Mizzima: Indian aid raises concerns in Chin State

Indian aid raises concerns in Chin State (click to view article)

Concerns have been raised over financial aid provided by the Indian government for development as it will be channeled through the Ministry for Border Affairs.

"It is good that India is willing to help develop Chin State," a Chin community leader and Christian pastor told Chinland Guardian. "What is more important is that their assistance does not end up in the hands that make no benefits to the people."

Also speaking to Chinland Guardian, Rachel Fleming, the advocacy director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said, "These Indian funds must not be used to construct 'Na Ta La' [Buddhist education] schools, as our research shows that the right to freedom of religion or belief is not upheld at those Ministry for Border Affairs schools, run by the military."

The concerns are understandable: the people of Chin State are the poorest in the country. Unemployment now stands at 73 percent. A severe food crisis has rocked the region, and INGO workers are constantly alerting the international community to reports of human rights abuses by the Myanmar military, and a systemic process of religious persecution against the majority Christian Chins.

The UNICEF Representative in Myanmar, Bertrand Bainvel, visited Falam Township and state capital Hakha on February 20, which was Chin National Day. He said he observed that some progress had been made in the areas of children's health, nutrition and education.

"The new inclusive and people-centered commitment to development by the government of Myanmar represents an unprecedented opportunity for children in Myanmar, especially the most vulnerable, through the 5-year State Development Plans," he said.

Speaking with Chin State Chief Minister Hung Ngai, Bainvel agreed that the decentralization effort in Myanmar offers a unique opportunity to place people at the center of development and to help the most vulnerable.

However, Andrea Gittleman, the senior legislative counsel for Washington-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), told Mizzima that apart from the physical problems, one of the underlying issues that needed to be addressed in Chin State is the mental health of a populace reeling from decades of abuse under military occupation.

"PHR's research in Chin State found that approximately 92 percent of households surveyed reported forced labor during the one-year survey period, and most of these crimes were committed by the Burma Army," she said. "The study demonstrated that human rights violations can be high even in regions where there is no active armed conflict. To date there has been no effective accountability mechanism to properly address the abuses of the past, deter future crimes, nor provide victims with appropriate redress and reparation."

Bill Davis, the former Burma Project Director for PHR agreed. "A vast majority of the people of Chin State—over 90 percent—have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of previous regimes of the Burmese government, and, I'm sorry to say, also at the hands of the current regime," he said.

"In addition to widespread forced labor, religious persecution is a huge problem. Chin refugees that PHR interviewed in India last year said that they don't trust the new government, and because of this they do not plan to return to Burma," he said.

PHR called on the Thein Sein government to address abuses committed by previous regimes. "The worst thing the government could do is pretend that nothing bad happened to Chin people over the last 60 years," said Davis. "Constantly treating Chin people like second-class citizens is not only a violation of their political rights, but is also detrimental to their mental health."