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Burma ‘s Kachin Christians Face Discrimination, Rape, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking

CSW (09/07/06) – Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) returned this week from a fact-finding visit to Kachin State in northern Burma with fresh evidence of violations of religious freedom and human rights against the largely Christian ethnic group.

In its report, released today, CSW highlights restrictions on the construction, extension or renovation of churches, and widespread discrimination against Kachin Christians in Government positions.

One Kachin pastor told CSW that Burma ’s ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), “hates Kachins because we are Christians.” In October 2005, the SPDC’s Northern Commander, Brigadier-General Ohn Myint, reportedly said in a speech that he did not want to see any crosses or other Christian symbols on roadsides in Kachin State .

Rape, forced labour, land confiscation and forced relocation continue to be “widespread and regular”. According to one Kachin, “rape happens in every area where there is an SPDC army camp.” In January this year, for example, a Kachin woman was raped at gun-point by a soldier of SPDC Light Infantry Battalion 37. The trafficking of Kachin women from Burma into China, often to be sold as “wives” or sex slaves, is also widespread and alarming, with more than 50 cases reported so far this year. Since March, 12 Kachin women have been rescued, four from the China-North Korea border.

In an interview with CSW, a former Burma Army Major who has defected confirmed the widespread use of rape by the SPDC, and the use of child soldiers. He said that SPDC soldiers are given a quota of new soldiers to recruit each month, to help the army expand. Soldiers go to railway stations, bus stations and other public locations and simply grab whoever they can find. “Sometimes the children are so young that they still pee in the night,” he said. “That gives you an idea of the age of the youngest child soldiers.” They also take elderly men who are not really fit to serve as soldiers. “Many of the recruits are too young or too old to be in the army,” the defector said.

Reports continue to emerge of gross human rights violations in other parts of Burma as well. Last week, the Free Burma Rangers reported the killing of 22 civilians in Nyaunglebin district, Karen State , between March and July this year, and a continuing military offensive in Papun district. The Free Burma Rangers also reported on violations in Shan State , including the rape of a nine-year old girl in October 2004.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said: “This has been a ground-breaking visit but we know we have barely scratched the surface. Burma ’s junta is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights, and we intend to continue to do all we can to help the people of Burma , including the Kachins, tell the world of their plight. It is essential that the international community recognise the desperate situation in Burma , and take action by bringing the issue to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. The Kachins’ resistance movement, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), has had a ceasefire with the SPDC since 1994 after fighting a 32-year armed struggle.

2. In 2005, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) published Driven Away: Trafficking of Kachin Women on the China-Burma Border, documenting 63 cases involving 85 women and girls.

3. Burma has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, over 70,000 children have been forcibly conscripted into the Burma Army.

4. The Free Burma Rangers (FBR) are a relief organisation providing emergency medical and food supplies to the internally displaced people. They also document and report human rights violations. For more information, please visit www.freeburmarangers.org

5. CSW has been campaigning for a UN Security Council discussion and resolution on Burma since the publication of the report Threat to the Peace, commissioned by former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu and published by global law firm DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary in September 2005. The US has been leading efforts to bring the issue of Burma to the UN Security Council, and reiterated its support for this initiative last week. The UK also supports UN Security Council action.

6. CSW has made many visits to the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic groups on the Thai-Burmese border and two visits to the Chin people on the India-Burma border. This was CSW’s first visit to the Kachin on the China-Burma border.