Sunday, December 13, 2009

Authentic Reconciliation Demanded Before 2010 Burma Polls

On International Human Rights Day this week, a number of civil society and advocacy groups from Burma and other parts of the world came together with consensus in demanding a genuine political reconciliation before the proposed general election the Southeast Asian country and to release all political prisoners including the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
In a combined statement, over one hundred organizations based in different parts of the globe urged an inclusive dialogue with key pro-democracy stakeholders, ethnic nationalities and also a comprehensive review of the 2008 Constitution designed by the military rulers of Burma.
It also asked for immediate cessation of systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against ethnic groups, political activists, journalists and civil society workers in the country. "We reaffirm the necessity for genuine political reconciliation before the 2010 elections and call on the international community to take immediate action to ensure viable democratic change occurs in Burma. The people of Burma are entitled to have a genuine choice and the international community has an obligation to ensure that the people get this choice," said the statement endorsed by influential organizations like Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma), Burma Partnership, Burma Campaign UK, Burma Centre Delhi, Burma Lawyers Council, Burmese American Democratic Alliance, Ethnic Nationalities Council, Shwe Gas Movement, Women League of Chin-land etc.
Even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21) said that the 'will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government', the military regime named State Peace Development Council continues to use coercive measures to hold onto power. "Activists, community leaders, journalists, and monks continue to be arrested and harassed for voicing independent thought.
Villages continue to be subjected to crimes against humanity under the regime's brutal policy of controlling ethnic communities. The regime continues to manipulate the political sphere in order to secure their victory in the 2010 elections - based on the 2008 Constitution that was crafted by the military regime in order to perpetuate impunity and prolong their hold on power," the statement added.
The groups were in apprehension that 'if the election is allowed to go ahead without these changes, it would only serve to institutionalize one-party rule, with military still holding the strings of power'. Even in the unlikely event that the elections are free and fair, they will not bring any real change to Burma because the fundamentally flawed Constitution that allocates vast powers to military, lacks any checks and balances, allows for the ongoing discrimination and persecution of ethnic nationalities, gender discrimination, and lacks protection of human rights, the statement asserted.
The statement, which was also supported by Actions Birmanie - Brussels, All Burma Democratic Lusei Women Organization, Arakan League for Democracy (Exile - India), Arakan Liberation Party, ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples, Austrian Burma Center, Burma Aktion Germany, Burma Campaign Australia, Burmese Women's Union, Chin Students and Youth Federation, Chin Women Organization, Danish Burma Committee, Dictator Watch, All Burma Federation of Student Unions, Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines), International Federation for Human Rights, Karen Women's Organization, Kuki Women Human Rights Organization, Naga National League for Democracy, People's Forum on Burma (Japan), Student Federation of Thailand etc concluded urging 'the international community to be united in their support for the will of the people of Burma, and act with firm resolve not to allow this sham election to proceed until national reconciliation is realized'.
Meanwhile on the same day, ignoring the warning from the military junta, the National League for Democracy organized a meeting at their main Rangoon office to celebrate the International Human Rights Day on December 10, stated in a release from the office of Burma Partnership Secretariat. Similarly, in Rangoon, the All Burma Monks' Alliance, 88 Generation Students, and All Burma Federation of Student Union released a statement urging the international community not to recognize the 2010 elections unless there has been sustainable political dialogue with democratic opposition and ethnic nationalities, and national reconciliation beforehand.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rats cause hunger in Myanmar

Myanmar (MNN/GFA) ― A booming bamboo crop is causing dire problems for people in an area of Myanmar. 50 families in a village in Myanmar's Chin state are facing a severe famine due to the rats eating their food. They are also being afflicted with unknown illnesses, and their children have been unable to attend school.

GFA12-11-09.jpgIn Myanmar's Chin state as well as some surrounding areas, a heavy infiltration of rats is devastating crops. This man is trying to protect his field by beating the rats with a stick.
Myanmar (MNN/GFA) ― A booming bamboo crop is causing dire problems for people in an area of Myanmar. 50 families in a village in Myanmar's Chin state are facing a severe famine due to the rats eating their food. They are also being afflicted with unknown illnesses, and their children have been unable to attend school.
Gospel for Asia supported national missionary Zaw Dara is ministering to these families in every way that he can. He is also there to offer comfort, a listening ear and words of hope from the Scriptures to these people who are suffering so much.
The heart-wrenching crisis the people of this village and many others throughout Chin state are going through today has a name -- mautam. "Mau" is the Burmese word for bamboo and "tam" means famine. The rat infiltration was triggered by the blooming of a certain species of bamboo plant -- a phenomenon that takes place just once about every 50 years. The most recent blooming began in 2006.
Rats are drawn to the nutritious fruit created by the blooms, which increases their fertility and greatly multiplies their birthrate. They strip the bamboo plants of their fruit and seeds and plow their way through other crops as well, devouring grain, corn and rice. They even dig up and eat the seeds farmers planted in the ground.
The plague of rats has ravaged Myanmar's already impoverished Chin state for two years now, wiping out 75 to 80 percent of its crops, according to some estimates. Families are being forced to scavenge for food such as edible leaves, shoots, roots and tree bark, as their rice harvest and other staples are being devoured by rats.
According to a report published by the Chin Human Rights Organization, more than 54 people have reportedly died from health problems related to the food crisis.
"I have never seen such a huge number of rats," a Burmese farmer told Asia Times Online. "I had thought we could easily drive out the rats and protect our crops. But just before the rice was ready to be harvested, the rats came and ate all the rice in the fields in just one night. We lost all our rice."
Making matters worse, Myanmar's repressive military junta is denying access to international aid organizations who may want to bring in assistance, even in the face of such widespread suffering. But GFA supported national missionaries, who were already in the country before the rat plague hit, are committed to reaching out in whatever ways they can, offering hope and comfort to these people who are hurting so much.
GFA leaders request prayer for the Lord's intervention and protection upon the people in Chin, Myanmar, and that many will find lasting hope in the midst of their suffering.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Close the gap for Burmese refugees

 Full_Report (pdf* format - 112.7 Kbytes)

Like Burma's other neighbors, India hosts a large and growing refugee population, the majority of whom are Chin ethnic minorities. India generally tolerates the presence of Burmese refugees, but does not afford them any legal protection, leaving them vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and deportation. While India's lack of a legal regime for refugees is a major impediment to addressing the needs of Burmese refugees, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and international donors need to explore creative ways to work within the existing framework to provide assistance and increase protection for this population.
Policy Recommendations
The US government and other international leaders should support the Government of India's efforts to develop and approve domestic refugee law to confer legal status and protection to Burmese refugees, among others. The Government of India should also allow UNHCR to access Burmese refugee populations throughout the country.
UNHCR should work to refine its assistance programs in India with the active cooperation of Chin community-based organizations. International donors including the U.S., UK, EU, and Australia should provide additional assistance to UNHCR for these programs.
International donors should explore providing resources to Chin community-based organizations and Indian civil society groups to increase assistance to refugees in Delhi and the Northeast. This funding should include resources to support capacity building for Chin community based organizations.

 Full_Report (pdf* format - 112.7 Kbytes)

Chin: New Evidence of Humanitarian Crisis

Active ImageFresh evidence of the need for humanitarian assistance and international action was presented during a recent fact-finding visit by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) to Chin and Kachin states in Burma.
Below is an article published by Inspire Magazine:

In some areas international funds for emergency food relief channelled through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are allegedly being provided as loans, instead of aid, to malnourished villagers, repayable at 200% interest.

Over the past two years Chin State has been devastated by a chronic food shortage caused by the flowering of bamboo, a natural phenomenon which occurs every 50 years. The bamboo flowering attracts plagues of rats, which then destroy rice fields, rice supplies and almost all means of survival for the local population. The Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) estimates that at least 100,000 people in over 200 villages are severely affected.

The delegation led by Baroness Cox, Chief Executive of HART was told by representatives of the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee that in at least 17 villages in Paletwa Township, the worst affected part of Chin State, the local UNDP have distributed international funds in the form of loans, instead of providing food aid. Villagers claim they have been told they must repay twice the amount they are given, either in cash or in rice bags. CSW and HART have written to UNDP to request an urgent investigation.

The delegation, which also met with Kachin refugees, received evidence from Kachin and Chin states of religious persecution, forced labour and attempted ‘cultural genocide’

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia Team Leader, said: “The plight of the Chin people of Burma is desperate. They are facing severe poverty, drastically compounded by a chronic food shortage and lack of health care, as well as cultural genocide, religious persecution, rape and forced labour. It is time for the international community, including India, to act decisively to provide political and humanitarian support to the people of Burma, including the Chin.

