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CSW and HART Report on Crisis in Burma

ICC Note: HART and CSW Return From Fact-Finding Visit To India-Burma Border With New Evidence Of Humanitarian Crisis In Chin State

By Dan Wooding

12/3/09 Burma (ANS) — A news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says that chronic food shortages and continuing severe human rights violations are taking place in Chin and Kachin states in Burma.

Fresh evidence of the need for humanitarian assistance and international action was presented during a recent fact finding visit by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) to the India-Burma border. In some areas international funds for emergency food relief channeled through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are allegedly being provided as loans, instead of aid, to malnourished villagers, repayable at 200 per cent interest.

“Over the past two years Chin State has been devastated by a chronic food shortage caused by the flowering of bamboo, a natural phenomenon which occurs every fifty years,” said a spokesperson for CSW. “The bamboo flowering attracts plagues of rats, which then destroy rice fields, rice supplies and almost all means of survival for the local population. The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) estimates that at least 100,000 people in over 200 villages are severely affected.”

The delegation led by Baroness Caroline Cox, Chief Executive of HART was told by representatives of the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee that in at least 17 villages in Paletwa Township, the worst affected part of Chin State, the local UNDP have distributed international funds in the form of loans, instead of providing food aid. Villagers claim they have been told they must repay twice the amount they are given, either in cash or in rice bags. CSW and HART have written to UNDP to request an urgent investigation.

The delegation, which also met with Kachin refugees, received evidence from Kachin and Chin states of religious persecution, forced labour and attempted “cultural genocide”.

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia Team Leader, said: “The plight of the Chin people of Burma is desperate. They are facing severe poverty, drastically compounded by a chronic food shortage and lack of health care, as well as cultural genocide, religious persecution, rape and forced labour. It is time for the international community, including India, to act decisively to provide political and humanitarian support to the people of Burma, including the Chin. India, the world’s largest democracy, must stop siding with one of the world’s most oppressive regimes.

“The international community must intensify efforts to secure a transition to genuine federal democracy, in which equal rights for Burma’s ethnic nationalities are fully guaranteed. We renew our call for a universal arms embargo, a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity, and international humanitarian assistance to the ethnic nationalities who so desperately and urgently need aid to prevent further loss of life and suffering.”

Dan Wooding interviews Baroness Caroline Cox during a visit she previously made to Southern California

Baroness Cox said: “Burma’s military regime must be called to account for gross human rights violations, and required to immediately release democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all 2,000-plus political prisoners. The junta’s crimes include a campaign of cultural genocide against the Chin people. As part of that campaign, the junta is deliberately denying access to health care and education in many parts of Chin State.

“The humanitarian crisis facing the Chin people is dire and requires urgent action. Furthermore, it is vital that India be persuaded to stop uncritically supporting the regime in Burma and instead provide support to the people of Burma. It is essential that all initiatives to promote democracy in Burma must fully involve all the ethnic national peoples, who comprise 40 percent of the population of Burma and who have endured systematic violations of human rights, as the military regime pursues its policies of Burmanization and the forced imposition of Buddhism.”