Interview With Salai Za Uk Ling
Ottawa: August 17, 2003: [CG Note: The Chinland Guardian interviewed Salai Za Uk Ling of Chin Human Right Organization (CHRO) in connection with his recent meeting on the indigenous issue, the meeting which was held recently at Geneva, Switzerland.] Chinland Guardian: : Salai Ling, thank you for sparing us your valuable time.
Salai Za Uk Ling : Thank you for having me.
Chinland Guardian: : We have learned that you have recently attended the indigenous meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Could you please tell us more about the nature of your meeting, i.e who was the organizer of this meeting and what is their goal and the meeting all about?
Salai Za Uk Ling: Yes, I was privileged to represent Chin Human Rights Organization at the 21st session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which was held from July 21-25. The meeting is an annual event that has been held every year since 1982. The Working Group was established by the UN General Assembly as a subsidiary organ of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The Working Group is a very important organ within the UN system in a sense that it is the largest UN forum in the field of human rights where non-governmental organizations and representatives of indigenous organizations around the world can voice their concerns. In a nutshell, the goal of the Working Group meeting is to gather input and suggestions from indigenous people in order to facilitate the UN in setting standards and mechanisms on the rights of indigenous people. For example, the Working Group has already come up with the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is now being considered for adoption by the UN.
Chinland Guardian: : Were there the government representatives in the meeting or was there any representative of SPDC in your recent meeting?
Salai Za Uk Ling: Definitely, there were quite a number of government delegates present in the meeting. But not surprisingly, SPDC was absent this year. It’s not surprising because since May 30 this year, the regime has come under attack at every international and regional forum for their detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Working Group session would have been no different for them. Quite obviously, their absence was deliberate. This way they could spare themselves from getting embarrassed at another international forum.
Chinland Guardian: : How long has it been since the Chin people have participated in this meeting?
Salai Za Uk Ling: I believe it dates back to 1994-95. CHRO has also regularly participated since 1996.
Chinland Guardian: : What was the significance of the meeting?
Salai Za Uk Ling: The meeting is significant for a number of reasons. But let me say just a couple of them. First, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations is one of the few international forums where we can have our voice heard. Because like many other indigenous peoples around the world, our people are not represented in both local and national administration, let alone regional and international bodies. The Working Group gives us an important opportunity to directly inform the international community about the situation of our people with regards to various issues. This year’s principal theme was ‘globalization and indigenous people,’ and I had the opportunity to make an oral intervention to highlight the conditions of the Chin people as they relate to globalization.
Secondly, I had the opportunity to meet with people from various international organizations, including people from those of the UN human rights bodies. Being in Geneva for the Working Group meeting made this opportunity possible.
Chinland Guardian: : Your oral intervention and representation of the issue this time was so effective Salai. The last question here, were there any resolutions made in the meeting?
Salai Za Uk Ling : There were quite a number of resolutions. But this year’s meeting was sort of overshadowed by the debate about the continuity of the Working Group within the UN system. There were talks about some governments wanting to terminate the existence of the Working Group. These governments argue that since the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues two years ago, the Working Group is now redundant. In terms of resolution, the Indigenous Caucus, which is an informal grouping made up of representatives of indigenous organizations, submitted a request to the Economic and Social Council stating their desire to have the Working Group continued. It now appears that the Working Group will be continued for the next two years after which the ECOSOC will decide whether to continue or discontinue it.
Another resolution that was made during the meeting is that the Indigenous Caucus made a statement in which it expresses strong concerns about the current manifestation of globalization, which is inflicting suffering on indigenous peoples around the world.
Chinland Guardian:: Do you have anything you would like to tell us?
Salai Za Uk Ling : As I said earlier, the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is being debated in the UN. This is a process that has taken quite a long period because each article of the Draft has to be agreed upon by states. But once the Draft has been adopted it will be a historic achievement by the indigenous peoples with regards to our rights. Of course, this will still be just the first step in making the rights of indigenous peoples as part of international law. In other words, the Draft has to be made into Convention so that it is a binding international treaty. This might take another decade or even a few decades to realize, but what it means to us is that we as indigenous peoples have something to look forward to when it comes to our rights.
Chinland Guardian: : Thank you for spending your time with us.
We really appreciated.
Salai Za Uk Ling : Thank you very much.
(Note: Salai Za Ceu Lian of Chinland Guardian conducted the interview and below is oral intervention made by Salai Za Uk Ling during the Session of UNWGIP)
Working Group on Indigenous Populations 21st Session
21-25 July 2003, Geneva, Switzerland
Oral intervention by Salai Za Uk Ling, 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 abruptly ended our aspiration. 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 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’s 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.