Chins Denied Language, Religious Rights, Says UN Rights Expert
15 March 2011: Reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situations of Human Rights in Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana said that ethnic Chins from western Burma face denial of the right to learn their own language, as well as the right to freely practice their religion.
The UN rights expert said the Burmese military regime has banned the teaching and learning of ethnic Chin language in official government schools since 1990, noting that such restrictions have resulted in the loss of ‘access to part of the Chin culture and traditions.’
The Argentinean lawyer said that the denial of language right is a direct contravention of Burma’s international human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that “education should develop the child’s respect for his or her own cultural identity, language and values.”
Burma acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991.
According to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), the denial of language right has left more Chin children unable to read or write in their own language.
Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur said that he found disturbing evidences that Burma’s military regime is using State resources to promote Buddhism through education. He said that in Kanpalet Township of southern Chin State, Chin Christian children are coerced into converting to Buddhism by offering them free education, uniforms and monthly rations through the Border Areas Ethnic Youth Development Training School.
“Required conversion is in fact considered to be indoctrination,” Quintana said, concluding that the practice violates both the rights of the child and freedom of religion.
In his opening oral statement to the Human Rights Council, the UN rights expert highlighted the case of a Chin woman religious leader from Hakha, who was forced to read a statement at a televised event denying allegations of restrictions on freedom of religion, against her will.
Dismissing Quintana’s report, Thant Kyaw, the Burmese regime’s representative at the United Nations in Geneva said both the oral presentation and written statement of the Special Rapporteur “did not reflect the true situation” in Burma. Thant Kyaw said that the ethnic people are “given the opportunity, on their own discretion, to teach supplementary education in their own language.”
As part of his ongoing mandate to report on the situation of human rights in Burma, Quintana recently made a trip to Malaysia where he met with Chin and other ethnic community-based organizations, as well as interviewed individual refugees and asylum seekers.
Commission of Inquiry Call Renewed
Saying that rights violations in Burma continue to be both systematic and widespread, the UN rights envoy renewed his call for an independent international investigation of rights abuses in order to address the issue of accountability and end the culture of impunity in the military-ruled country.
Since the Special Rapporteur first recommended the idea of a Commission of Inquiry in early 2010, the call for an international investigation of rights abuses in Burma has been supported by 16 countries to date, with the endorsement of Denmark and Latvia last week.