“India, the world’s largest democracy, must stop siding with one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. The international community must intensify efforts to secure a transition to genuine federal democracy, in which equal rights for Burma’s ethnic nationalities are fully guaranteed.

“We renew our call for a universal arms embargo, a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity, and international humanitarian assistance to the ethnic nationalities who so desperately and urgently need aid to prevent further loss of life and suffering.”

Baroness Cox said: “Burma’s military regime must be called to account for gross human rights violations, and required to immediately release democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all 2,000-plus political prisoners. The junta’s crimes include a campaign of cultural genocide against the Chin people. As part of that campaign, the junta is deliberately denying access to health care and education in many parts of Chin State.

“The humanitarian crisis facing the Chin people is dire and requires urgent action. Furthermore, it is vital that India be persuaded to stop uncritically supporting the regime in Burma and instead provide support to the people of Burma.”

Alcohol consumption drops in Thantlang Township

9 December 2009: In an interesting phenomenon consumption of alcohol in Thantlang Township, Chin state western Burma has come down making parents of youths happy.
It is learnt that  the main reason could be because the license for making local wine is being handled by a Christian church group.

“The church group had purchased the license for making local wine for Kyat 26 lakh for 2009. Although there are some local wine makers in the townships, it is not able to increase wine production and induce drinkers. This has brought peace of mind for parents, especially at night. They can go to church and attend other festivals at night without being afraid of drunks,” said a church leader in Thantlang town.
The church group purchased the license two years  ago and it was backed by the chairman of the Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) and a local youth group.

“We are religiously supporting this mission to eradicate social evils and drinkers who flout the law. The church group had purchased the license for Kyat 41 lakhs last year. The move was supported by both chairmen of town and block level peace and development councils. Our youth group instituted checks at entry gate in some areas,” said a leader of a youth group in Thantlang town.

Alcohol sellers bring the items from Hakha to Thantlang town. They pay Kyat 2000 for a bottle of RUM, Kyat 1000 for a bottle of OB and then they sell it for Kyat 6000 for RUM, Kyat 5000 for OB in Thantlang township. – Khonumthung News.

Teenager helps Burmese refugees find their way

Howard Community College student spoke at FIRN event

By Janene Holzberg

(Enlarge) Sui Ngun Hei, an 18-year-old freshman at Howard Community College, was recently recognized by FIRN for her efforts to assist fellow Burmese refugees. Here, Hei works with Bollman Bridge Elementary kindergartners, from left, Fili Na, Zing Hlei and Mercy Famduring a Dec. 1 session of Club Leap, an after-school tutoring program for non-native English speakers. (Staff photo by Nicole Martyn)
Nearly 400 Burmese refugees are carving out an existence in southern Howard County, thanks in part to an unlikely hero.

Though many of these immigrants arrived in Savage from their war-torn homeland in southeast Asia several years ago, the non-English speaking people among them still rely on quiet teenager Sui Ngun Hei.

Ngun Hei, who fled Burma in 2003, has taken it upon herself to act as a community liaison to those refugees who only speak the Chin dialect. She has accompanied them to doctor appointments, classes, trips to social services agencies and the like since she moved with her family to Savage two years ago.

“Sui is an incredible young person who is very humble about her role in these people’s lives,” said Catherine Hester of FIRN, a Columbia-based nonprofit organization that provides resources for the foreign born. 

Hester invited the 18-year-old to speak about the Chin community at FIRN’s International Gala last month because of the teen’s unselfish commitment to assisting them.

“Many of these refugees are still in survival mode, struggling to make ends meet,” Hester said, adding they have an ongoing need for such basic items as clothing and furniture.

Since 2006, 225 Burmese refugees have resettled in Howard County, according to data from the International Rescue Committee’s Baltimore office. During the current fiscal year, which will end Sept. 30, 2010, the U.S. government proposes to resettle 80,000 refugees from all nations in states across the country, according to IRC statistics.

Having taught herself to speak English, Ngun Hei said she chose to take on the jobs of interpreter, translator and navigator simply because she is “happy to help.”

“Sui has really blossomed in her role as a community liaison and she is so self-motivated,” said Hester, who became a naturalized American citizen after her parents emigrated from Taiwan.

Not only does the teen assist the older generation, she works with 33 Chin children who belong to a FIRN reading group at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, in Jessup, called Club Leap. The club, which is run by Hester, works with 105 kids in 10 county schools.

Ngun Hei knows firsthand about the conditions in Burma, which is called Myanmar by the government and has been ruled by a military junta for many decades. She described how her father, a farmer, was taken to a non-government-run refugee camp in Malaysia in 1998 when she was only 7. Her mother was left to take care of their six children.

“Later, (the government) confiscated our land and we had no food for a year,” she recalled.

Fleeing a military coup in Burma, her family was reunited in Malaysia in 2003 and lived in the refugee camp for two years, sleeping in beds that often were wet as a result of leaks in their tiny apartment’s roof.

When they first arrived in America in 2005, Ngun Hei and her family lived in Baltimore County for two years. They then moved to Savage to join the other refugees already resettled there and to enroll in the county’s top-rated school system, she said.

“When we lived in the refugee camp, my five brothers and I had no formal schooling,” she lamented. But that, as it turned out, wasn’t an obstacle to her success.

Though she had only completed fifth grade in Burma, she was placed in ninth-grade classes in Baltimore County and excelled. After her family’s move to Howard County, Ngun Hei graduated with honors from Hammond High School in May and is currently a pre-med student at Howard Community College, in Columbia. She also works 20 hours a week at her two jobs.

“Sui is a model citizen, not just a model immigrant,” Hester said. “She has become a natural spokesperson and a strong leader.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

11,000 Myanmars In Malaysia Given Refugee Status By UNHCR

BANGKOK, Dec 3 (Bernama) -- About 11,000 Myanmar refugees in Malaysia were recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2009, making them eligible for resettlement in third countries, according to The Irrawaddy online portal.

Of the total, the Chin ethnic group numbered about 5,000 people, Mon 1,800, followed by Kachin and Shan at about 1,000, and other ethnic groups, while the Arakan were not recognised this year.

Irrawaddy said it was the first time that the UNHCR had recognised such a large number of Myanmar refugees who had experienced difficulties earlier this year when Thailand launched a crackdown on illegal migrants from the country attempting to enter from the Malaysia-Thailand border.

Quoting the Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR), it said there were about 50,000 Chin currently living in Malaysia, and an estimated 20,000 had been granted UNHCR refugee status in Malaysia since 2001.

Nai Roi Mon, an official with the Mon Refugee Office (MRO) in Malaysia, told The Irrawaddy that it processed about 3,000 Mon for UNHCR refugee status.

According to the MRO, no Mon was granted refugee status in 2007, and only 500 were recognised in 2008. It estimated that there are 20,000 Mon living in Malaysia, many illegally.

"They have given favourable recognition to children under age 18, especially from families with many children but no husband. They also favour older men, over 50, as well.

"If you have a UNHCR card, if you are arrested, the UNHCR can help you during detention. This is an advantage for people who work here," Nai Roi Mon said.

Refugees from Myanmar recognised by the UNHCR may wait up to one year or longer for resettlement to third countries.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Burma Workers' Rights Protection Committee told The Irrawaddy that there were about 500,000 Myanmar migrants working in Malaysia, legally and illegally.

The portal said that at the end of October 2009, about 67,800 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, of whom 62,000 were Myanmars.

"Many pay 18,000 Thai baht (US$500) or more to enter the country (Malaysia) illegally," it said.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

2 Indian women arrested in Nepal with banned currency notes

Kathmandu, Nov 26 Two Indian women from the northeast state of Mizoram have been arrested in Nepal for carrying banned Indian currency notes.

Lalring Heti, 41, and Lal Moonbami, 37, were arrested Monday at the airport in Bhadrapur in eastern Nepal while trying to catch a flight to Kathmandu, police said Wednesday.

The two women, both of whom are residents of Champai, a district nearly 200 km from Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, were carrying Rs.195,000 in Indian currency notes of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 denomination, both of which are banned in Nepal.

The two women have been sent to Kathmandu to undergo investigation by the revenue investigation department, police said.

