Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November 2014, 13:39 GMT

Assessment for Zomis (Chins) in Burma

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Zomis (Chins) in Burma, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a6223.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Burma Facts
Area:    676,552 sq. km.
Capital:    Rangoon
Total Population:    47,305,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Chin have four of the six factors that increase the chances of future rebellion: current rebellion; territorial concentration; high levels of group cohesion; and recent government repression. Although it is likely that there will continue to be low-level resistance, the military junta's success in reaching ceasefire agreements with 15 ethnic groups by the mid-1990s coupled with its suppression of the remaining rebel groups does not bode well for the future status of the Chin.

Analytic Summary

The Chin, who also refer to themselves as Zomi, are concentrated in the Arakan mountain range and the Chittagong Hills in western Burma's Chin state. There are also group members that reside in neighboring Bangladesh and India. The Chin are ethnic kin of the Mizos who live in the Indian state of Mizoram. There has been little group migration across the Burma since early in the 20th century.

The cultural characteristics of the Chin differ significantly from those of the Burmans, who form 68% of the country's population. Most important, the Chin are either Christians or animists whereas the Burmans follow Theravada Buddhism (BELIEF = 3). Although Buddhism is not the official state religion, in recent decades the military junta has sought to elevate its status to the detriment of the country's religious minorities. Group members speak more than 40 different dialects, and they adhere to different social customs than the Burmans (LANG = 2; CUSTOM = 1). The official state language is Burmese and it is used for instruction in all state schools, even in areas where ethnic groups form a majority of the population.

Although the Chin presence in modern-day Burma dates to the 12th century, it was not until the period of British rule (1886-1947) that the isolated Chin came into regular contact with foreign influences. In particular, Christian missionaries were active in the region, and many group members converted. There is limited information available about the Chin, but Chin-majority areas are among the least developed in the country. The group is considered at risk due to current and past discrimination and because it supports political organizations that are pursuing greater group rights.

Group members face major demographic stresses such as deteriorating public health conditions, declining caloric intake, and dispossession from their lands by other groups or commercial interests. Since 1990, state-sponsored programs have led to migrations of Burmans into Chin state.

The Chin are subject to numerous restrictions due to their Christian beliefs. These include limits on the practice of their religion, the celebration of cultural holidays, and the activities of cultural organizations. During the 1998-2000 period, these restrictions were tightened even further. Religious leaders were arrested, attempts were made to forcibly convert the Zomi to Buddhism; restrictions were imposed on attending church services and on the construction of new churches; and the Chin were used as forced labor to build Buddhist monasteries. On December 24, 2000, major cities in Chin state were ordered not to hold large Christmas celebrations while in smaller areas, all Christmas celebrations were banned. These types of restrictions continue to the present.

Formal policies and/or recurring repression severely restrict the political and economic activities of group members (POLDIS03 = 4; ECDIS03 = 4). Along with the confiscation of land, there are restrictions on free movement, the use of the Chin as forced labor, torture and rape of group members, saturation police/military presence in group areas, and armed attacks against rebels. The use of ethnic minorities as forced labor has been a long-used policy of the Burmese junta as has been forcible relocation. Since the late 1980s, the Burmese armed forces have more than doubled in size, now numbering 400,000. Chinese military assistance to the junta, in the forms of arms and training, has been critical.

Group demands focus on political and cultural rights. Along with broad autonomy, the Chin seek greater political participation at the central state level and equal civil rights and status (SEPX = 3). Foremost among the cultural concerns is the freedom to practice their religion and culture.

During the past decade, militant organizations have primarily represented group interests although there are some organizations that utilize conventional means. The major rebel group referred to in the limited news sources is the Chin National Front (CNF), although it is possible that there are other active militant groups. It appears that most group members support these organizations. There was no violent intragroup conflict during 2001-2003 as well as no violent acts between the Chin and other ethnic groups in Burma.

Chin political activism dates back to the mid-1980s when group members engaged in both protest and rebellion (PROT85X=4; REB85X=4). Although there is very little information available on their recent activities, it appears that the CNF is still active as it has been during the 1990s decade. The Chin are one of the few ethnic groups that have not reached a ceasefire agreement with the junta. In July of 1998, the Chin National Front rejected the junta's preconditions for negotiations as they required the disarmament of the rebels. Low levels of rebellion were reported during the 2001-2003 period (REB01 = 1, REB02-03 = 3). No protest was reported in 2001 and 2002, although there were reports of verbal opposition in 2003 (PROT03 = 1).

References

The Europa Yearbook, Far East and Australasia 1993.

Keesings Record of World Events, 1990-94.

Minorities at Risk, Phase I, overview compiled by Monty G. Marshall, 06/89.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2003

Taylor, R. H., "Change in Burma: Political Demands and Military Power," Asian Affairs, Vol. XXII, June 1991.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Burma. 2001-2003.

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