Friday, March 4, 2011

Chin Refugees Get Surprise Visit from UN Rights Expert

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma Tomas Quintana made an unannounced trip to Malaysia last week, meeting with Chin community-based organizations and hearing personal stories of human rights abuses from individual refugees.
The visit to Malaysia came ahead of Quintana’s upcoming report to the Human Rights Council in March, where the UN rights expert is likely to raise human rights issues specific to the Chins. The visit coincided with the celebration of the 63rd anniversary of Chin National Day that saw the largest festive gathering of ethnic Chins outside of Chin State.
The Argentinian lawyer spent four days in the Malaysian capital, including a two-day meeting with refugees and community-based organizations. He also met with the Malaysian Foreign Ministry as part of his ongoing mandate to address the human rights situation in Burma.
“During my visit I talked to many people who had recently left Myanmar [Burma] fleeing forced labor, land and property confiscation, arbitrary taxation, religious and ethnic discrimination, arbitrary detention, as well as sexual and gender-based violence,” Quintana said.
The rights expert interviewed a dozen individual Chin refugees whose testimonies added further evidence to the long list of ongoing persecution and widespread human rights abuses against ethnic Chins in western Burma. Among the testimonies was the case of a young man who fled the country after 15 years of portering and forced labor for the military. Another prominent Chin woman religious leader testified about the systematic denial of religious freedom for Chin Christians, including one particular incident in which she was forced to read a statement at a televised event denying allegations of restrictions on freedom of religion, against her will.
“We are very pleased that the Special Rapporteur took notice of the situation of the Chins, and made a special effort to visit the Chin community in Malaysia. We hope that the Chin will be the focus of his next report to the UN Human Rights Council,” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), who also met with the Special Rapporteur during his visit to Malaysia last week.
In January the CHRO participated in a lobby mission to Geneva during  the Universal Periodic Review, where Burma’s rights record for the past four years was examined by the UN Human Rights Council. During the visit to Geneva, CHRO also met with officials at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the various Special Procedues mandate holders, including staff working with Tomas Quintana.
Burma’s Problems Transcend National Borders
At the end of his eight-day visit to Malaysia the UN rights expert concluded: “There is clearly an extra-territorial dimension to the human rights problem in Myanmar [Burma]. Despite the promise of the transition in Myanmar [Burma], the human rights situation remains grave.” He said that countries in the region have a particular interest in addressing the human rights problems in Burma, as hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrant workers continue to spill into neighboring countries.
Country Visit Denied
The fourth rights expert to be appointed by the United Nations to report on the situation of human rights in Burma since the mandate was instituted in 1992, Tomas Ojea Quintana has made three country visits to Burma. In his last report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2010, Quintana infuriated the ruling Burmese generals by calling for the establishment of a UN-led Commission of Inquiry that would investigate allegations of crime against humanity and war crimes being committed in Burma. Official requests for a fourth visit to Burma have not yet been given a positive response by Burma’s ruling military regime.