The arrest of the two Indian women comes less than 10 days after a British national, Venkatraman Jagannathan, was arrested at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu for carrying Rs.50,000 in Indian 1,000-rupee currency notes.

Though lower denominations Indian currency notes are accepted in Nepal, the government banned the use of 1,000-rupee and 500-rupee notes more than a decade back following the Reserve Bank of India guidelines.

The step was taken to prevent the growing counterfeiting of Indian currency by organised criminal networks running through several countries as well as to prevent the sponsoring of terrorist activities. However, people in India and other countries still largely remain ignorant about the restrictions, resulting in trouble at Nepal airports.

In June, Indian national Anil Sharma faced a harrowing time after he was found to be carrying Rs.140,000 in 1,000-rupee notes. Carrying large sums in Indian currency, be it in the banned notes or even lesser denomination, is also a punishable offence in Nepal if the carrier is not an Indian or a Nepali national.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New FM radio station to be set up in Shan State

One more new FM radio station will be set up soon in Shan State East’s Tachilek, opposite Thailand’s Maesai, according sources from the Thai-Burma border.

It is due to start broadcasting as of the beginning of coming year, 2010. However, there have been no further details of how it will be programmed, but it is expected to be similar to the existing Cherry FM program, the source said.

Cherry FM is based at Shan State capital, Taunggyi, started broadcasting in August, targeting to air over a 50 mile radius in every part of Shan State, southern, northern and eastern. It is owned by a private company, Zaygaba. Nevertheless it was jointly operated by the junta military.

The program focuses on entertainment and the junta’s own news features, according to a resident from Taunggyi.

The news section is read in Burmese language and the entertainment focuses on ethnic music especially Shan and Pa-O songs. By serving such entertainment, the program is gaining popularity among the people especially youths. “My sister and brother listen to it every day. We like to listen to the songs rather than the news sections,” he said.

Another one, a Pa-O youth shared the same view. “I just listen to the music, not the news because it is so boring,” he said.
A source who regularly listens to exile radio programs said, “The junta military is trying to counter the influence of the exile media.”

Observers have also said the junta is looking for new campaign strategy for the elections as the number of local FM radio stations is increasing.

The existing FM radio stations in Burma are: Rangoon City FM, Mandalay City FM, Pyinsawaddy FM in Arakan State (Rakhine), Padamya FM in Kachin State, Shwe FM in Pegu (Bago) division and Cherry FM in Shan State.

Shwe FM covers over the Pegu and Tenasserim divisions, and Karen and Mon state. The Cherry FM covers Shan state and Karenni state; Padamya FM across Magwe and Sagaing divisions, and Kachin state and Chin state. Another one Pyinsawaddy FM is covers Rakhine and Irrawaddy Division. However, these are all under the operation of the Ministry of Information.

Radio stations operating outside Burma include Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), BBC and Voice of America (VOA). All the stations are also running weekly ethnic programs in their own mother tongues as well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mamit YMA criticises Churches on Bru aid

Aizawl: Young Mizo Association (YMA) Mamit district headquarters criticised the the churches in Mizoram for donating more than Rs5 lakh to Bru families whose bamboo huts were gutted while giving nothing to the family of Zarzokima gunned down by the Bru militants.

In a press release issued at the Mizoram-Tripura border Mamit town yesterday, the YMA lauded the state government for giving Rs1lakh to the bereaved family as ex gratia.

"Brus have killed 17 Mizos including five of a family on November 24, 1958 and seven policemen in 1999 while no Bru has died in the hands of the Mizos as retaliatory acts to these murders," the YMA district headquarters said, adding that the world should know the patience of the Mizo community.

The press release also emphasised that Bru miscreants and militants have abducted a number of Mizo people for ransom and have robbed a plethora of vehicles without any communal retaliation from the Mizos.

The YMA reaction came in the wake of the Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church and the Catholic Church donating to the State Level Relief Committee in aid of the victims of arson during the recent spurt of communal tension in the western belt of Mizoram.

The communal tension was triggered by the murder of Zarzokima (18) of Bungthuam village by suspected Bru militants on November 13.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mizoram ethnic violence: paramilitary forces deployed

Aizawl/Paramilitary forces were deployed as tension prevailed in southern Mizoram and northern Tripura Monday after over 300 houses of Reang tribals were set ablaze following the gunning down of a Mizo youth last week, officials here said.

'Central paramilitary Assam Rifles troopers, and Tripura and Mizoram armed police have been deployed in the trouble-torn southern Mizoram and northern Tripura to prevent any fresh hostility between Mizos and Reang tribals,' an official said.

Violent mobs have set fire to more than 300 houses of Reang tribals in 15 villages under Mamit and Kolashib districts in southern Mizoram since Saturday, displacing over 5,000 people.

The displaced tribals have taken shelter in adjacent southern Assam and Jampui in northern Tripura.

'The ethnic violence erupted after the militants shot dead an 18-year-old Mizo youth at Bungthuam village, near the Tripura border, in southern Mizoram on Friday,' said Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana

The youth was shot dead when he and his friends were collecting pig fodder in a forest area. The two gunmen fled the spot soon after the incident.

'It is a little difficult to prevent arson everywhere as the Reang tribal settlements are scattered in inaccessible areas and the miscreants went in groups on jungle roads to torch the villages,' Lalzirliana told reporters in Aizawl late Sunday.

Warning the troublemakers, Lalzirliana said those who disrupt peace would be firmly dealt with and brought to book.

Senior civil and police officials have been camping in the mixed populated Tripura villages adjacent to Mizoram since Saturday.

'Both Assam Rifles and Tripura police in northern Tripura are on alert to prevent any eventuality following the ethnic violence and exodus of Reang tribals from Mizoram,' north Tripura district magistrate Samarjit Bhowmik told IANS.

Mizoram police chief Lalrokhuma Pachuau has been maintaining close contact with his Tripura counterpart Pranay Sahay to tackle the situation jointly.

'Security has been tightened in the Mizo dominated areas in Jampui in north Tripura,' Bhomik added.

Over 35,000 Reang (locally called Bru) tribal refugees have been living in six north Tripura camps since 1997 after they fled Mizoram following ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos.

The tripartite meeting held in Aizawl Nov 4 between representatives of the central and Mizoram governments and tribal refugees failed to resolve the 12-year deadlock to repatriate 35,000 Reang migrants from Tripura to Mizoram.

'Both the centre and the Mizoram government rejected our major demands. We will not return to our homes unless our vital demands are fulfilled,' said Elvis Chorkhy, who led the seven-member refugee delegation at the meeting.

'We will boycott the repatriation process as both the Mizoram government and the centre are not sincere about conceding our long pending demands.'

A delegation of Mizoram officials was to visit the refugee camps Monday, but they did not turn up in view of the fresh ethnic trouble.

Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF), a body of the Reang tribal refugees, has sent fax messages to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Mizoram Chief Minister Lalthanhawla urging them to stop the ethnic violence in Mizoram.

'The tribal refugees Sunday and Monday organised protest rallies in their six camps in north Tripura to protest the mob attacks and burning down of houses belonging to Reang tribals in Mizoram,' said Chorkhy, who is the president of MBDPF.

Obama demands release of Aung San Suu Kyi Source: Obama demands release of Aung San Suu Kyi

Singapore, Nov.16 (ANI): US President Barack Obama has demanded the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In an unprecedented encounter with Burmese Prime Minister Lt. Gen Thein Sein here on Sunday, Obama also pushed for the release of other political prisoners held by the Burmese regime.
According to The Times, the message was delivered across the table to Sein during a meeting with the leaders of the ten countries that make up the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said that the President used the meeting to urge Burma’s rulers to release the opposition leader and all other political prisoners.
Obama’s comments follow last week’s meeting between Suu Kyi and a group of US diplomats who were allowed to visit the pro-democracy leader despite her persistent and widely reviled house arrest that has locked her away from the world for 14 of the past 20 years.

