Abolish Burma’s Ministry of Religious Affairs: CHRO
11 September 2012: The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) urged the government of Burma to abolish the Ministry of Religious Affairs following the release of a new report on ongoing violations of religious freedom against Chin Christians.
The 160-page report entitled “Threats to Our Existence”: Persecuation of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma accused the Ministry of imposing discriminatory regulations on constructing and renovating Christian infrastructure.
A Chin Christian pastor said in the report: “If you want to construct a church building, permission must be obtained from the Ministry of Religious Aff airs. You will never get it even if you ask…there is no change in the religious policy in terms of constructing church buildings.”
Four large Christian crosses have been dismantled or destroyed on the orders of the authorities since Thein Sein’s government came to power in March 2011, according to the report.
CHRO Program Director 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 said the Ministry of Religious Affairs has been in close collaboration with the Ministry for Border Affairs in the implementation of an unwritten policy of forced assimilation through a ‘Na Ta La’ programme.
Na Ta La is a Burmese acronym for the Progress of Border Areas and National Races Development Affairs Programme headed by President Thein Sein under which the military runs separate school system for the ethnic minority groups as part of a 30-year master plan for development of ethnic areas.
Military-dominated Ministry for Border Affairs is responsible for a total of 29 Na Ta La schools across the country, with Chin State having the highest numbers of schools and students.
CHRO Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming added: “These schools are designed to facilitate a forced assimilation policy under the guise of development. The schools appear to offer a way out of poverty but there is a high price to pay for Chin students. They are given a stark choice between abandoning their identity and converting to Buddhism, or joining the military to comply with the authorities’ vision of a ‘patriotic citizen’.”
Interviewing 12 Chin students who fled the Na Ta La schools, CHRO’s report said Chin Christian attendees face coercion to convert to Buddhism and other human rights violations at the schools.
A 17-year-old Chin student, who attended the Na Ta La school in Matupi township for four years, told CHRO that the headmaster Aung Myint Tun and the others threatened them saying: “If you don’t want to be Buddhist, we can arrest you, we can put you in prison, and we can do anything we want to you.”
Other students recalled being threatened by their headmaster, saying: “If you don’t want to be a monk, you must join the military.”
CHRO also called for the abolishment of the Education and Training department under the Ministry for Border Affairs and the re-allocation of those resources to the teaching of ethnic minority languages within the national curriculum.
The report documented destruction of 13 Christian crosses, construction of 15 Buddhist pagodas or monasteries using forced labour exacted from Chin Christians, and more than 40 separate incidents of torture or ill-treatment.
CHRO’s report is a follow-up to its 2004 report Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma.
Van Biak Thang [[email protected]]