January 28, 2009

I. Summary

[The military intelligence officers] tied my hands together and hung me from the ceiling. They used sticks to beat me. They had a tub of water and they covered my face with a cloth and would dunk my head under the water until I fell unconscious. When I regained consciousness, they would do it again. For the entire week, they didn't give me any water for drinking. I was so thirsty so I told them I wanted to use the toilet. When I got to the toilet I drank the toilet water.
-Former Chin political prisoner from Hakha township, Chin State, Burma
The army has called me many times to porter, more than 10 times. When I cannot carry their bags, they beat me. [The soldiers] get angry and slap us and kick us. They tell us to go faster. When I tried to refuse, they beat me. They said, 'You are living under our authority. You have no choice. You must do what we say.'
-Chin woman from Thantlang township, Chin State, Burma
We need protection. We can be deported back at any time by the Mizoram government or the YMA [Young Mizo Association]. Most of us will be killed or permanently jailed if we are deported to Burma. We are refugees, but we are not recognized as such.
-Chin refugee leader living in Lunglei, Mizoram, India

On the morning of October 20, 2007, L.H.L., a 28-year-old Chin university student, was leaving his village in Thantlang township to pay his exam fees at Kalaymyo University when Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) soldiers stopped him and ordered him to carry their rice rations to the next village, a three-hour journey by foot. When L.H.L. refused, the soldiers beat him and forced him to porter their bags of rice.

Upon arriving at the village, the soldiers ordered L.H.L. to continue to carry their supplies to an army camp several days away by foot. When L.H.L. refused, the soldiers ordered the local police to arrest him. He spent one week in a police lock-up confined to a small cell and provided with little food. To gain his release, the police forced L.H.L. to pay 300,000 Burmese Kyat (US$255) and sign a statement agreeing to comply with military orders and to refuse any contact with the ethnic opposition under penalty of re-arrest. Before being released, the police confiscated his national identity card. Without an identity card, L.H.L. could not travel outside his village. No longer able to attend university and living as a de facto prisoner in his village in fear of re-arrest, L.H.L. fled Chin State. Prior to this incident L.H.L. had served as a porter and forced laborer for the military more than 30 times.

L.H.L.'s account is one of many accounts from Chin State, Burma, where abuses have led tens of thousands to flee, mostly to India, but also to Malaysia and Thailand. The perpetrators are largely members of the Burmese Army, or Tatmadaw, and other agents of the military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Ethnic communities in Burma have long borne the brunt of abusive military rule, which has prevailed in the country since General Ne Win staged a coup against the democratically elected government in 1962. This report documents ongoing human rights abuses and repression in Burma's western Chin State, which borders India. The conditions faced by ethnic Chin are largely underreported, in part due to restrictions imposed by the military government and the inaccessibility of the region.

Chins interviewed by Human Rights Watch in India and Malaysia between 2005 and 2008 provided reports of serious abuse perpetrated by the Tatmadaw and SPDC government. These include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and mistreatment, forced labor, severe reprisals against members of the opposition, restrictions on movement, expression, and religious freedom, abusive military conscription policies, and extortion and confiscation of property. To a lesser extent, Chin interviewees reported that Chin opposition groups, such as the Chin National Front (CNF) and its armed division the Chin National Army (CNA), extort money and commit other abuses against Chin civilians. 

In addition to the abuses perpetrated by the Tatmadaw, policies and practices of the military government have undermined the ability of Chin people to survive in Burma. Demands for forced labor by the military regularly disrupt people's trade, businesses, and daily work. Chin farmers and their families, who rely on their harvests for sustenance and livelihood, are particularly affected by the regular demands for forced labor. Arbitrary fees and extortion by the SPDC further hinder the ability to own, hold, and dispose of personal property and income. Ethnic and religious discrimination by the SPDC limit Chin Christians from obtaining better paying government jobs and promotions. Increased militarization of Chin State since 1988 when thousands were killed and imprisoned in a nationwide uprising against the military government has resulted in more abuses, causing many Chin to flee Burma.

This report also examines the discrimination and abuses Chin face in Mizoram State in India at the hands of voluntary associations and Mizoram authorities, and the continuing lack of protection for Chin refugees there. Mizoram State in India, which shares a 404-kilometer border with Chin State, is the primary destination for Chin fleeing from Chin State. According to Chin community leaders and long-time residents of Mizoram, the Chin population in Mizoram is estimated to be as high as 100,000, about 20 percent of the total Chin population in Chin State. In addition to proximity, the people of Chin State and Mizoram also share a common history and ethnic ancestry, making Mizoram a particularly attractive place for Chin to seek refuge.

Although most Chin go to Mizoram to escape ongoing human rights abuses and persecution, Chin in Mizoram also face abuses, severe discrimination, and religious repression. In part due to discrimination and their lack of legal status, they also face serious obstacles to finding jobs, housing, and affordable education. During periodic "anti-foreigner" campaigns, Mizo voluntary associations and the Mizoram authorities target the Chin and threaten them with forcible return to Burma. Thousands of Chins have been rounded up and forcibly returned by Mizo voluntary associations and Mizoram authorities.

Chin in Mizoram lack basic protection of their rights and adequate humanitarian assistance. India does not offer protections promised to refugees under international law. India has not signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, and the Chin face discrimination and threats of forced return by Mizo voluntary associations in collusion with the Mizoram authorities.

