By David Stout
About 15 people protested in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ offices in Rangoon’s Sanchaung township last Friday to express their support of President Thein Sein’s plan to resettle the Rohingya minority in third countries.
The protesters held placards that read “We wholeheartedly support President Thein Sein’s courageous and straight forward statement on the Rohingya situation” in Burmese and flashed posters in English that said “We support our President statement of Rohingya [sic]”.
The crowd also chanted slogans in Burmese and English saying that the Rohingya were not an ethnic group of Burma and passed out leaflets urging the government, the military and the people to unite under a ‘national spirit’.
In July, Burma’s president told the UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres that the government was not prepared to recognise the Rohingya and asked for the body’s assistance in placing them in refugee camps and later resettle the group in a third country.
The plan was promptly rejected by the UNHCR.
“The resettlement programs organised by UNHCR are for refugees who are fleeing a country to another, in very specific circumstances. Obviously, it’s not related to this situation,” said Guterres according to an AP report.
While the UNHCR and international human rights groups rejected Thein Sein’s proposal, the idea was well received by nationalists within the country.
“We can’t accept [Guterres]’s suggestion to find a solution to live together with the [Rohingya],” said one protestor in reference to the UNHCR chief. “This is why we are protesting, along with other people who feel the same way with us, to express our opinion – the Burmese people’s opinion, in front of this office.”
“We agree with the president’s statement regarding the Bengali issue and we denounce the international community’s one-sided claims against us,” said another protestor at the rally. “We are on the same page with the president on this. And we would like to urge [Quintana] to review his own actions.”
The remarks were made as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana wrapped up his visit to the country, where he visited western Arakan state and met with politicians and civil society groups.
Last Friday, Quintana released a statement outlining his basic assessment of the state of human rights in the country and urged the government to create a truth commission to further national reconciliation.
“I believe that Parliament, as the only multi-party and multi-ethnic public institution, is the most appropriate body for the creation of such a commission and for this difficult but necessary task,” said Quintana. “I believe that human rights should not fall off the agenda, and human rights concepts and principles need to be at the forefront of the entire reform process.”
The demonstration lasted for about 30 minutes until police broke up the rally after the organisers failed to obtain official permission.
“The protesters did seek the permission but under the Peaceful Assembly Law, that must be done five days in advance and they only did it in four so we couldn’t permit that,” said Sanchaung’s Police chief.
-Zay Gyi and Aung Gyi contributed reporting