Chin Activists Lobby British Govt on Religious Freedom in Burma
13 September 2012: A delegation of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) has held a series of meetings with British parliamentarians and senior government officials in London this week, in a bid to highlight serious ongoing human rights concerns in Chin State under the new nominally civilian government in Burma.
The delegation’s visit to Britain follows the release of a new report last week entitled “Threats to Our Existence”: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma, which accuses the new government of pursuing many of the same policies of the previous regimes, which amount to persecution of the Chins on the basis of their religious and ethnic identity.
In a meeting hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Burma (APPGB) held in the House of Commons on Tuesday, CHRO Program Director Salai Ling said: “While we welcome many of the reform initiatives by President Thein Sein’s government, these reforms have not translated into improvement in human rights, including freedom of religion for Chin Christians.”
CHRO accuses the Burmese government of actively implementing a policy of forced assimilation of Chin Christians by trying to undermine an integral part of their identity – Christianity – through government institutions.
It says the government-run residential school system under the Progress for Border Areas National Races Development Program (known in its Burmese acronym as Na Ta La) – part of a 30-year Master Plan for development of ethnic areas chaired by President Thein Sein – is being used to recruit, indoctrinate and coerced convert Chin Christian youths to Buddhism.
“30 years is what it takes to destroy a generation,” said Salai Ling, adding: “The schools are evidently designed to facilitate the government’s forced assimilation policy under the guise of development.”
Meeting with Speaker of the House of Commons
On Wednesday, CHRO delegation briefed Speaker of the UK House of Commons inside his Chamber in Westmister with specific recommendations towards addressing human rights in Chin State, especially the right to freedom of religion. A long-time Burma supporter, Speaker John Bercow MP made a visit to the Indian-Burma border to meet with Chin refugees in 2008.
At Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The delegation also met with officials at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including representatives from the Department for International Development (DFID), and conveyed similar messages to the UK government’s officials responsible for Burma.
Hosted by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the group briefed other individual MPs, NGOs and media, including a live television appearance on the BBC World’s program. A briefing at Lambeth Palace, the seat of the Anglican Archbishop of Cantebury, is also on the card.
Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at CSW, who wrote the foreword to the report, said: “We are delighted to work together with CHRO to bring this very important but often overlooked issue of violations of freedom of religion or belief to the attention of policy makers and parliamentarians in Britain and in the international community. We have seen some positive and welcome steps forward towards reform in Burma in the past year, but if Burma is to be a genuine democratic society, it must stop the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities and ensure that freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are protected and promoted.”
“We particularly call on the Government of Burma to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to visit the country, and be allowed to travel to Chin State and other parts of the country without hindrance, and engage in a meaningful dialogue with the government, the democratic opposition, ethnic nationalities, religious leaders and civil society, to ensure that violations of freedom of religion or belief are investigated, freedom of religion or belief is protected, and inter-religious harmony is promoted.”
The delegation is set to travel on to four European countries: Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium to meet with officials from governments, the United Nations and the European Union.
Van Biak Thang