Saturday, March 21, 2009

The HRW, Mizos and Chins: Human rights and paradoxes

By Paritosh Chakma

After the New York-based global human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch brought out its report “We are like forgotten people” to champion the cause of the Chin refugees in India, it faced the strongest rebuffs from the most powerful social organization of Mizoram, the Young Mizo Association (YMA). The YMA has taken serious note of the accusations made in the HRW report against Mizos and YMA who have been accused of committing further abuses against the vulnerable Chin refugees.

The HRW report states - “Chin in Mizoram face security abuses, severe discrimination, religious repression, and lack of jobs, housing, and affordable education. They live largely at the mercy of the local population in Mizoram.” (Page 65) HRW also accused the YMA and the student body, Mizo Zirlai Pawl of forcible refoulement of Chins from Mizoram. Forcible refoulement is not permitted as per the international law.

Some of the allegations could be true. Take for example, following a brawl between the local Mizos and Chin refugees at Tanhril village, about 20 km north of Aizawl, all the Chin refugees were served “quit notice” asking them leave the village by 4 October 2008. According to the media reports, the brawl took place after some refugees allegedly teased some Mizo girls of the village while they were taking bath.[1] But instead of taking action against the specific accused person or persons, the decision to serve the “quit notice” on all Chin refugees was reportedly taken in a joint meeting of Young Mizo Association (YMA), Tanhril village council, Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (women organisation) and Mizo Upa Pawl (elders’ organization). At least 40 Chin refugees have reportedly left Tanhril village following the “quit notice”.[2] While any person who has committed a crime must be punished as per the procedures established by law, “collective punishment” is illegal and banned by international law.

The HRW provides interviews of some Chin refugees to validate its accusations. In one such interview, a Chin woman has been quoted as saying in Aizawl, “The way [the Mizos] think is that killing a Chin person is like killing a dog. It is not that serious.” (Page 69)

This could be a wild accusation. I don’t think this is true. The law in this country is not so weak so that any one can so easily escape trial and prosecution after killing a human being like a dog.

The YMA, whose membership is spread throughout the length and breadth of the state, has threatened to take action against the Chin refugees if they did not “apologize for the report” of the Human Rights Watch. The YMA blamed the Chins for providing “false information” to the HRW about their alleged mistreatment by the Mizos in Mizoram, with whom the Chins share much cultural affinity. As threats of reprisal loomed large, a section of the Chins have already disowned the HRW report.

On its part, it is only natural that the HRW defended its report. The HRW clarified that creating a misunderstanding or discord between the Mizos and Chins was not at all the objective of the report and appealed to the YMA to see the report from the human rights point of view”.

That is true.

[1]. Quit notice to Burmese migrants in Mizo village, The Shillong Times, 30 September 2008
[2]. Myanmarese migrants move out of Tanhril, The Newslink, 6 October 2008

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