Thousands displaced in ethnic violence in NE Indian state

 NEW DELHI, Nov. 15  -- Over 5,000 tribal people were displaced in the northeast Indian state of Mizoram after mobs set fire to their village following the death of a local youth, reported the Indo-Asian News Service on Sunday.
    The mobs have set ablaze the huts in seven villages inhabited by the Reang tribal people in southern Mizoram since Saturday, the report quoted officials in Aizawl, the state capital of Mizorum which borders Myanmar and Bangladesh, as saying.
    The ethnic violence erupted after members of a local militant group allegedly shot dead an 18-year-old boy Friday, when he and his friends were collecting pig fodder in a forest area, according to the report.
    Local government has warned that those who disrupt peace would be firmly dealt with and punished by law, said the report.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Refugees abroad; windows of survival for Chin people

Mounting economic crisis is driving out people in Chin state, western Burma by the day, but refugees abroad continue to be windows of survival for Chin people.
Statistics show that there are many Chin people in Mizoram state, India from Chin state, western Burma.
Recently Mr. Hram Uk and his family fled to Mizoram in order to take refuge in New Delhi, India from Mang Kheng village, Falam township in Chin state.
Mr. Hram Uk said, “Usually the Burmese junta authorities call us to work for them and they collect some donation every month. We cannot afford it as we are very poor. We cannot send our children to school. Sometimes, patrolling military personnel demand our domestic animals. So we had to sell our properties and flee to India.”
He told Khonumthung News that there are many villagers, who wanted to go abroad. They are suffering from different kinds of problems in Burma, so they preferred to go to India as refugees.
Now most Chin people are suffering the effects of famine, which was brought by bamboo flowering in the state leading to multiplication of rats. Crops have been destroyed by rats, flies and bugs since late 2006.
Although some Chin people, who are abroad support them, they cannot cover all the villagers in the state. Therefore, they are doing whatever jobs they get to eke out a living. On the other hand, the military junta oppresses them making myriad demands.
A survey report states the population of Chin state was about 5 lakhs in the last two years, but now it has decreased to about 4 lakhs. Some NGOs’ statistics also show that there are about 2,000 Chin people in New Delhi, about 13,000 in Malaysia, United States and other European countries.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

3 Myanmarese nationals held, 49 gm heroin seized in Mizoram

Aizawl, Nov 12 (PTI) Three Myanmarese nationals, including a woman, were arrested and 49 gram heroin recovered from their possession here, police said.

The three were arrested during a raid conducted by Mizoram police and BSF at Thuampui locality here yesterday, SP Lalbiakthanga Khiangte said.

The arrested were booked under Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, he said, adding that the seized drug was estimated to be worth Rs 2.40 lakh in the domestic market.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

India-Burma bi-annual military meet in Manipur

Chennai – The 38th India-Burma bi-annual liaison meeting is currently being held in Leimakhong in Manipur, with Major General S S Pawar, Chief of Staff 3 corps leading the Indian delegation and Brig Gen Tin Maung Ohnn heading the Burmese delegation.

A 15-member Burmese delegation, including Brig Gen La Aye and other army officials arrived in India on Monday, India’s Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing) said in a statement today.

The statement said matters relating to security of the border areas, particularly measures required to control insurgency in both countries were discussed in the meeting.

The movements of the insurgent groups also came up during the meeting and the delegates mulled over a plan of action to prevent them from indulging in illegal activities.

The insurgent groups on both sides of the border take undue advantage of the terrain to carry out undesirable activities, the statement said.

The meeting also discussed solutions to issues of concern to both the armies, based on the principle of mutual trust and respect.

It also emphasized the need for continuous synergy to meet other challenges that come in the way of cordial relationship between the two countries.

The Burmese delegation will be visiting the Eastern Command headquarters, in Kolkata and Bodh Gaya from November 11 to 13. The delegation is scheduled to return to Burma on November 14.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The People Nobody Wants

Rohingya refugees in the Nayapara camp, courtesy of Ruben Flamarique/Austcare/flickr
Rohingya refugees in the Nayapara camp
(cc) Ruben Flamarique/Austcare/flickr
The plight of the Burmese Rohingya made headlines in early 2009 when Thai security forces were accused of pushing migrant boats out to sea. With ASEAN establishing a new human rights body and a US delegation visiting Burma, what chance is there for improvement for a stateless people? Simon Roughneen writes for ISN Security Watch.
By Simon Roughneen for ISN Security Watch
At its 15th summit held in Thailand two weeks ago, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations inaugurated the ASEAN Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission. It is the first time that the 10-state bloc has given institutional recognition to human rights.
What that means in practice is unclear. The body will merely promote human rights, and cannot sanction offenders or protect victims. With the Burmese junta nominating a representative to the 10-member commission, along with states such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, which have less-than-stellar records in this area, it seems the new body is there to pay lip service rather than act decisively.
Action for sure is needed. Malaysia does not recognize refugees as a category; communist Vietnam continues to make life hard for religious groups; and the majority of Burmese struggle under a military dictatorship.
Standing out for the wrong reasons
But of all the ethnic groups in the region perhaps one stands out as suffering the most. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in western Burma, living mainly in Rakhine State close to the border with Bangladesh. Muslims make up around 4 percent of the country's total population, and a majority of Burmese Muslims describe themselves as 'Rohingya.'
The Rohingya number about two million people. Approximately 800,000 remain in Burma and 200,000-400,000 in Bangladesh. An estimated half million live in the Middle East as migrant workers, with around 50,000 in Malaysia.
Some are thought to be descendants of migrants who came east from what is now India and Bangladesh during British colonial rule. Others believe the Rohingya descend from Arab traders who settled in Rakhine more than 1,000 years ago. It is impossible to say exactly who came from where and when, but the Burmese junta maintains that the Rohingya are not among the country's 135 recognized ethnic groups.
Since 1982, Rohingya have been denied citizenship. The Rohingya do not have an automatic right to education or work. They need permission to travel even a few miles between villages in Rakhine, much less move freely around Burma. The junta throws a cascade of red tape around marriage, requiring Rohingya to obtain a variety of authorizations before being issued a ‘marriage permit,’ which may take years.
It doesn't end there. Burma's army has targeted almost all of the ethnic groups living along the country's mountainous borderlands, from the Wa and Karen near Thailand, to the Shan on the Chinese frontier, to the Chin living close to India and Bangladesh. These groups have all established powerful militias that have carved out de facto autonomous zones for themselves, in many cases funded by smuggling and drug trafficking, and have to some extent, been able to protect their people from the army.
Defenceless and nowhere to go
However, the Rohingya have remained defenseless. Multiple accounts of torture, summary execution, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape, destruction of homes, forced relocation and eviction, confiscation of land and property and so on, have been given by refugees fleeing to Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. 
The situation for Rohingya gets worse, as the junta's resource wealth increases. Since the early 1990s, the number of battalions in western Burma has jumped from three to over 40. The soldiers often live off the land, expropriating property and implementing forced labor projects. The region is close to offshore oil and gas fields, which the junta needs to boost revenues and fund its military expansion. The junta has the biggest army in Southeast Asia, despite having only around one-fifth the population of Indonesia's estimated 250 million, by far the largest country in the region.
The most important new development is the Shwe gas field off the coast of western Rakhine. In December 2008, the Chinese energy company PetroChina signed a 30-year lease with the Burmese to buy natural gas piped from this field, in a consortium involving Indian, Thai, South Korean, Chinese and Burmese interests. Moreover, another pipeline will run from the coast, into western China, transporting crude oil from the Middle East. China wants that pipeline to avoid sending all its oil traffic from the Middle East and Africa through the Straits of Malacca, which it feels are vulnerable to pirates, and to US naval blockade, should relations between Washington and Beijing get testy.
Bangladesh hosts 28,000 Rohingya in two refugee camps supervised by the UN. An estimated 200,000 – 400,000 live outside camps without access to international protection or humanitarian assistance. Many Rohingya have been pushed back into Burma, only to return to Bangladesh.
In recent weeks, a maritime and land border dispute between Burma and Bangladesh has reopened. The Burmese junta is building a border fence between the two countries, and in a cruel twist, is coercing Rohingya into building the fence. According to Bangladeshi media, the junta is hoping to keep the Rohingya that have fled to Bangladesh from being pushed back by Dhaka.
K Mrat Kyaw, editor of Narinjara, a Bangladesh-based news service for Rohingya, told ISN Security Watch that “Bangladesh authorities would like to push back the Rohingya to Burma before the fence is completed.”
Precarious survival conditions in Bangladesh and the closure of other migration routes to the Middle East have resulted in Rohingya moving by boats toward Malaysia via Thailand. This has led to international outcry over reports that Thailand's ‘push-back’ policy involved security forces pushing boat loads of Rohingya into international waters. Indian and Indonesia naval vessels later found drifters and survivors who said they were sent to sea by Thai security officials. 
Thailand believed the Rohingya to be economic migrants, rather than refugees, and many of the men were fined for illegal entry as they had no papers – which of course they could not get in the first place given that Burma does not grant them citizenship.
Malaysia is listed by the US State Department as one of the world's places of concern for human trafficking and refuses to sign any refugee conventions. However, it is the destination of choice for Rohingya fleeing Burma, and that Rohingya are willing to pay to be smuggled there says a lot.
As Shu Shi of Malaysian human rights group SUARAM put it to ISN Security Watch, “Basically, the Malaysian authorities treat all the refugees equally badly.”
Little hope
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which lobbies for the Rohingya, tells ISN Security Watch that she “hopes the Rohingya issue will be addressed” when a high-level US delegation visits Burma on 3 and 4 November as part of the new 'engagement' policy with the junta. 
ASEAN passed the buck on this issue at its 14th summit in February 2009. With ASEAN chair Thailand in the spotlight over the ‘push-backs,’ the bloc delegated the Rohingya issue to the Bali Process, a regional forum on human trafficking and related issues. However, this grouping has not come up with any solutions so far.
The recent 15th ASEAN summit in Thailand made no mention of the Rohingya issue, which could return to the international spotlight soon. Seasonal winds make it easier to travel from Bangladesh and Burma to Thailand by boat from October onward. It is likely that more Rohingya will arrive on Thailand's shores in the coming months, given the border wrangles between Burma and Bangladesh. However, it is not clear whether neighboring states will be more welcoming of Rohingya this time around.
Despite ASEAN’s new human rights commission, member-states Thailand, Malaysia and Burma have not ratified the UN Refugee Convention nor enacted domestic refugee legislation. The same applies to Bangladesh, which is not an ASEAN member.
This means these host countries do not abide by the principle of non-refoulement – which stipulates that refugees cannot be sent back to their home country if it is clear that they face persecution. 
Chris Lewa told ISN Security Watch, “I have little hope that the ASEAN human rights body will make any difference to the Rohingya, or to human rights in general in Southeast Asia – at least not for the foreseeable future.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

