The majority of Chin people inhabit in the hilly mountain areas of Chin State, in the western region of Myanmar, near the border with India. The Chin people are comprised of 53 subtribes and have different dialects and diverse cultures. For centuries, the Chin people’s livelihood has primarily relied on hunting and shifting cultivation, slashing and burning forests for farms. In terms of religion, 85 % of its population or 478,000 inhabitants, are identified as Christian.
Chin State has been systematically excluded from socio-economic development and resources distribution by the central government since the country’s independence in 1948. Consequently, Chin State is one of the least developed regions in Myanmar. According to the Myanmar Living Conditions Survey 2017, 58 % of the Chin population lives in poverty. The UNICEF reported nearly six out of ten Chin people live in poverty, and 80 % of households have food insecurity. Furthermore, Chin State remains to have the highest child fatality rate of 75 per 1,000 live births, the highest maternal mortality rate of 356.7 per 100,000 live births, and the lowest health worker population of 0.99 per 1,000 people, according to the Chin Health Report 2018.
In addition to the impoverished living conditions, the armed clashes between the Arakan Army (AA) and the military have displaced around 58,000 individuals along the Chin-Rakhine State border by 2020. They have limited access to humanitarian aid, including basic food and medicine, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the geographical challenges and the military deliberately attacking humanitarian workers, including those works for the World Health Organization (WHO) .
Following the coup d’etat on 1 Feb 2021, the Chin people peacefully demonstrated in the streets against an illegitimate coup. More than 70 % or 14,591 of 20,000 government employees from Chin State joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) despite their poor socio-economic conditions and the growing pressure from the senior staff. However, the military and police force continue to crackdown on nonviolent protestors across the country. The military extensively raids protestor leaders’ homes at night across the country, torturing many to death under overnight interrogations and even refusing to return the dead bodies to their families. For example, at least 11 protestors were killed and another 11 wounded on 28 Mar 2021 when the military opened fire on protestors in Kalay, Sagaing Region, the second most populous place for Chin people, with 55% of residents being Chin ethnic.
On 24 Apr 2021, in Mindat township, Chin State, the first armed clash between the police and the local with traditional homemade weapons escalated after the local people peacefully demanded the release of six anti-regime protesters detained by the security forces and there demand was refused. Since then, the military has bombarded the civilian residence with heavy artillery, prompting over 90% or 25,000 inhabitants of the township’s population to flee from their homes. Many were trapped in the forest without proper shelter due to the military’s deployment of artillery, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, and helicopters. Nearly 20,000 Chin people have fled to Mizoram State, India. However, the Indian government refused to accept them and forced them to return, stating that they should be “politely turned away” unless seriously injured. In addition, the Indian police were deployed at the Myanmar border to block people from entering India.
Furthermore, in August 2021, the Myanmar military deliberately blocked all humanitarian supplies to nearly 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Chin State. They hid in the forest and farm during torrential downpours during the rainy season without access to clean drinking water, medicine and sufficient food. As of January 2022, over 184 clashes between the Chin People’s Défense Forces (PDF) and the military have been reported since the coup. As of 31 March 2022, the Myanmar military has burned down approximately 7,973 civilian homes in 222 locations since the coup. Over 1,130 houses were burned down in Chin State, which is the third-highest number of houses burned in the country, as shown in the figure below. In particular, the military has set fire over 25 times to Thantlang town, burned down over 900 houses, including 19 religious buildings, and forced over 8,000 residents to flee their homes to near the Indian border at temporary IDP camps by February 2022. In the meantime, the exact number of houses burned down keep increasing since the military continues to set fire to a village after a village.
In the first 15 months following the coup, 1,756 civilians were killed, 10,238 people were arrested, charged, or sentenced, and 1,976 were charged with warrants, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO)’s documentation reported that 11 % (n = 221) of the whole population who were unlawfully killed by the Junta and 7 % (n = 964) of those arrested arbitrarily were Chin people, although the Chin people make up only 1% of the country’s population in Myanmar. Among them, 14 Chin children (of 100 Children dead nationwide) were killed by the Junta, 9 injuries, and 19 were arbitrary arrested. Moreover, at least 12 Chin women were killed, 18 were injured, and 168 were detained arbitrarily.
The military abducted ten civilians in Matupi township, including a 13-year-old child, and executed them brutally on 7 Jan 2022. The victims were blindfolded, chained, had their throats sliced open, or repeatedly stabbed their upper bodies.
In addition to massacres in several places, the military has used “sexual violence as a weapon” against the Chin people. In specific, in the evening of 11 November 2021, the military entered the village of Aklui, located about halfway between Tedim and Kalay towns. There are roughly 20 houses in the village. Three soldiers entered the home of a 27-year-old woman who had given birth less than a month ago and raped her while holding her husband at gunpoint and forcing him to watch. The same night, the military raped her sister-in-law, a 30-year woman who was seven months pregnant with her fifth child. Moreover, the military robbed money, jewelries and mobile phones of the village people. Furthermore, whenever the military raided villages across the Chin State, they beat villagers and destroyed their properties or houses, as well as slaughtered livestock and poultry such as pigs and cows for their meal. The ongoing military atrocities against civilians and the destruction of civilian property since the coup have forced over 20 % of Chins or 67,932 people to flee their homes to near the border and in India’s Mizoram State, as of 9 April, 2022.
Women, children, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. At least six displaced individuals , including a pregnant woman, an infant, and three elderly people, have died in IDP camps following the escalation of fighting between the military and the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) due to a lack of healthcare access in early June 2021. According to Northeast Today New, over 29,532 Myanmar refugees have sought shelter in all 11 districts of Mizoram State, in Northeast India as of 9 Apr 2022.
The conflict has escalated over a year, but the military still restricts humanitarian aids and cuts off supplies and road transportation. Many people were trapped in border areas and faced shortages of food and medicine for basic life-saving. It is unknown how many people have died in IDP camps or the jungle due to lack of access food and medicine. In particular, many Chin IDP camps in Myanmar are inaccessible from the Indian border due to geographic challenges. Those IDPs trapped in Myanmar are particularly vulnerable due to a lack of humanitarian assistance.
On the other hand, the Indian central government has refused to protect refugees from Myanmar and resource to save lives are limited. Only the Mizoram State government and the Mizo people provide humanitarian aid to Chin refugees at the moment. To prevent starvation catastrophe and further casualties from COVID-19, malaria, and seasonal flu among the refugees, the Indian government should protect refugees and facilitate cross-border humanitarian operations. At the same time, the international community and organizations should consider providing emergency humanitarian aid such as food, clean drinking water and medicine, including the COIVD-19 vaccine.
Chin people were the poorest in Myanmar even before the pandemic and the coup. This illegitimate military coup exacerbated the poverty and left the Chin people desperate for humanitarian aid to survive. Additionally, they live in terror day and night, and the situation seriously affects their mental health due to the military’s use of recklessly heavy weapons against civilian properties and the ongoing fighting across Chin State. The international community must act quickly to stop Myanmar’s military atrocities against civilians and the unfolding humanitarian calamity across Myanmar before it’s too late.
*Cover photo: Families have been displaced by fighting in Chin State, Myanmar [File: Reuters]