Representatives from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) returned this week from a fact-finding visit to Kachin State in northern Burma, citing fresh evidence of extreme violations of religious freedom and human rights, particularly against the largely Christian ethnic group there.
In its report, released Thursday, CSW highlighted restrictions on the construction, extension or renovation of churches, and widespread discrimination against Kachin Christians in government positions.
One Kachin pastor told CSW that Burmas ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), hates Kachins because we are Christians.
In October 2005, the SPDCs 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.
In June of this year, more than thirty non-governmental organizations from across twenty different countries worldwide united in a call to the United Nations to take urgent action on the violent conflict continuing in Burma.
In the letter, the NGOs praised the U.N. for the first ever briefings it held in December 2005 and May 2006 to discuss the situation in Burma which they described as a tremendous first step in addressing Burmas crisis.
They added, however, that, Now the U.N. Security Council must follow up on that first step and take action."
CSW reported that rape, forced labor, 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, reavealed CSW.
In an interview with CSW, a former Burma army major who 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.
The CSW representatives said that 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.
CSWs Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said: This has been a groundbreaking visit but we know we have barely scratched the surface. Burmas junta is one of the worlds 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 recognize the desperate situation in Burma, and take action by bringing the issue to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.