Revisiting the Chin Customary Law

The Chin Hills Regulation (1896) was the basis of the enactment of the Chin Act in 1948 which was also the year of Burma’s Independence. The enactment was to recognize and promote the Chin traditional customs and culture. After 65 years, the State Assembly of Chin State (Union of Burma) initiated a review of the Chin Customary Law in 2013. The review and proposed amendments aimed to promote the indigenous Chin peoples’ customary laws and practices, and for the Act to conform to international norms and standards such as the UNDRIP. The Chin peoples’ recommendations were crucial to the review of the Chin Act. The incumbent Chin State assembly, civil society organizations (CSOs), and other stakeholders such as the Chin tribes, youth and women, and members of the review committee were united in ensuring the respect, protection and enhancement of Chin traditions and customary systems.

The Act covers inheritance rule and guidelines on environmental conservation, but the review was prompted by the fact that the Act did not cover all Chin traditional customs, and some provisions were no longer relevant to the Chin people’s contemporary practice. Despite its limitations, the Act remains as one of the few legal instruments that guide the Chin peoples’ affairs. It also influences national legislations and policies that contradict Chin traditional practices especially in relation to their land, resource management, and inheritance arrangements.

In consultation with Chin elders and traditional leaders, the project proponents prepared the proposal and collaborated with some members of the review committee of the Chin Act and parliament members of the Chin State. Documentation of the customary laws and practices of the Chin peoples, analysis of the Chin Act, and a review of the Chin Act were sent to different Chin communities and organizations. The three-day workshop on the review of the Chin Act followed with a total 50 participants.

Day One was a walk-through of the review process of the Chin Act since 2013 where different customary practices of the Chin Tribes were presented. The challenges and opportunities in strengthening the Chin Act were identified, and the State Assembly’s review process plan of the Act was presented. Day Two saw the participants divided into groups to discuss the Act’s sub-articles and ways to overcome the challenges, and agree on the proposed amendments related to the Chin’s customary laws and practices. On the last day, international standards recognizing customary laws and practices were presented. The participants agreed on proposed amendments to the Chin Act that conformed with international standards, and came up with an action plan to advance the review process of the Chin Act.

The participation of the Chin tribes in the workshop led to an increased understanding of the diverse Chin customs and practices. This led to a consensus that aided in the formulation of amendments to the Chin Act.  The crafting of an action plan to advance the review process was achieved.

The workshop was covered by the local media and interviews with key Chin leaders highlighted their demands. Parliamentarians shared their view on the review process. Media activities and coverage, including social media stirred broad public knowledge and awareness of the workshop discussions and results, and compelled the State Parliament to proceed with the review process with more transparency and participation of the Chin tribes and stakeholders.

The project clearly promoted the recognition and protection of traditional knowledge that was to be enshrined in the Chin Act. The inter-learning of the different Chin tribes about their customary laws and practices fostered greater unity and appreciation of the Chin indigenous identity. The project report of the workshop was disseminated widely to the Chin communities, organizations, media and other stakeholders.

 

The project “Workshop on Follow up Chin Customary Law ( Chin Acts) Review Process” was implemented by the Cherry Foundation, Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), and the Ninu (Women’s Organization) in 2017 with the support of PAWANKA Fund.