UN expert slams Burma impunity

Oct 23, 2009 –Widespread government impunity in Burma has allowed the country’s “alarming” human rights situation to continue unabated, the United Nations special rapporteur for Burma said yesterday.

Little progress has been made to correct “a pattern of widespread and systematic violations” in the military-ruled country, according to Tomas Ojea Quintana, who was speaking at a press conference.

He also called for special attention to be paid to the plight of Muslim communities in Burma, who face frequent religious persecution.

Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are meeting in Thailand today for the start of the 15th ASEAN summit, where controversial elections in Burma scheduled for next year, are high on the agenda for discussion.

Burma’s presence in the bloc has become increasingly thorny since the imprisonment in August of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose detention was widely seen as a ploy by the government to keep her away from the elections.

An appeal drafted by ASEAN leaders that called for her release was scrapped earlier this week after critics accused it of breaching ASEAN’s non-interference policy. Quintana said that he had urged the Burmese junta on a number of occasions to ensure that the elections are fair and transparent.

“I told the Government that…freedom of speech, movement and association should be guaranteed in the country, and of course that all prisoners of conscience should be released before those elections,” he said.

He also called on the government to “take prompt measures to establish accountability and responsibility” with regard to human rights violations.

The issue of food security in Burma has made headlines in recent weeks, with a human rights group warning that Karen state in the east of the country was facing its worst food crisis in over a decade.

Quintana referred to the “starvation situation” in many regions of the country, including the Arakan, Chin, and Shan states. He also voiced concern over the “dire” social and economic conditions within the country.

Included in a four-point plan outlined by Quintana was the installation of an independent judiciary in Burma, and the reform of the military, “which needs to respect international humanitarian law in conflict areas, as well as the rights of civilians.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Photo exhibition portrays horrors of Burmese refugees

no refugee exhibition 151009-07.jpgImages of refugees in deplorable living conditions, poignant facial expressions, distraught children form the gist of the work of five international photojournalists who documented the lives of Burmese refugees in Malaysia.
A rare exhibition titled ‘No Refuge: Burmese Refugees in Malaysia’ depicting the conditions of refugees was launched yesterday at The Annexe Gallery in Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market.
The exhibition will last until the Oct 25.

“The work of Greg Constantine (USA), Halim Berbar (France), Rahman Roslan (Malaysia), Simon Wheatley (UK) and Zhang Wubin (Singapore) reveals the underside of the most marginalised people in Malaysia,” said Klang member of parliament, Charles Santiago.
In his speech when opening the event, he said that a report had been published by the US Department of State on trafficking activities in Malaysia, where refugees were sold at the Thai and Malaysia’s border.
no refugee exhibition 151009-08.jpg“In the report, refugees who are now residing in the US, and who once lived in Malaysia, were interviewed and they have one thing in common. All of them have been sold,” he told a crowd of 60 people.
He also accused the government of being in denial on the issues of human trafficking.
Kicking them when down
klscah launch civil society award 191207 charles santiagoHowever, Santiago (right) credited the government for taking some action to arrest traffickers in the last couple of months.
“But this will not solve the problem because trafficking is a systemic collaboration of government officers and syndicates, therefore we need to fix this at the level of structure and enforcement,” he adds.
Arts programme director of The Annexe, Pang Khee Teik, in commenting on the trafficking and the harsh living conditions, said that this was akin to ‘kicking them when they are down’.
“This is what Malaysias are doing to the refugees,” he said.
no refugee exhibition 151009-02.jpgThe audience were also treated to a performance by two Burmese musicians.
Thiam Pui, a refugee from the Chin state sang about how much she misses her country and she was accompanied by Sang Kawn, another refugee from the Mon state who played the guitar.
No protection for refugees

Santiago also launched a nationwide petition campaign by Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) entitled “Sign the Refugee Convention and Stop the Arrest, Detention and Deportation of Refugees”.
no refugee exhibition 151009-01.jpgSuaram is expecting to collect at least 10,000 signatures from Malaysians by May 21, 2010 to be submitted to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
This is a move to ensure that refugees are recognised and given better access to livelihood and to encourage cooperation between the government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR).
Unfortunately, Malaysia is one of the few remaining countries that has ratified neither the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocol and it has also failed to enact any legislation for the protection of refugees.
no refugee exhibition 151009-05.jpgRefugees, adults and children alike, are instead treated as ‘illegal immigrants’ and are subjected to harsh penalties, detention and deportation under the Immigration Act.
They risk fines of up to RM10,000 or jail terms of up to five years or both. They are also liable to be whipped up to six strokes of the cane.
Malaysiakini by Christine Chan

Monday, October 12, 2009

Forced Labor Used for Military Outpost Construction

Pelatwa: The Burmese army has been using local tribal people from the western Burmese border area as forced labor in the construction of army outposts along the Burma-Bangladesh border since the beginning of October, said one villager from the border.

"Our community in the area had been forced by local army officials to work on construction at Latpenwa army outpost, which is being renovated by the army authority as a defensive position," he said.

The Latpenwa outpost is a key strategic outpost for the Burmese army and it is located in Paletwa Township in Chin State on the western border near Bangladesh. The Burmese army has been reconstructing the outposts so it could serve major defensive operations on the western Border.

According to a local source, many Khami villages are located in the area surrounding Latpenwa outpost and the people there are the main targets for use as forced labor by the military authority.

"Villagers from several villages in the area are summoned by army officials every day from 7 am to 4 pm to work on the construction site, and we have to go there with our own food. The army officials have not assisted with payment of wages for the construction," he said.

Khami people from several villages, including Thae Daung, Fyut Chaung Wa, Bu Chaun Phyr, Htut Pin, Chin Letwa, and Shin Ma Tean, have had to work daily at the army outpost.

"Our villagers have been forced by army officials to work at many construction work sites, like bamboo and wood cutting, digging earth for bunkers, constructing barricades, and carrying materials like cement, iron, and tin, for the outpost," he added.

One column from Light Infantry Battalion 538 based in Rathidaung is now posted at the Latpenwa outpost, the army source said.

Many villagers in the area have not been able to attend to their own livelihoods because they've been forced to work on the outpost, and it is currently a crucial period for farmers because the mountain paddy is ready to be harvested.

According to local source, the Burmese army authority has been renovating many army outposts located along the western border, including Kha Mon, Pri Zaw, Toke Pi, Wanet Ron, Kin Tha Lin, Mrit Waa, Kha Mong Wa, and Latpenwa.

Many new temporary outposts are also being constructed along the border and many people are being forced by authorities to work on the construction without pay.

Local sources also say that Burmese army authorities are using locals as porters to transport army equipment from one place to another along the border after a number of army battalions have been deployed to the area.

