British Parliamentarians witness human rights atrocities on India-Burma border

Two British Parliamentarians returned last week from a historic visit to the India-Burma border with reports of gross human rights violations by Burma's military regime against the Chin people.

The visit was organised by human rights group, Christians Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), and coincided with the escalating protests across the country.

John Bercow MP, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma, and Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the House of Lords and CEO of HART, visited Chin refugees on the India-Burma border with a delegation from CSW UK, CSW Australia and HART.

The visit was the first time a member of the British House of Commons has visited the Chin people and is the third visit for Baroness Cox and CSW.

Baroness Cox said: "It is time to turn rhetoric into action. The UN Security Council must set out specific objectives to be met by the regime, with clear timelines and benchmarks. If the regime fails to meet such goals, including the release of political prisoners by a specific date, it should face increased sanctions. "

She called on Burma's neighbours, particularly India, China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to use their influence with the regime to bring an end to what she called the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military.

"In particular, India should re-examine its conscience and stop providing arms and military training to the regime," she said. "India should also reconsider its economic investments in Burma, until a meaningful transition to democracy is underway. The suffering of the people of Burma has gone on too long with too little action."

The delegation heard firsthand accounts of horrific forms of torture, conditions in prison camps, forced labour, rape, religious persecution, forced marriage and cultural genocide.

According to one witness, prisoners in Chin State face even more severe torture and living conditions than in other prisons because it is a more isolated part of the country. He described how prisoners are shackled and chained, yoked like oxen and forced to plough fields and if they attempt to escape they are placed on a fire to burn, stabbed with knives, and then forced into a tub of salt water.

One witness told the delegation how he had been arrested and hung upside down for an entire night, with soldiers beating him and banging his body against a pillar continuously.

Another man was beaten so badly he is now paralysed. Numerous further testimonies of torture, forced labour and sexual violence are documented in CSW's report on the visit, which was released this week.

Commenting on the visit, John Bercow said: "The military dictatorship in Burma is notorious for its savage human rights abuses. The desperate suffering of the ethnic nationals in eastern Burma has been extensively catalogued, but this compelling report draws on extensive eye-witness accounts to highlight just how grievously the Chin people are suffering at the hands of Burma's sadistic tyrants.

"These proud but vulnerable people need help now. This report is a call to the international community to speak with one voice and demand that the dictatorship in Burma stop terrorising its people."

Benedict Rogers, Advocacy Officer for South Asia at CSW, who organised the visit and authored the report, said: "The visit and subsequent report come at a time when the world's attention is once again on Burma. The country is witnessing the biggest protest movement against the regime in a decade. Over 200 people have been arrested, yet Buddhist monks are continuing to march in the streets.

"CSW is delighted that the United Nations Security Council held an informal meeting last week to discuss the escalating crisis. We hope that the report on our recent visit will remind the international community of the ongoing violations of human rights which must also be addressed and that this visit will help raise awareness about the plight of the Chin people who have long been forgotten."