‘Both Tatmadaw and AA forces commit human rights abuses’: Salai Terah Thanthuang

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Khonumthung News speaks to the field director of the Chin Human Rights Organization about the current situation in Chin State. 

Clashes between the Burma Army and the insurgent Arakan Army (AA) have been taking place in southern Chin State’s Paletwa Township for more than four years now. Thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes, and numerous human rights abuses have been reported in the conflict-affected area. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) lack sufficient humanitarian assistance, in large part because of the Burma Army’s restrictions on the transport of rice into the township. To learn more about these and other human rights issues related to the ongoing conflict, Khonumthung News spoke to Salai Terah Thantluang, the field director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

Question: How prevalent are human rights abuses in the conflict-affected area? What are some of the worst abuses being committed?

Answer:The Burma Army and AA forces have been clashing in Paletwa Township since March 2015. Both sides have committed human rights abuses there. 

Rice restrictions imposed by the Tatmadaw (Burma Army) in Paletwa have been really hard on local people. In some cases, the army has also forced locals to act as porters, or as guides on the front line. Some have been killed by landmines. In some places, the Tatmadaw has imposed curfews.

AA forces have threatened local people. They have also taken rice, pigs, chickens, and mobile phones from them. They abducted 52 villagers from King-talin village. These villagers are forced to work in their military camp. It’s really bad. A 60-year old grandmother died in their custody.

As a consequence of the fighting, 118 schools have been shut down. That’s another really bad impact of the conflict.

Q: Hundreds of Chin IDPs have taken refuge in Meezar village. Has your organization recorded any of the human rights abuses that they faced?

A:IDPs in Meezar village were forced to be porters, but the Burma Army gave them a small amount of money. We have not recorded any other other human rights abuse in their case. 

Q: Do you think the Tatmadaw’s rice restrictions in Paletwa constitute a human rights abuse? Does the CHRO have any plans to try to resolve this issue?

A: The Tatmadaw’s rice restriction is one of the worst human rights abuses, because it threatens people’s basic right to food, which all human beings must have to live.

Q: What do you think about the Internet blackout in Rakhine State and Paletwa Township, from a human rights perspective?

A: The Internet blackout in some townships in Rakhine State and in Paletwa Township in Chin State was imposed by the Burmese government in order to block people’s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of information. Democratic governments should not do something like this. It’s a human rights violation. 

Q: What do you think about the fact that there are AA forces based in Chin State launching military operations here?

A:Well, everybody knows that the AA is struggling for the Rakhine people. By opening a military frontline in Paletwa, they seem to be bullying Chin people and looking down on them. Therefore, AA forces should deeply consider the long-term effects of their actions. We don’t want to see interethnic conflict between the Rakhine and Chin peoples in the future.

Q: What has the CHRO done about the case of the King-talin who were abducted by the AA and taken to the Bangladesh border?

A:Regarding the abduction of the 52 King-talin villagers, we have already released several statements. We have repeatedly demanded that the AA release them.

Q: The AA forces said the King-talin villagers are very happy in the Bangladesh border area. They even posted a video clip about it on social media. What is your response to this? 

A:Twelve King-talin villagers escaped from AA camps in June, and what they’ve said about their experience is completely different from what the AA forces have been saying. There are many differences between their two versions, so we need to think about this. 

Q: Recently, India’s Mizoram State deported Chin villagers who had taken refuge in the state’s Lawngtlai District back to Burma. What, if anything, can you do to help them?

A:As a human rights organization, what we can do is report this case to international and local organizations. The Mizoram authorities deported more than 200 Chin refugees back to Burma. As part of a democratic nation, the Mizoram government should not have done this. It’s like they are pushing refugees into a death trap. They should respect human rights.

Q: The CHRO records cases of human rights abuses, releases statements, and publishes reports. What other activities do you have? 

A: We also work for advocacy when we meet with representatives of UN organizations, international NGOs and local NGOs. 

Q: The civil war in Burma has continued for 70 years already. Why do human rights abuses continue to happen in our country? Who is responsible?

A:The root cause of the civil war in Burma is a political problem. Stakeholders have tried to solve political problems by military means. That’s why civil war is continuing in our country. To end the civil war, Burma must build “a genuine federal union based on national equality”. After that, the civil war will end. The government should focus on the good of people and stand with the truth.

Q: What should Chin people do to reduce human rights abuses in Chin State? 

A:We need to hold human rights awareness campaigns in Chin State. We have to share knowledge about human rights. Then we have to monitor human rights abuses and report them widely. I am sure that abuses will be reduced this way.

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