Friday, October 2, 2009

7 Myanmarese release from jail

Imphal, Oct 1: State government released seven Myanmarese Nationals yesteday after they were convicted and imprisioned at Sajiwa Jail for one year for illegal intrusion into Indian territory.

According to the official source, seven Myanmarese nationals identified as Aung Tin Win 28, Md Amin 19, Md Majibur Rahaman 20, Swantinthang 39, Tuankinthang 39, Md Abdul Gabar 32 and Nursalinthang 35, who was apprehended by the Assam Rilfes personnel from Moreh areas before one years back after they were found loitering around the Indian border without proper documents and late handed over to the Tengnouple police.

Later the seven Myanmar nationals were convicted imprisionment by the court for their unauthrised movement in Indian territory.

On the other hand the seven Myanmarese nationals with the completion of their one imprisionment at Sajiwa Jail yesterday, they have released from the Sajiwa and jail and handed over to the Myanmar authorities at Moreh yesterday afternoon the official source added.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Myanmar's Chin people persecuted



Thailand (AP) — The Chin people, Christians living in the remote mountains of northwestern Myanmar, are subject to forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution by the country's military regime, a human rights group said Wednesday.

The New York-based Human Right Watch said as many as 100,000 people have fled the Chin homeland into neighboring India, where they face abuse and the risk of being forced back into Myanmar."The Chin are unsafe in Burma and unprotected in India," a report from the group said. The report said the regime in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to commit atrocities against its other ethnic minorities.Myanmar's ruling junta has been widely accused of widespread human rights violations in ethnic minority areas where anti-government insurgent groups are fighting for autonomy.

The government has repeatedly denied such charges. An e-mailed request for comment on the new report was not immediately answered.

Photo- CHRO
Chief Secretary Vanhela Pachau, a top official for India's Mizoram state, said he had not seen the report and could not comment."(The police) hit me in my mouth and broke my front teeth. They split my head open and I was bleeding badly. They also shocked me with electricity," the group quoted a Chin man accused of supporting the insurgents, who are small in number and largely ineffective.He was one of some 140 Chin people interviewed by the human rights group from 2005 to 2008. The group said the names of those interviewed were withheld to prevent reprisals.

A number of people spoke of being forced out of their villages to serve as unpaid porters for the army or to build roads, sentry posts and army barracks.Amy Alexander, a consultant for Human Rights Watch, told a news conference that insurgents of the Chin National Front also committed abuses such as extorting money from villagers to fund their operations.Alexander said Myanmar's government, attempting to suppress minority cultures, was destroying churches, desecrating crosses, interfering with worship services by forcing Christians to work on Sundays and promoting Buddhism through threats and inducements. Some 90 percent of the Chin are Christians, most of them adherents to the American Baptist Church.Ethnic insurgencies erupted in Myanmar in the late 1940s when the country gained independence from Great Britain.

Former junta member Gen. Khin Nyunt negotiated cease-fires with 17 of the insurgent groups before he was ousted by rival generals in 2004.Among rebels still fighting are groups from the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Chin minorities.At least half a million minority people have been internally displaced in eastern Myanmar as a result of the regime's brutal military campaigns while refugees continue to flee to the Thai-Myanmar border. More than 145,000 refugees receive international humanitarian assistance in Thai border camps.Alexander said that some 30,000 Chin have also sought refuge in Malaysia while about 500 were living in Thai border camps.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rat infestation compounds Chin food crisis

Sept 24, 2009 (DVB)–A mass infestation of rats in western Burma is likely to compound a food shortage in a state that has lost thousands of acres of crops over the past two years, according to local aid workers.

An aid worker in Chin state, which borders India, said that local farmers had reported the ongoing destruction of rice and millet crops by rats.

The infestation was sparked in 2007 by the mass flowering of bamboo, which rats then feed on. The flowering on this scale occurs only once every 50 years.

“We are predicting the same situation [food shortage] as last year and it won’t get better until June next year,” the aid worker said.

“The government is not providing aid but they are not stopping our projects. We are allowed to work here freely,” he said.

According to the Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), the fallout from the last mass bamboo flowering in Burma reportedly caused the deaths of 10,000 to 15,000 in India’s neighbouring Mizoram state.

A report released by the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) said that approximately 1700 acres of rice paddy and 1000 acres of millet have been destroyed by rats since 2007. Around 23,000 tons of food aid is needed for the 470,000-strong population of Chin state.

The CHRO said that the crisis has affected seven towns in the region, and 54 have so far died from famine-related illnesses, with children comprising the majority of deaths.

A WFP official in Burma, Swe Swe Win, said that the organization would be running a ‘food for work’ programme in the region, but that “no other component activity will be conducted”.

The WFP had said that the food crisis in Chin state was “worse than any other region visited by the Mission [in Burma]”.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Letter to Japan Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on the Burma policy review

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada
Kasumigaseki 2-2-1
Tokyo 100-8919

Re: Burma Policy Review

Dear Foreign Minister Okada:

We write to you on the occasion of your inauguration as Foreign Minister of Japan to discuss the human rights situation in Burma.

Human rights violations remain rampant all over the world, including in Asia. Across the region, civilians are killed in wars, millions of people are forced to flee violence and persecution as refugees, and many are unlawfully jailed for expressing views critical of their governments. While the past Japanese government made commitments to promote human rights and the rule of law, it was reticent in translating these commitments into concrete and visible actions. Now is the time for Japan to revise its foreign policy and make promotion of human rights a central pillar. Burma is a very good place to start.

As repression continues ahead of the elections planned for 2010, we believe the new Japanese government should urgently undertake a thorough policy review on Burma. As intractable as the situation in Burma may seem, Japan does have a role to play in improving the human rights and political situation there.

As you know, Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in the world. There are strict limits on basic freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. The intelligence and security services are omnipresent. Censorship is draconian. More than 2,200 political prisoners suffer in Burma's squalid prisons. These prisoners include many members of the political opposition, courageous protestors who peacefully took to the streets in August and September 2007, and individuals who criticized the government for its poor response to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. All have been sentenced after sham trials, summary hearings that often take place in the prisons themselves. The recent conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi on ridiculous charges reminded the world of the despotic nature of the military government that has been in power since 1962.

At the same time, military abuses connected to armed conflicts in ethnic minority areas continue. Human Rights Watch has for many years documented the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers, the use of forced labor, and summary killings, rape, and other abuses against minority populations, including the Rohingya, Chin, Shan, and Karen. Recent attacks against Shan and Karen communities have once again led to large-scale displacement of ethnic communities and needless death and hardship. Fighting between the Burmese army and ethnic militias has also driven thousands of refugees from northern Shan state into China.

In addition to rampant violations of civil and political rights, corruption and mismanagement have meant that under military rule Burma has become one of the poorest countries in Asia. The government seems to care little for the basic welfare of its people; to give but one example, while the Burmese government received an estimated US$150 million per month in gas export revenue in 2008, its last announced annual budget to address its AIDS crisis in 2007 was a mere $172,000. While most Burmese struggle to subsist, the country's leaders have the comfort of "5 star" lives of luxury generated through corruption from the plunder of the country's natural resources.

There is no mystery in the military's long-term intentions, as the ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has been totally open about its plans to stage-manage an electoral process that will ensure continued military rule with a civilian face. Burma's generals have learned from their resounding defeat by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in 1990 and periodic protest movements that it cannot risk staging a credible election (indeed, last year the government announced a 98 percent turnout and a 92 percent vote in favor of a new constitution, just months after the 2007 street protests that rocked the country). They doubtlessly hope that this will mollify countries that have imposed sanctions and oppose military rule and end the pressure to make progress on political reform and national reconciliation, and encourage large-scale international aid flows.

Based on the experience of the 2008 referendum, the harsh prison sentences handed down to activists, the lack of serious dialogue with the political opposition and Burma's many ethnic groups, the stonewalling of United Nations and ASEAN efforts to discuss political and human rights issues, the lack of any reform measures, and the trial and conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi on ridiculous charges, it is clear that there will be no meaningful change in the political direction of the country before or after the 2010 elections unless concerned governments and international bodies take steps to change the SPDC's calculations.

