On February 22, members of the IUF-affiliated Agriculture and Farmers Federation of Myanmar and Food Allied Workers [AFFM-FAW] joined hundreds of thousands of people across the country in a general strike calling for immediate end to military rule and the restoration of democratic rights and freedoms.
AFFM FAW members in Kayin State
AFFM FAW members Kayin State
AFFM FAW members in Ayeyarwady Division
AFFM FAW members in Mon State
AFFM FAW members in Magway Division
AFFM FAW members in Magway Division
As the trial of Brother Lee Cheuk Yan, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), and eight other democracy activists and human rights defenders began in Hong Kong this week, IUF members throughout the Asia-Pacific protested against this political persecution and expressed their solidarity for the fight for freedom in Hong Kong.
solidarity across the Asia-Pacific region
As the Hong Kong government tries to establish a political regime that is an extension of Beijing, all forms of public accountability and civil governance are being dismantled. But in attempting a politico-legal transition to authoritarian rule, the government violated its own laws, breaching the constitution and the constitutional rights of the Hong Kong people.
As the people reacted to this authoritarian shift with mass protest, the government severely curtailed more rights (freedom of assembly and freedom of expression) to contain public dissent. As the government lost all legitimacy, authorities moved to persecute those accused of organizing the protests. This misses the point: the protests were in response to the government’s attempt to extend the authoritarian reach of Beijing. The government’s actions instigated the protests in August 2019. So it’s the government that should be on trial.
What is also on trial is the Hong Kong government’s international standing. The Hong Kong government has further isolated itself internationally, systematically violating and undermining the principles and standards of the UN system, even as the government in Beijing tries to extend its influence throughout the UN system. The Hong Kong government repeatedly ignored calls by UN human rights experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council to respect the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders called on the Hong Kong government to drop the charges against human democracy activists, rights defenders and trade unionists.
By ignoring this, the Hong Kong government once again demonstrated its hypocrisy. On the one hand desperate to justify itself on the international stage, and on the other claiming this is a local judicial matter (despite authorities and the police violating multiple laws repeatedly). The government also desperately claims that foreign forces are at work in supporting the democracy protests. Yet it is the Hong Kong people reaching out to the world, grabbing hold of internationally recognized universal human rights, and using these rights to protest and speak out that is the basis for their internationalism. And as Brother Lee Cheuk Yan demonstrated on the first day of his trial, by calling for support for the democracy protests in Myanmar, the only force at work in all of this is solidarity.
In 2019 the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar observed that the impunity of Myanmar’s military is directly linked to its ability to operate independently of any government budget. Through a vast network of military-owned businesses in mining, plantations, sugar mills, beverage manufacturing, transportation, telecommunications, banking, insurance, airlines, hotels and entertainment, the military has its own source of economic power. It also has close business partners.
The UN report identified 45 “crony companies” and organizations in Myanmar that donated more than USD 10 million to support the military’s clearance operations in Rakhine State in 2017. These same companies financed development projects in Rakhine State in mining and infrastructure that furthered the military’s “objective of re-engineering the region in a way that erases evidence of Rohingya belonging to Myanmar.”
The UN Human Rights Council concluded that stopping the atrocities and human rights violations committed by the military and ending this impunity requires the financial isolation the military, its businesses, and the crony companies. The report listed over 120 companies owned directly and indirectly by the military for the first time. It also listed dozens of local and foreign companies doing business with them – companies effectively financing the military’s impunity for crimes against humanity.
Max Myanmar was one of the crony companies identified in the report. The chairperson of Max Myanmar, Zaw Zaw, is among those company officials that the UN report recommended for prosecution: “… the Mission concludes on reasonable grounds that officials from KBZ Group and Max Myanmar aided, abetted, or otherwise assisted in the crimes against humanity of persecution and other inhumane acts.”
The government did nothing. Despite operating two luxury hotels with Max Myanmar, the Paris-based transnational hotel company Accor also did nothing.
Dozens of foreign companies, banks and commodities traders continued doing business with the companies identified by the UN Human Rights Council as being involved in crimes against humanity. Many accused these companies of doing nothing. But they did do something. They indirectly financed this coup.
We should also recall that the UN report called for an arms embargo, identifying 14 foreign companies from seven countries [China, North Korea, India, Israel, the Philippines, Russia and Ukraine] that supplied fighter jets, armored combat vehicles, warships, missiles and missile launchers to Myanmar since 2016. But nothing happened. The people of Myanmar are facing these armored combat vehicles in the streets today.
The financial isolation the military, its businesses, and the crony companies and an arms embargo is urgently needed by the people of Myanmar in the struggle to end military rule and restore the path to democracy. Every foreign company must be called to account to ensure that it has absolutely no direct or indirect business relationships with any of the 120 companies and 45 crony companies listed in the UN report.
The IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Organization condemns the military coup in Myanmar and supports the calls of the people of Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release all detained political party leaders and elected representatives, journalists, writers and human rights defenders. The Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] must stand down from all elected government positions, withdraw from political and civilian affairs, and end their economic activities. They must go back to barracks!
We express our solidarity and support for the widespread civil disobedience across the country that demonstrates the rejection of military rule by the people and the desire for democracy to be restored.
The censorship by the Union Election Commission (UEC), any alleged voting irregularities, and restrictions on political parties participating in the November 2020 elections should be investigated through fair and transparent judicial means and comply with international human rights instruments. Similarly, the exclusion of over 2.6 million voters based on ethnicity should be investigated by the appropriate civilian authorities in line with internationally recognized human rights.
It is the right of the people of Myanmar to express their free will in accordance with the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights (Article 25), including the right to elect and be elected, and free and fair elections. These political and civil rights must be exercised “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
While the immediate goal is to end the military coup and restore civilian government, this threat to Myanmar’s fragile democracy reminds us that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are vital to democracy. The legal and political restrictions existing before the coup should also end.
To ensure democracy and democratic rights, workers must have the genuine right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, unhindered by administrative restrictions, judicial bias and collusion between authorities and employers. These rights can no longer be put on hold in the transition to democracy. These rights are essential to building democracy.
The collusion between the civilian authorities, business tycoons and the Tatmadaw in land grabbing must end. The land rights of displaced small and marginal farmers must be restored. Large-scale mining operations and plantations involving land grabbing must end and land must be returned to small and marginal farmers and their communities. This is vital for democracy and the restoration of democratic rights.
We once again call for action to enforce the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in 2018 and 2019. Accountability can only be enforced if the Tatmadaw is isolated financially, removing the sources of revenue and economic interests that are the basis for its autonomy and impunity. The basis for this coup. Concerted international action must be taken to isolate the Tatmadaw financially and to force its withdraw from economic activities.
End the coup! Back to barracks!