Arakanese Nationalists Hold Protest Against UN Rights Rep Visit

By Lawi Weng 8 January 2015

RANGOON — Arakanese activists said hundreds of Arakanese Buddhist nationalists were gathering at Sittwe airport on Thursday afternoon in order to protest against the planned visit by the United Nations human rights rapporteur for Burma Yanghee Lee, who they view as supporting the Rohingya Muslim population.

“We heard that her flight is [to arrive] at 3 pm. We have about 500 people. They came to the airport since the morning and even more people will come to join,” said Nyo Aye, an Arakanese women’s activist who has been organizing protests against UN involvement in the crisis in the state.

“We protest against her trip because we could not accept her reports submitted to the UN Human Rights Council,” Nyo Aye said, adding that the Arakanese believed they had “more rights than others” because the Muslims in northern Arakan State were supposedly illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

The Rakhine Women’s Union and the Arakan Civil Society Network were among the organizations involved in Thursday’s protests.

A UN spokesman in Rangoon confirmed the rapporteur was due to arrive in Sittwe on Thursday afternoon but said he could not yet comment on how the protests would affect her mission.

Yanghee Lee is on her second visit to Burma since taking over from her predecessor Tomás Ojea Quintana in June 2014. From Jan. 7-16 she is scheduled to visit northern Arakan State to meet with people living in camps for internally displaced, the UN said. She also is due to visit northern Shan State to investigate the human rights situation of ethnic minorities affected by conflict.

More than 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, remain displaced by the inter-communal violence that has broken out in the western region since 2012. Authorities have confined the Rohingya to crowded, squalid camps and limit their access to international humanitarian aid.

Many members of the Buddhist community in conflict-wracked Arakan State view the UN rights rapporteur as biased in favor of the stateless Rohingya minority and oppose attempts to document the gross rights abuses suffered by the group at the hands of authorities and the Buddhist community.

Quintana was mobbed by Buddhist nationalist protesters in 2013 during visits to Arakan State’s Buthidaung Township and Meikthila, a city in central Burma that saw an outbreak of inter-communal violence.

Both the government and the Arakanese community reject the UN’s position that the Muslims have a right to self-identify as Rohingya.

Khin Maung Gyi, a senior leader from the Arakan National Party based in Sittwe, said, “They [the UN] are talking about Rohingya. They wanted us to accept this term. We could not accept this because there is no Rohingya [minority].

“Our country now has democracy. Then, they used [respect for] human rights and asked for the use of the name Rohingya. From our point of view it is because of the UN that we have this problem here over the name of Rohingya. This is why our people are protesting,” he added.

Late last month, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution urging Burma to grant citizenship to the Rohingya and grant them equal access to government services.

Burma’s predominantly government insists on calling the group “Bengalis” to suggest they are Bangladeshi immigrants and rejects their claims to citizenship. Last year Naypyidaw suspended a brief pilot project that granted limited citizenship rights to a small number of Rohingya following popular backlash from the Arakanese community.