Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BURMA: new report exposes religious persecution of ethnic Chin Christians

On 5 September, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) released an important and impressive report that will surely make a valuable contribution to the debate around Burmese reforms. The Chin are a Christian people with a strong Christian culture. And as CHRO's programme director, Salai Za Uk Ling points out: "Chins continue to face religious persecution. Despite strong government reforms, these efforts have yet to be extended to religious freedom."

Burma expert Benedict Rogers remarks in his Foreword, that while there are positive signs and grounds for optimism, "there is a danger of premature euphoria. . . . There is still a very long way to go," says Rogers. "The change of atmosphere has not yet resulted in a change of system."

Rogers, who has written widely on Burma and is Christian Solidarity Worldwide's East Asia Team Leader, rightly notes: "One of the most under-reported aspects of Burma's human rights record has been the regime's discrimination and persecution of religious minorities and violations of religious freedom."

Threats to our Existence: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma
Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) 5 September 2012

According to CHRO, "The denial of religious freedom – particularly for minority groups such as the Rohingya Muslims and Chin Christians – is rooted in discrimination on the dual basis of ethnicity and religion. This endemic discrimination is arguably a product of extreme Burman nationalism based on a distorted version of Buddhism, held by Burma's military rulers." (page 6)

". . . the denial of religious freedom by the authorities in Burma today must be understood in the context of extreme Burman nationalism predicated on a distorted version of Buddhism, characterized by the SLORC/SPDC regime. Widespread restrictions on freedom of religion were a central pillar of SLORC/SPDC’s drive to ethnically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously homogenize the ethnic minority areas of the Union of Burma as part of an unwritten forced assimilation policy." (page 16)

Chapter 4 of the report (pages 43-82) provides case studies of the discrimination, repression and persecution suffered by Chin Christians. Cases cover the closure of churches, the destruction of crosses, the disruption of worship services and conferences, the intimidation and harassment of pastors and missionaries, the sexual violence and torture being committed against church workers and Christian civilians, and the exploitation of Chin civilians in forced labour -- includes portering for the Burmese Army and building Buddhist pagodas, monasteries and statues all throughout the state.

The whole of Chapter 5 (pages 83-112) focuses on the induced and coerced conversion of Chin Christians to Buddhism. Systematic discrimination and persecution creates crippling poverty and hardship, which in turn presents the state with an opportunity. As the government offers free education and food through Buddhist monasteries and to those who convert, suffering families feel great pressure. This is also why it is in the government's interests to keep the ethnic-religious minority regions poor, hungry and deprived.

For two excellent summaries, see:

Christian Chin ‘Coerced to Buddhism by State’
By Charlie Campbell, for The Irrawaddy, 5 Sept 2012

Christians face systematic discrimination in Chin state
By HANNA HINDSTROM, 5 September 2012
Democratic Voice of Burma