In solemn recognition of more than a year having passed since the military coup of 1 February 2021 responsible for ousting the democratically elected government in Myanmar, the ITF applauds the United States, United Kingdom and Canada for imposing sanctions last week on some of Myanmar’s top military officials. The US has also sanctioned several companies and business owners accused of providing finance, equipment and services to the regime, including CEO of the KT Group, Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung, whose portfolio of companies includes the operation of a major port terminal in Yangon.
Despite global outcry, the international community has so far failed the people of Myanmar, including workers, union members and representatives, who continue to fight for democracy and an end to the violent and repressive military rule. The lacklustre response has been inadequate to halt the ongoing arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings, which continue to be reported daily.
It is with deepest regret that we recently learnt of the torture and murder of brother Aung Ko Latt, an assistant locomotive driver who had worked with the State-owned Myanmar Railways for more than 17 years. He was responsible for the office work of the union and was one of the workers who had been involved from the very beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement. He was arrested by the military authorities on the night of 4 January 2022. On 6 January 2022, his family was told to come to retrieve his body. He had been tortured and murdered.
The ITF wholeheartedly condemns the extrajudicial killing of Aung Ko Latt and is making every effort in these fraught circumstances to support workers and their families – both those continuing the fight inside Myanmar and those who have been forced to flee. We remain concerned about the wellbeing and whereabouts of Brother Lin Lin, a 39-year-old locomotive driver who was arrested on 3 January at his home in Chan Mya Thazi, Mandalay by the military authorities. He has worked with the Myanmar Railways for 18 years and is a member of the Mandalay Railway Union (MRU) under the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM).
The international community must do more. In June 2021, UN General Assembly Resolution 75/287 called for states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar, an immediate stop to all violence, and condemned all use of lethal force. In the absence of a binding UN Security Council resolution, this was not enough to spare the life of Aung Ko Latt, nor many other peaceful demonstrators, including from civil society and trade unions. The Resolution also called for an end to restrictions on labour union members, yet, as of 17th December 2021, trade unions must comply with additional junta demands or be designated illegal organisations. Only those willing to collaborate with the illegitimate and violent regime are safe.
The ITF calls for the international community to come together to demand the immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators and their families arbitrarily detained and ensure their access to justice. We reiterate the recent calls of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet for an “urgent, renewed effort” to restore human rights and democracy in Myanmar and ensure that “perpetrators of systemic human rights violations and abuses are held to account”. Thorough independent investigations led by the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar must be facilitated into all extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other prohibited acts engaging individual criminal responsibility under international law.
On 21st January, it was reported that multinationals Chevron and TotalEnergies were withdrawing from Myanmar. They were then joined by Australia’s Woodside Energy, as Royal Dutch Shell also confirmed that it no longer held exploration licences in the country as of last year. Businesses have a duty to ensure their operations do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses either directly or along their supply chains. In the current dire vacuum of human rights protection in the country, we have to question whether international companies can do anything now but withdraw from all operations, investments and sourcing, responsibly and in a way that has due regard for the rights of workers. Supporting such calls is a heart-breaking dilemma for organised labour, particularly when the International Labour Organization recently spotlighted the estimated 1.6 million jobs already lost in the country in the past year. For some, however, this is a necessary cost to force the dawn of a democratic future for Myanmar. At least arguably, the time for companies leveraging influence locally has passed. In any event, we call for all companies with any ongoing Myanmar connections along their supply chains to engage with trade unions and observe human rights due diligence and business responsibilities regarding divestment and withdrawal of orders.
In the void of binding sanctions from the UN Security Council, more individual states must provide leadership and take actions like those of the US, UK and Canada last week. We call on our affiliate members to lobby their own national governments to implement (further) embargoes on arms and dual-use technology and comprehensive economic sanctions, including on oil and gas from Myanmar and on individuals and companies linked to the regime. Through international cooperation, we can stop the flow of money and arms to the junta, isolate the military and diminish its strength.
From 27 to 29 January 2022, the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) held its first People’s Assembly convening 388 delegates online from 33 member organisations, including elected government, civil society, minority groups, the Civil Disobedience Movement and mass movement strike organisations. The Assembly emphasised its objective of eliminating all forms of dictatorship in the country, condemned the widespread arrest, torture, and murder being carried out by the military regime, and called on the international community to recognise the National Unity Government (NUG) as the only legitimate government of Myanmar.
ITF General Secretary, Stephen Cotton, reacted: “This momentous event restores a hope for the people of Myanmar to imagine a future with a genuine elected leadership that is finally free from the control of the military, and with freedom of association guaranteed for all independent trade unions. But first, this ugly regime must be dismantled. The people have shown great strength, courage, and resolve. It is time this is matched by the international community.”
Our affiliates can help prevent the flow of money and arms, diminish the military’s strength and isolate the illegitimate regime in Myanmar by:
- Lobbying their own national governments to implement (further):
- Comprehensive economic sanctions, including on oil and gas, and on individuals and companies linked to the regime; and
- Embargoes on arms and dual-use technology.
- Challenging companies they have relationships with and those headquartered in their countries that have any ongoing connection to Myanmar in their supply chains, to engage with independent trade unions and observe human rights due diligence and business responsibilities regarding divestment and withdrawal of orders.