Burma doesn’t seem to have made as many advances as it first appeared in a year of change. This was the conclusion of The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) which released a new report last week. According to their findings, Christian Chin from western Burma are denied religious freedom and face coercion to convert to Buddhism. They’re not alone. Dyann Romeijn of Vision Beyond Borders says, “The report is specifically about the Chin and the persecution that they face, but we’re seeing the same things throughout all the ethnic groups in Burma.”
CHRO exposed a decades-long pattern of religious freedom violations and human rights abuses including forced labor and torture which has led thousands to flee their homeland.
Romeijn says along with the abused Chin are members of the Kachin tribes and the Karen. It’s bad for everyone. “All the same policies that were in place before continue; the Kachin in northern Burma are being highly persecuted. About an additional 50,000 have fled into China. In violation of international law, China is forcing those Kachin refugees back into Burma where they’ll be slaughtered.”
The government is trying to change its public image and has made definite strides toward freedom. But there are dark shadows forming against the bright prospects, explains Romeijn. “We don’t want to discount the reforms that have taken place, but at the same time, there’s still a long way to go. The religious, ethnic and tribal groups are still being heavily persecuted.”
That’s been borne out in the 2012 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report. Burma remains on its list of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs). The nation also sits at #33 on the Open Doors World Watch List, –an index of the top 50 countries in the world known for their persecution of Christians.
Vision Beyond Borders says their partners note frequent attacks that are gaining in intensity along the Thai-Burmese border. Oddly, this is the best hope for the Gospel. Their last team visited a Buddhist monastery where they saw clear evidence of community transformation.
Romeijn says, “The monks are seeing it’s the Christians that are coming in; they’re the ones who are helping to take care of these children; they’re the ones helping take the refugees. We’re supposed to be the church; we’re to be Jesus’ hands and feet. And as we do that, God uses the “good works before men” to glorify His name, and we’re seeing openness to the Gospel even among the Buddhist monks.”
That’s where the real change happens. Romeijn sums it up by saying, “You can see some external circumstances change, but unless there is a heart change in a situation, there really is truly no hope for Burma.”