Ethnic rights vital to Burma’s democratic transition
The current government of Burma must stop violating but respect the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in order to achieve its pursuit of transition to democracy, rights groups said.
Serious violations of human rights still continue in ethnic areas, according to recent testimonies by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch, and Kachin Women’s Association Thailand.
Salai Za Uk Ling testified at a hearing on Burma at the Subcommittee on Human Rights at the European Parliament in Brussels last Tuesday, saying: “Discrimination on grounds of religion and ethnicity is both deep-rooted and institutionalized.”
“Current reforms in Burma should focus on dismantling the institutional structures and policies that enable continued discrimination and forced assimilation against ethnic and religious minorities,” added Salai Za Uk Ling, CHRO’s Program Director.
A joint statement by CSW and CHRO called on the international community to push ethnic and religious minority rights higher up the reforms agenda for Burma, while wrapping up a week of advocacy in both Brussels and Washington DC.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang, part of CHRO’s delegation to the US and Canada, said: “We strongly believe that without respect for ethnic and religious minority rights, there can be no lasting peace or stability in our country.”
In meetings with lawmakers, US State Department officials, staff from the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, CHRO and CSW emphasized the need for strong international support on the issue, which is very sensitive in Burma.
Since 1999, the US has designated Burma a ‘country of particular concern’ for its poor record on freedom of religion or belief.
Incidents reported in January and February this year by CHRO include the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl by a Burma Army soldier in the Paletwa area of southern Chin State, and portering for the Burma Army in the Tonzang area of northern Chin State.
CHRO’s Executive Director Salai Bawi Lian Mang said: “Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities runs deep within the Burma Army. These latest incidents once again show the direct correlation between the presence of Burma Army soldiers in Chin State, and human rights abuses.”
A ceasefire agreement between the Chin National Front and the government has been in place since January last year, but Chin State remains heavily militarized with more than 54 Burma Army camps, according to CHRO.
The panel at Tuesday’s hearing in Brussels strongly condemned grave human rights violations in Rakhine and Kachin States, and called on the European Union (EU) to urge President Thein Sein’s government to allow immediate unrestricted humanitarian access to those areas.
Andrew Johnston, CSW’s Advocacy Director, said: “Burma is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. Ensuring equal rights for Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities is a key step on the road to Burma’s transition to democracy, freedom and lasting peace.”
Next week, the CHRO delegation will be in Ottawa to meet with MPs, Senators, government officials, and staff at Canada’s newly-established Office of Religious Freedom, to deliver the same message.