Salai Za Uk Ling
On January 6, Pu Tui Dim, a human rights defender, journalist and former Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) colleague, was arrested by Myanmar junta solders while visiting his home village in northwestern Chin State’s Matupi Township. Nine other civilians from the same village, including a 13-year-old boy, were arrested alongside him.
A day later, my colleagues and I at the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) learned that Pu Tui Dim and others from his village were missing. Fearing the worst, we began a desperate scramble to establish contacts on the ground and gather information. We soon learned that Pu Tui Dim and the villagers were detained by junta soldiers as they were travelling by motorbike through an area where junta forces have been fighting against the Chinland Defense Force, a pro-democracy armed group. With the military having cut phone lines and internet connections in the area, however, gathering further information and establishing their whereabouts proved to be an agonising effort. But just two days later, on January 9, our worst fears were confirmed. Our sources on the ground informed us that they had found the dead bodies of Pu Tui Dim and other villagers. Their hands were tied behind their backs. They were gagged. Some had had their throats slashed. Others had stab wounds to their abdomens.
This gruesome mass murder was just one example of the horror and destruction the military routinely brings upon the people of Myanmar as it desperately tries to cling to power a year after its coup. We at the CHRO have been documenting the situation on the ground in Myanmar’s northwest since the coup. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of civilians, torture, summary executions, indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighbourhoods and towns, violent nighttime raids, and destruction of private property have all become daily occurrences across the entire region in the past year. The regime’s reign of terror has pushed more and more people to take up arms against the military as a last resort. But as the armed resistance grew, the military’s attacks on the civilian population became more vicious. Tens of thousands have become internally displaced or fled to neighbouring India in a matter of months. Meanwhile, the military has deliberately sought to obstruct the collection of evidence of its abuses. It has blocked mobile internet services in 24 townships in Myanmar’s northwest since September, and at times, shut down mobile phone networks, as well. On top of this, it has occasionally imposed martial law, including movement restrictions, to make it more dangerous for people to collect information on the ground.
The coup has emboldened the military, which was already accused of genocide for its treatment of the Rohingya, to kill and destroy anyone and anything in its path. I have been documenting the military’s human rights abuses for more than two decades, so I am well familiar with its brutal tactics. But I have rarely come across the extent of spine-chilling inhumanity that the military has shown across the country in recent months. On December 23, for example, it launched indiscriminate air strikes on two Chin villages in the Sagaing region after suffering heavy casualties to local resistance forces in the preceding days. As civilians tried to flee, soldiers stormed the village, killing at least 19. On Christmas Eve, military forces massacred at least 35 people, including women, children and aid workers, in Karenni State, and burned them in their vehicles. The military has also attacked my hometown of Thantlang at least 20 times during the past four months, burning more than 800 houses to the ground and displacing the entire population of more than 10,000. Deprived of access to basic medical attention and nutritious food, more than 30 people from Thantlang, mostly elderly, have died while fleeing, according to a tally conducted by my organisation.
Tragically, these attacks were foreseeable. Time and again, CHRO has joined civil society actors across the country in calling for governments around the world and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to act. Yet the world is doing almost nothing to rein in the junta as it continues to commit atrocities with impunity. For example, in October, we were among more than 90 civil society organisations to sound an alarm about impending military attacks in northwestern Myanmar, including Chin State. Although the UNSC convened an emergency meeting on November 11, following which it released a statement expressing “deep concern”, we saw no tangible results. In the months since, the military has continued to burn down and destroy houses and places of worship and kill unarmed civilians, while intentionally depriving civilians of lifesaving aid.
In the absence of swift and decisive international action, we at the CHRO expect the situation to worsen. Since January 9, the military has sent at least 500 troop reinforcements as well as large quantities of arms and ammunition to Myanmar’s northwest, while bombarding Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State in southeastern Myanmar and sending about two-thirds of its 90,000 residents fleeing. This past year, my colleagues and I have seen too many losses and too much suffering and destruction, and we are increasingly feeling abandoned in our efforts to stop the military from committing further human rights abuses. If governments and international bodies that could make an impact instead continue to look the other way, we are almost certain to see a further escalation in preventable violence.
Pu Tui Dim, who was 55 at the time of his death and left behind one son, had spent his entire adult life documenting the Myanmar military’s human rights abuses. During his six years with the CHRO, he had repeatedly put his own life at risk by clandestinely travelling to dangerous areas to collect human rights data. In spite of the nature of his work, Pu Tui Dim had always managed to stay positive and brighten the mood of our team. His selfless work was integral to CHRO’s efforts to give a voice to the Chin people and inform the world about the former military regime’s human rights abuses in Chin State. After leaving the CHRO in 2002, he co-founded Khonumthung News, a local media outlet covering the situation in Chin State; he has spent the past 16 years serving as the organisation’s editor-in-chief. He was also one of the founders of Burma News International, a network of local media outlets.
Like countless other victims of the regime’s ruthless and arbitrary rule, Pu Tui Dim is an unsung hero of this people’s revolution against military dictatorship. May he rest in peace, and may he be the last human rights defender whose life is needlessly cut short by this regime. As for those of us human rights defenders in Myanmar and the diaspora – we remain committed to continuing our work until all the people of Myanmar are free and able to exercise their fundamental rights.