Only those who make the 2,460-kilometer trek to New Delhi, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has an office, may have their refugee claims decided and be considered for resettlement to third countries. So far about 1,800 Chin have made their way to New Delhi, of whom UNHCR has recognized 1,000 as refugees. As many as 30,000 Chin have fled to Malaysia hoping to obtain UNHCR recognition.

In Mizoram, the state and federal governments do not recognize the Chin living along the border as refugees and bar UNHCR from accessing them. Although India is not a party to the Refugee Convention, it is nevertheless bound by customary law to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which protects refugees and asylum seekers from being returned to any country where their lives or freedoms would be threatened.

With continuing reports of abuses and severe food shortages spreading throughout the impoverished Chin State, it is unlikely that the exodus from Chin State will slow anytime soon. Without acceptance by the Mizo population, protection by the Indian and Mizoram government, or access to outside humanitarian assistance, the Chin in Mizoram live in constant uncertainty. According to one Chin woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Mizoram, India, "we are like forgotten people."

The only hope for many Chin is change in Burma. For change to occur, the Burmese government should:

·End all human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced labor, severe reprisals against members of the opposition, restrictions on movement, expression, and religious freedom,  extortion, abusive military conscription policies, and confiscation of property without due process or adequate compensation.

·Develop a legal framework to investigate, prosecute, and address abuses.

·Allow United Nations (UN) and humanitarian agencies unfettered access to all areas of Chin State.

Considering the prolonged presence of the Chin community in Mizoram and the likelihood of continued flows of Chin into Mizoram from Burma, Human Rights Watch urges the Indian government and Mizoram state government to:

  • Prevent all arbitrary arrests, forced evictions, assaults, acts of intimidation, and forcible returns of Chin people by Mizoram authorities and Mizo voluntary associations, such as the YMA.
  • Allow UNHCR access to asylum seekers and refugees living on the Mizoram-Burma border. 
  • Establish a process for Chin to obtain work permits and ensure labor protections extend to Chin laborers. Create accessible complaint mechanisms for Chin workers who face discrimination or abuse in the workplace. Remove and rehabilitate children involved in hazardous occupations in accordance with Indian law.
  • Ensure all children have access to primary education without requiring proof of legal identity.

 

A more detailed set of recommendations are included at the end of this report.

Methodology

Conducting on-site research into human rights abuses in Burma is an especially difficult task, not least because of the security risks to victims and witnesses. While the ruling SPDC does not bar foreign tourists or nongovernmental organizations from traveling to or operating in Chin State, it does restrict movement in many rural areas of the state. Permission is required from national and local authorities. Foreigners are often under close scrutiny, and few foreign journalists have been able to report from Chin State in the past several years. Burmese citizens who speak with foreign journalists and researchers face serious consequences, including loss of livelihood, arrest, detention, and torture. For these reasons, all interviews for this report were conducted in India, Malaysia, and Thailand.

In preparing this report, Human Rights Watch conducted approximately 140 interviews with members of the Chin community, including 42 Chin women and six Chin children, Chin refugee and community leaders, representatives of Chin nongovernmental organizations, and many others. Researchers conducted interviews between January 2005 and October 2008 in India, specifically in New Delhi, Mizoram, Manipur, and Meghalaya. Human Rights Watch conducted additional interviews with Chin leaders and members of the community in Thailand and Malaysia during 2008. Although some interviewees had lived in exile for years, the majority of those interviewed for this report had fled Burma since 2006 and were able to provide information on current conditions in Chin State, Burma. Interviewees included Chin cross-border traders who continue to live in Burma, new refugees who fled Burma in 2008, as well as older refugees who fled Burma as earlier as 1988.

Interviews were conducted in English, Burmese, and various Chin dialects, including Lai, Falam, Matu, and Mara. As many interviewees continue to lack protection and may be subject to reprisals, Human Rights Watch has withheld the names and identifying information of the interviewees. Where possible and in a majority of cases, interviews were conducted on a one-on-one basis. All those interviewed were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways in which the data would be used, and orally consented to be interviewed. All were told that they could decline to answer questions or could end the interview at any time. None received compensation.

This report examines human rights and livelihood issues in Chin State and parts of Sagaing Division, a neighboring area in Burma with a substantial Chin population, the resulting exodus from Chin State and Sagaing Division to the India's northeastern state of Mizoram, and the protection and livelihood problems they face in Mizoram. It does not examine the livelihood and protection issues faced by Chin in New Delhi, or of those who have gone to other countries, such as Thailand or Malaysia.

Human Rights Watch sought the perspective of the Mizoram state government by sending a letter by fax to the Chief Minister of Mizoram State, copied to the Indian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and the Indian Ambassador to the United States in October 2008. The same month Human Rights Watch also sent a letter by fax and email to the New Delhi office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The letters aimed to obtain data and solicit views on the human rights situation of Chins in India, and the policies and procedures for granting them refugee status or returning them to Burma. In December 2008, Human Rights Watch resent the letters. There was no response from Indian government officials. On December 17, UNHCR confirmed receipt by email, but stated it did not receive the original fax. The fax was resent on December 17, 2008. No further reply was received. (See section VIII Appendix for copies of the letters).