Malaysia. Formed in 1995 by a group of Chin activists, CHRO is registered in Canada and conducts advocacy and training campaigns.

Many of the issues discussed in the report cross with other human-rights abuses, such as forced labour, torture, and sexual violence. The report alleges that 15 Buddhist pagodas or monasteries have been built with forced labour extracted from Chin Christians, and that, in 24 cases, permission to construct or renovate a Christian building was "effectively blocked" by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

It also lists more than 40 separate incidents of torture or ill-treatment, and 24 official complaints of human-rights abuses, including rape and extra-judicial killing, lodged by Chin Christians at government level, where no action was taken against the alleged perpetrators.

Of "paramount concern" to Chin people, the report suggests, are the government's Border Areas National Races Youth Development Training schools (known as "Na Ta La" schools), which "arguably function as a cornerstone of the unwritten policy of forced assimilation". Chin Christian attenders told CHRO that they faced forced conversion to Buddhism, and monks, Buddhist laymen, and soldiers tracked down attenders who fled, it reports.

Since 1999, Burma has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of the United States. The latest International Religious Freedom report notes some improvements for Christians, including the easing of restrictions on church-building, and a "positive relationship" with the Ministry of Religion. The government also passed a new law to protect freedom of assembly and procession. But, the report states that constraints on respect for, and protection of the right to religious freedom continued.

A recent UN survey found that Chin State remained the poorest state in Burma, and that 73.3 per cent of the people were below the poverty line. The UN special rapporteur on Burma reported this month that, despite positive signs of change, there remained "serious and ongoing human-rights concerns". Ending discrimination against ethnic minorities was "essential for national reconciliation".

The programme director of CHRO, Salai Ling, said: "President Thein Sein's government claims that religious freedom is protected by law, but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de-facto state religion. The discriminatory state institutions and ministries of previous military regimes continue to operate in the same way today. Few reforms have reached Chin State."

The report calls on the international community to support an independent international investigation of human-rights violations in Burma. www.chro.ca


Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

4-8 July 2022
HeartEdge Mission Summer School
From HeartEdge and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)