We recognize the scale of this challenge. The military government has close relations with its neighbors China, India, and Thailand, and has large revenue streams from these countries from the sale of gas, timber, gems, and other natural resources. China, Russia, and even South Africa have protected the government from action at the United Nations Security Council. Japan, thankfully, changed its policy in this respect in 2006, yet still has fallen far short of being a strong public critic of Burma. In short, while much of the world sees Burma's rulers as isolated, ruthless, and despised, from the SPDC's perspective it has influential friends in the region that provide massive resources through the purchase of energy and other commodities, and shield Burma from concerted action at the UN, ASEAN, and other international fora on subjects like effective arms embargoes or targeted sanctions.

According to Keiichi Ono, Director of the First Southeast Asia Division of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan's current policy towards Burma is predicated on "retaining dialogue, providing limited economic assistance, [and] cooperating with the UN and international community." This approach misses an important tool for change: using Japan's international and regional standing and status as one of the world's largest donors to put public pressure on the SPDC.

For years, Japan has been reluctant to exert pressure on the SPDC and its senior leadership. Now is the time to consider a different and stronger approach. With the right calibration and a more unified approach with other states, pressure on Burma can work.

We suggest that Japan's policy review should, therefore, aim at making more effective all three prongs of Japanese policy - diplomacy, sanctions and aid - and not placing one ahead of the others.


On diplomacy, Human Rights Watch supports Japanese government efforts to speak to the Burmese government at the highest levels. But there should be no wishful thinking or illusions that more conciliatory talk from Japan and others will somehow cause Burma's senior leadership to alter its plans. The Burmese military is committed to remaining in complete control, whether through managed elections or the current system and has exploited engagement by the Japanese government and others by making close contact and relations the primary goal of Japanese policy. The Japanese government should make it clear that as a rights-respecting democracy Japan stands by its principles and the protection of the rights of Burmese and a genuine and credible political reform process needs to be the primary goal of any talks with the Burmese leadership.

Second, Japan should keep in mind that the Burmese officials who normally speak to foreigners - whether the foreign minister or the functionaries involved in the post-Nargis reconstruction - have no real authority in the government and are probably as fearful of Than Shwe and other senior leaders as anyone else. Many foreign diplomats and others who have invested a great deal of time and energy in pursuing relations with the second tier of leadership have told us that it was time largely wasted. Those who do have the authority - Senior General Than Shwe, Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, Lt. General Thura Shwe Mann, Prime Minister Thein Sein, and key regional commanders - usually do not engage with outsiders. Talking to the deputy health minister and mid-level civil servants can be useful in facilitating humanitarian relief and resolving discrete practical problems on the ground. But it is not a way of addressing the fundamental issues in the country or causes of friction between Burma and Japan - including the recent meeting of Htay Oo, minister for agriculture and irrigation and secretary-general of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, with your predecessor Hirofumi Nakasone.

On key political matters, the engagement that has taken place thus far has not been very meaningful and in some cases has even been counterproductive. During the crackdown following the 2007 demonstrations, for instance, diplomatic action merely allowed the SPDC to buy time and pretend that it was engaged in serious discussions. For example, the efforts of the UN secretary-general's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, have failed to achieve anything of substance. The situation has devolved to the point that at times getting a visa or a short meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi was treated as a success, with the unintended but predictable consequence of being used by the SPDC for its own propaganda. Ban Ki-Moon's most recent visit also failed to achieve anything of substance; he was not even allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and was given empty promises to release political prisoners.

Human Rights Watch recommends that Japan appoint its own special envoy. That envoy should have a direct line to the foreign minister and specific instructions to engage in a principled way with the SPDC and other key bilateral and multilateral actors. Vigorous and principled diplomacy is needed with China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other influential actors, to ensure that new revenue streams are not made available to the government.

We also encourage you to consider the establishment of a Burma Contact Group or some form of multilateral grouping, in close contact with the US, to meet and regularly discuss diplomatic engagement with the Burmese government on a range of issues. This could have the effect of converging the views and policies of China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and others, and gradually minimize the ability of the SPDC to play states off against each other. There is considerable common ground on a range of issues, including the need for political reform and credible elections involving the political opposition, concern over Burma's trafficking in heroin and methamphetamines, and the need for a regional approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Another topic could be the growing defense links between Burma and North Korea, as evidenced by the recent publication of photos showing North Korean assistance building tunnel complexes in Burma. Such a Contact Grouping would, of course, have to be predicated on Japan sticking to human rights principles and not engaging in diplomatic horse-trading on core issues of reform.

As the United Nations has long been the focal point for diplomacy on Burma, we urge Japan to keep supporting the continuation of a special envoy of the secretary-general. It is crucial that the secretary-general and the special envoy not get sucked into the game of access or high-level meetings being the goal or a sign of progress. The envoy must be an individual with the principles, skills, and backing of the international community to make an impact.


There is now a strong and even emotional debate on sanctions against Burma. Some argue that sanctions have not had any discernible impact on the military government and should be lifted. Others argue that for political and technical reasons they have never been properly implemented and, therefore, more pressure should be applied by imposing sanctions on additional companies and individuals, and also by encouraging countries and institutions that have not imposed sanctions to do so.

Part of the problem is that this debate tends to treat all sanctions as the same, when in fact they should be differentiated. In our work in various countries around the globe, we have found that properly imposed targeted sanctions can be effective in bringing about improvements in human rights. Targeted sanctions include arms embargoes and restrictions on military assistance, travel bans on individuals, financial sanctions on individuals and entities, and investment and trade sanctions that are specifically focused on companies or economic sectors of greatest concern.

Perhaps the most effective of these are financial sanctions. As with countries like the US, EU, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada, which already have financial sanctions in place, we urge Japan to impose financial sanctions as part of a coordinated approach to put maximum pressure on Burma's leaders. Human Rights Watch supports sanctions, including financial sanctions, targeted at leading officials, both military and civilian, who bear responsibility for abuses. Targeted sanctions don't impose hardship on ordinary people, but do provide leverage if effectively implemented. Going after financial transactions by key individuals in the SPDC and others with close ties to the oil and gas authority and other key revenue-generating entities in Burma will require the dedication of intelligence resources and continual monitoring and adjustment by Japan, as it does by the US and other governments which have imposed financial sanctions. These individuals are at the apex of the system inside Burma and susceptible to this kind of coordinated pressure.

Human Rights Watch also believes Japan, as a leading proponent of human security at the UN Security Council, should pursue openings for targeted military sanctions through the UN Security Council's agenda on children and armed conflict. The Security Council has stated in two resolutions (SC Res. 1539 and Res. 1612) that it will consider bans on the export and supply of small arms, light weapons, and other military equipment and assistance to parties that refuse to end their recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Burmese military retains thousands of children in its ranks and has been identified repeatedly since 2002 by the UN secretary-general for its continued recruitment and use of child soldiers. While the imposition of sanctions by the Security Council against Burma has proven nearly impossible, the children and armed conflict agenda provides a useful avenue for stronger Security Council action. A credible threat of military sanctions can be used as leverage to gain concrete improvements in ending the widespread recruitment and use of children as soldiers.

Humanitarian and Development Aid

On humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch has long called for increased assistance to deal with acute humanitarian needs in Burma. Japan funding can increase on certain conditions outlined below. But first, it is necessary to recognize that the cause of Burma's humanitarian problems is not a lack of available resources. Burma has made gas deals with Thailand that provides the government its largest source of revenue, worth approximately $2 billion annually. A new deal to supply natural gas to China via an overland pipeline will significantly add to that sum. Burma's leaders also count on large earnings from sales of gems and timber, and ongoing hydroelectric projects are expected to generate additional lucrative export revenue.

Despite these large revenue sources, the military government spends next to nothing on the welfare of its people. The largest share of the state budget is allocated to the military, as much as 40 percent, while combined social spending is estimated to be a paltry 0.8 percent of GDP for 2008/09, making public expenditures on health and education in Burma among the lowest in the world. Huge numbers of Burmese live in grinding poverty, brought upon by decades of government economic mismanagement and corruption. For this reason, the suggestion that foreign business investment in Burma would somehow open up the country is fallacious. Foreign investment in Burma is concentrated on the extraction of natural resources and building of hydropower projects. The resulting revenues are largely squandered, stolen, or used for military spending instead of to meet humanitarian and development needs, thereby resulting in the strengthening of those in power and robbing the Burmese people of basic economic and social rights.

Donor discussions with the SPDC over the provision of humanitarian assistance should not neglect the government's ability to contribute substantially to such assistance. Donors should also remember that the purpose of humanitarian aid is humanitarian - to keep people alive and healthy - not political. No one should expect humanitarian aid itself to have a significant political effect in opening up the country or changing the government's policies. Donors will also need to stress the importance of transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian aid, including the need for approaches that strengthen civil society rather than existing corrupt power structures and that respond to the views and needs of ordinary people.

