End ‘Forced Assimilation’ in Burma: CHRO
22 September 2012: The government of Burma must put an end to ongoing implementation of an unwritten policy of ‘forced assimilation’ through the state-run education and training program, a delegation of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) tells key European governments ahead of President Thein Sein’s visit to the United States.
A CHRO delegation is stepping up efforts to draw the attention of policy makers and government officials in Europe to the situation of Chin Christians in Burma who face decades-long systematic discriminations on the dual basis of their religious and ethnic identity.
CHRO says the Burmese government’s residential schools under the Ministry for Border Affairs have been targeting ethnic youths from Christian backgrounds such as the Chin for recruitment and coerced conversion to Buddhism.
The Border Areas National Races Youth Development Training Schools, known locally in its Burmese acronym as Na Ta La schools, and operated by the military-dominated Ministry for Border Affairs are being run as a front for government’s mass indoctrination program, CHRO says.
According to CHRO’s report “Threats to our Existence”: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma the Na Ta La schools target poverty-stricken Chin children of Christian background for recruitment. CHRO says Chin students in the schools are regularly abused and coerced to convert to Buddhism.
Salai Za Uk Ling, Program Director of CHRO, said: “What is worrying is that this alternative school system is part of the government’s 30-year Master Plan for ‘development’ of ethnic areas. The government is essentially trying to forced-assimilate a generation of youth to undermine the Chin ethnic and religious identity.”
In his report to the UN General Assembly last month the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief said: “…States must meticulously ensure that the specific authority of State agents and State institutions is not used to coerce people to convert or reconvert. One area that requires particular attention in this regard is the school which, besides being a place of learning and education, is also an institution that wields a high degree of authority over children, namely, young persons who may be particularly vulnerable to pressure from teachers or peers.”
There are a total of 29 Na Ta La schools across Burma, of which a third are in Chin State and its nearby regions including Sagaing and Magway where a sizeable population of Chins live. A third of the total students are of Chin ethnicity, according to CHRO.
The Na Ta La school program is operated in six states, three regions and Naga Self-Administered Zone, with the highest numbers of schools being located in Chin State and Chin-populated areas in Burma.
As part of a five-nation advocacy tour in Europe, the Chin activists have met with parliamentarians, senior foreign ministry officials from Britain, Norway and Sweden. The delegation is also scheduled to brief officials from the United Nations and the European Union.
In addition to calling for the abolishment of the Ministry for Religious Affairs and the Na Ta La program, CHRO says the Burmese government must revise the National Registration Card so that it no longer identifies the bearer’s ethnicity and religion – a source of systemic discrimination on the basis of religious and ethnic identity in Burma.
Chin State remains a restricted area and is one of the most heavily militarized states with more than 50 military camps across Burma’s poorest state despite the recent ceasefire agreement with the Chin National Front, an armed group fighting against the regimes since 1988.
Due to ongoing decades-long patterns of human rights violations, up to 200,000 Chins have fled their native state to neighbouring countries over the past 20 years.
Van Biak Thang