Children from Christian families in Burma between the ages of five and ten have been lured from their homes and placed in Buddhist monasteries.
Once taken in, their heads have been shaved and they have been trained as novice monks, never to see their parents again.
In a visit to Chin and Kachin refugees in New Delhi and Mizoram State, India, earlier this month, Christian Solidarity Worldwide heard accounts of cultural genocide and religious persecution and discrimination. The Burmese regimeís forces reportedly offer incentives to impoverished villagers to convert from Christianity to Buddhism in Chin state, an area which is 90 percent Christian.
Mountain top crosses have been destroyed and villagers forced to build Buddhist pagodas in their place, often having to contribute finances and labour.
Christians are required to obtain permits for special events, and for any renovation or construction work. No permission for new church buildings has been given since 1994. Christians in the civil service are discriminated against, and no Christian can rise beyond the rank of Major in the regimeís army.
In addition to overt religious persecution, the Burmese junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has adopted a deliberate policy of introducing crude alcohol to Chin State. The Chin culture forbids alcohol, but the SPDC has brought in large quantities of methylated spirits/industrial alcohol, which it sells cheaply on the streets to teenagers and young parents, especially on Sundays when people go to church. The medical effects include addiction, jaundice, toxic liver failure and damage to brain cells, in some cases leading ultimately to death. One Chin Christian told the CSW delegation, ìIt causes the breakdown of body, mind, spirit and society.î
Forced labour, a serious human rights violation, occurs ìon a daily basisî, often disrupting church and community activities. CSW received a copy of a recent letter from an SPDC commander to a village headman dated December 13 2003, demanding 40 porters from one village and 30 from another. In another area of Chin State, villagers were forced to porter from December 20 2003 until January 19 2004, and were therefore unable to celebrate Christmas and New Year in their communities.
The visit was conducted jointly by CSW-UK and CSW-Australia. CSW is one of only a handful of international organisations to visit the Chin and Kachin. One Chin refugee told the delegation: ìMany foreigners go to Burmaís eastern border in Thailand, but until now no one has come to us. We used to pray for foreign NGOs to come to the western borders, and we used to weep when no one came.î A Kachin refugee said: ìIt is true that we feel we are known by no one.î The Chairman of the Chin National Front said: ìYour coming here is a God-send.î
CSW is calling on the international community to respond to these reports of human rights violations in western Burma, which add to the catalogue of evidence of atrocities perpetrated throughout the country by the junta.
ìThe forgotten Chin and Kachin peoples of Burma urgently need their voice to be heard,î said Baroness Cox, a deputy speaker of the British House of Lords and CSW-UKís Honorary President, who led the delegation to India. ìWe appeal to the international community to increase pressure on the regime to stop its policies of ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, cultural genocide, forced labour and torture. We also urge other international Non-Governmental Organisations currently providing humanitarian assistance on the Thai-Burmese border to consider taking up the plight of the refugees and Internally Displaced People in the western regions of Burma too.î
CSW has been working with the Karen, Karenni and Shan internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in eastern Burma, and refugees on the Thai-Burmese border, for over a decade. More recently, CSW has become increasingly concerned about the situation in western Burma, and in the past year has developed relations with Chin and Kachin communities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
CSWís visit to India was facilitated by the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO). In New Delhi, the delegation met Chin and Kachin refugees, as well as the British Deputy High Commissioner and the Chief of Mission of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In Mizoram, the group met Chin refugees, pastors, community development workers, backpack health workers, leaders of the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Chief Minister of Mizoram State.