Thein Sein visited Britiain for the first time on Monday but the government, possibly mindful of human rights protests, gave him far less publicity than they gave Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit a year ago.
While she received the adulation of dignitaries and politicians the only people who seemed aware of Thein Sein’s visit were the groups protesting against his human rights record.
Many groups used Thein Serin’s visit to highlight his poor human rights record and urge the British Government to be more cautious in their dealings with the Burmese government.
The global online advocacy group Avaaz, the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) and the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) organized a protest in support of the Rohingya outside the Houses of Parliament.
People held up banners in front of tens of wooden gravestones marked ‘RIP Rohingya’ and ‘Never Again’.
Unfortunately Thein Sein and David Cameron did not turn up instead two protesters wearing giant Thein Sein and David Cameron masks stood in for the leaders at the photo shoot.
Sam Barrat from Avaaz said their campaign was backed by a petition of over one million signatures. He said: “We have a long-standing relationship with the Burmese, it has been one of our biggest campaigns ever since we sent aid to the country after Cyclone Nargis.
“Burma is in our hearts.”
He said Avaaz had been speaking to British politicians, including William Hague the Foreign Secretary about their four core demands regarding Burma.
These are: An independent investigation into the attacks on the Rohingya, the setting up of a UN Human Rights Office in Rakhine State, humanitarian access to the Rohingya conflict areas and more international pressure to do something about the Rohingya problem.
Avaaz claimed that if the Rohingya problem is not solved Burma could suffer a genocidal civil war like the one in Rwanda in 1994.
Bosco Ngabonzima a Rwandan bought to the protest by Avaaz said: “What is happening now in Burma is what happened in Rwanda before the genocide. For example they see the Rohingya as second class. In Rwanda before the genocide the Tutsis were seen as second class citizens like the Rohingya are now. The state planned and executed genocide which is exactly the same as in Burma.”
The protestors were unhappy that the British Government was welcoming Thein Sein and so eager to do business in Burma.
Nural Islam the president of ARNO said: “We did not expect that Thein Sein would be allowed into the UK. Thein Sein is a man who promotes crimes against humanity and encourages extreme Buddhist movements.”
Jarmal Ahamed, the general secretary of BROUK said: “Since Thein Sein came to power human rights abuses are worse than under Than Shwe.
“The British Government shouldn’t sign commercial contracts before they have seen real progress in the country.”
The Kachin National Organisation UK (KNOUK) organized another protest outside the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street.
The chairman of KNOUK, Ring Du Lahyung said: “All governments praise Thein Sein as a reformer but in reality democracy is not enough. We Kachin need to be part of a genuine federal union.
“Thein Sein resumed the war against the Kachin and it is the worst war in our Kachin history. Another ceasefire is not enough to solve the problem, the peace must be concrete.
“The 2008 constitution is a problem for the Kachin and all ethnic people. We need to draw up a new constitution which must represent our ethnic rights to form genuine federalism so we can live together in unity, peace and in justice.”
He suggested that British companies investing in Kachin State before there is a proper peace agreement could face problems.
He said: “Without peace if people come to invest in our Kachin land we will say no. If the British government invest in Kachin State they will use the Burmese military, who we are fighting against, to provide security.
“We advise British companies not to invest in Kachin State until there is peace.”
There were also protests against Thein Sein’s visit from British parliamentarians.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma recently heard evidence of many serious human rights abuses in Burma.
The chair of the group, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead said: “It is too soon to welcome Thein Sein as a democratic reformer.
“We know from bitter experience that promises from the government of Burma are hollow. They must be judged by their actions, not their words. Promoting trade before securing major advances on human rights encourages Thein Sein to believe that his government can continue to act with impunity. William Hague and David Cameron should send Thein Sein away with a flea in his ear, not a pat on his back.”