The SPDC does not want to be totally dependent on China. For this reason, it also wants assistance from Japan, the US, and EU. Development aid is a very important incentive for change in Burma. However, we do not believe development aid from Japan or other countries should be made available until there is significant political reform, progress on human rights, better governance, and the possibility of consulting civil society and local communities in setting development goals. Likewise, World Bank lending for development should also not be resumed until these conditions are met. Unfortunately, the SPDC gives priority to development initiatives that are "vanity projects" for its leaders, facilitate abusive military campaigns, and help generate funds to strengthen military rule, when what is needed is development that would alleviate the poverty and deprivation of ordinary citizens.

Helping the Burmese people is one of the most difficult and intractable problems the world has faced in recent decades. We don't underestimate the challenge, but we think a new and principled approach by the international community with Japanese leadership can make a significant difference in the years ahead.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

Burma Continues Rights Abuse on Ethnic Chin Christians Amid Food Crisis

By Joseph Keenan

A new report by a human rights watchdog says that there is widespread human rights abuses by the Burmese Army continue even as much of the population of ethnic Chin Christians are struggling with food crisis in western Burma.

Many ethnic Burmese Chin Christians, who are the main inhabitants of Chin state, have fled to the neighbouring countries due to continued persecutions. The Christians, who have had suffered enough under the military regime had to deal with a rare phenomenon of rat infestation of crops since 2007, causing the food crisis in the state.

Chin Christians claimed that the military regime knew of the impending food crisis that happens once in half a centry, but “took no action” unlike the Indian government who dealt with the same phenomenon in the neihbouring India state of Mizoram and Manipur.

The reported titled, “On the Edge of Survival: Continuing Rat Infestation and Food Crisis,” published Thursday by Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) said that the food shortages, which began in 2007 have spread to seven townships in Chin State and parts of neighboring Sagaing Division with as much as 80 percent of the farmlands destroyed by rats in some areas affected by rat infestation.

“Through utter neglect and continuing practices of human rights abuse, the military regime has turned this natural disaster into a man-made catrastrophe,” says Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization.

Attributed to a one-in-fifty-year cyclical flowering and dying of bamboo and subsequent infestation of rats, the new report says the food shortages in Chin State have been made more acute by arbitrary policies and practices of abuse and repression against Chin civilians at the hands of the Burma Army.

The report noted that despite increased attention to the crisis and involvement by international aid organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP), the response has been limited and even problematic in certain aspects, with thousands of people still unreached by relief efforts, especially the South and Southwest part of Chin state where there is no proper connectivity of road.

Myanmar, the new name for Burma until the junta change it in 1989 is ranked No.24 by Open Doors 2009 Watch List of the top 50 nations that are worst persecutors of Christians. Myanmar has been under the junta since the infamous military coup in 1962.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization specialized in religious freedom around the world in a secret visit to the Burma-Thailand border in May this year said there is rampant violation of human rights and restriction of religious freedom especially those of the minority Christians. It was very similar to the report of CHRO on ethnic Chin Christians.

The CSW report also uncovered forced labour, rape, torture, the destruction of villages, crops and livestock, and the use of human minesweepers at the hands of the military regime are common in states dominated by ethnic minorities like Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni – who are majority Christians.

Christians make up about 4 percent of the estimated 55 million populations of which Baptists are the single largest Christian denomination. It is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country with as many as 89 percent adhering to Buddhism.

Many ethnic Christian minorities who form majority of Burmese Christians have fled the country due to rampant human rights violation and religious persecutions in the country.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Assam rebel group to surrender en masse

GUWAHATI - Hopes for an end to long years of violent bush war brightened in Assam with an influential tribal separatist group deciding to surrender en masse and hold peace talks with New Delhi, officials said here Monday.

A police spokesperson said some 350 cadres and leaders of the outlawed Jewel Garlosa faction of the Dima Haolam Daogah (DHD-J), more popularly known as the Black Widow, have decided to surrender and join the peace process.

“The process is on with 193 Black Widow militants already surrendering their weapons before authorities, while about 157 more are expected to lay down their arms by Monday,” Khagen Sharma, Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence), said.

The Black Widow militants, active in the North Cachar Hills district of southern Assam, had unleashed a reign of terror in the region killing an estimated 100 people so far this year and attacking passenger trains, resulting in suspension of railway services for months.

“The nearly 350 militants would be put up in some designated camps,” Sharma said.

A formal surrender ceremony is expected after Sep 22 when Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi returns from a visit to the US.

The DHD-J was formed in March 2003 following a split in the outfit. The faction led by Jewel Garlosa continued with its fight for an independent homeland for the majority Dimasa tribe, while its rival group led by guerrilla leader Dilip Nunisa entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi.

The decision by the Black Widow to surrender follows an ultimatum by central home minister P. Chidambaram last month to lay down arms by Sep 15 or face a stepped-up military offensive.

The Black Widow suffered a setback with police arresting its chief Jewel Garlosa from Bangalore in June.

“If all their top leaders and cadres surrender then we can expect peace in the region. We welcome their decision to join the peace process,” Nunisa told IANS.

Kalemyo youths flee to Mizoram to evade military training

A number of youths have been forced to flee to Mizoram state in northeast India to avoid being conscripted by the Burmese Army for military training from different areas in Kalemyo, Sagaing division western Burma.

It is learnt that army authorities want at least 10 persons from each village near Kalemyo to attend the military training programme in mid September.

Reluctant to join the training, 12 youths were apprehensive of staying in their villages. They fled to Mizoram. A youth from Tayakaung village said, “We have come here to escape from the army’s dragnet after they ordered village heads to send at least 10 youths from each village. If we had stayed back we would have been included in the military trainee list.”

In fact, the army authorities had drawn up a number of trainee lists for each village depending on its population. Some big villages have to give lists with 30 names for the training programme. On completion of training the trained have to serve as volunteer workers in the police, as firefighters and the USDA (Union Solidarity and Development Association).

Although there is no confirmation about how many youths have fled to Mizoram from Kalemyo areas, 12 have reached the Indian state on September 6.

Meanwhile, military personnel in Kalemyo have been arresting late night street walkers and drunks.

The military training programme has been completed in Matupi Township, southern Chin state in August, but it will be organized in Chikha Township this month.

The military junta is preparing for the forthcoming 2010 general elections in different ways. This military training programme is part of it and it is meant to strengthen block and village level security with the trained youths.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Myanmar refugees at home with downtown church

A benefit garage sale is being planned to raise funds for several members of a congregation of Myanmar refugees.

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The sale is set for Sept. 12 at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, 1201 N Robinson, where the Chin Baptist Church has been holding services.
Brian McAtee, First Baptist’s minister with global peoples, said the downtown Oklahoma City church had been working with the refugees since July 2008 when a local refugee resettlement group indicated some refugees wanted to connect with a Baptist church in the Oklahoma City metro area. The refugees come from Chin, a state in western Myanmar.
"They had a strong Baptist heritage and were looking for a spiritual home,” McAtee said.
He said the Chin church members are among many refugees who came under persecution by the ruling military powers in Myanmar, also known as Burma. He said missionaries report that a large percentage of the Chin people are Christian. Many are Baptist, he said, due to the success of American Baptist missionaries more than a century ago.
"The Chin were one of the more successful outreaches for these missionaries,” McAtee said.
McAtee said the Chin church held its first church service in February at First Baptist. He said it has its own pastor and board of deacons, and members make up a hardworking, friendly congregation.
He said several members of the congregation were involved in a serious car accident in July, and a portion of the garage sale proceeds will help cover their medical bills. He said some of the accident victims had only been in Oklahoma a few weeks and did not have jobs.
Navigating the health care system has been difficult for the refugees because of language barriers, McAtee said. Also, he said the refugees do not understand how the health care system works.
McAtee said people who want to help can donate items to sell at the garage sale or just plan to attend the event and buy things.
He said the refugee congregation has had a positive effect on the First Baptist congregation, and the latter group wanted to raise funds to make things better for those involved in the accident.
"They’ve had a profound impact on our congregation — their faith, just their spirit of worship — because of their journey,” McAtee said.
"They’ve dealt directly with persecution. They’ve been run out of town. Their churches have been burned. It’s a very unique story for most of us Westerners, who don’t deal with that stuff all the time.”