Forced Labor Prevalent for Chin

Ethnic officials in western Burma say the government must work to end rights abuses.

2011.01.24
chinstatemap305.jpg Some 90 percent of ethnic Chin consider themselves Christians.
RFA

Ethnic Chin officials have called for dialogue in Burma’s new parliament on how to eliminate forced labor and other abuses in the country’s western Chin State following a damning report documenting rights violations in the region.

According to the report, compiled by Massachusetts-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), nearly 92 percent of ethnic Chin households reported at least one episode of a family member being ordered into performing forced labor in 2010.

“Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State,” is based on a survey of 612 households in all nine townships in military-ruled Burma’s western Chin State.

Noe Thang Kut, secretary of the Chin Progressive Party, urged the Burmese parliament, which was elected last November and scheduled to convene its first sitting on Jan. 31, to debate the abuses and tackle the crisis.

“It is a sad thing if such abuses really are occurring in the Chin State. We need a dialogue at the meeting [of parliament] on how to improve the situation. We need support from all sides for such a move,” he said.

“As a Chin leader, we oppose such abuses as forced labor and rape in the state. If such cases exist, we support international organizations in preventing and eliminating these abuses,” said Pu Baliang, chairman of democracy-icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party in Chin State.

Military ordered labor

Nearly 3,000 abuses were documented by PHR in the report over the previous 12 months, with forced labor the most prevalent.

Of the forced labor incidents, which included portaging military supplies, sweeping for landmines, working as servants, building roads, and other hard labor, two-thirds were imposed by the Tatmadaw Burmese military, the report said.

The Burmese military was also responsible for all reported rapes carried out last year against the surveyed families, it said.

The report said nearly 15 percent of families reported torture or beatings suffered at the hands of government troops, who were also reported to have killed and abducted civilians.

It also found that one out of eight Chin households was forcibly displaced, usually to find food, while one-third of forced conscriptions were of children under the age of 15.

‘These incidents happen’

Pu Cin Sian Thang, the chairman of the opposition Zomi National Congress, said that to the best of his knowledge, the statistics in the PHR report are accurate.

“One of my cousins living in a village was ordered to work as a porter, but he refused to go along with them and he was killed in his house compound,” he said.

That same day, a village elder was beaten in the middle of the village because he refused work as a porter, Pu Cin Sian Thang said.

“My cousin was murdered, but nobody dared to file the case because [the culprits] were state soldiers. These kinds of incidents actually happen in Chin State,” he said.

Tool for new government

PHR said that at least eight of the violations listed in the report are subject to review by the International Criminal Court and may constitute crimes against humanity.

The rights watchdog urged the Burmese government to conduct a thorough investigation of the documented violations, remove provisions in the 2008 Constitution that provide immunity for human rights violations, and allow the United Nations unrestricted access to the area.

The people of Chin State, located in an isolated and mountainous region, lack road infrastructure, access to basic health care, and are considered highly food insecure and vulnerable to famine.

Rapid militarization since 1988 has resulted in widespread human rights violations in the region, with an estimated 75,000 Chin displaced to neighboring India and another 50,000 to Malaysia.

Cheery Zahau, leader of the Chin Women’s Organization based near the India-Burma border, said that in addition to raising awareness of the problem of forced labor in the China State, the report should be required reading for the incoming Burmese government, elected in November.

“The report can be a tool for legislators, policymakers, and administrators from the new government to change existing policies, practices, and laws in order to improve the situation of the Chin people in Chin State,” she said.

“It is very hard to have any development in a place with such grave human rights violations occurring every day. This PHR report can be used as a guideline for improvement.”

Reported and translated by Kyaw Min Htun for RFA’s Burmese service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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