Myanmar army making extensive use of forced labour, UN probe finds

The investigation also found that the military has imposed wide-reaching restrictions on basic civil liberties and trade union rights since seizing power

A United Nations investigation into Myanmar on Wednesday urged the country’s military rulers to end forced labour in the army and to halt all violence against trade unionists.

A probe launched by the UN’s labour agency found far-reaching violations of international forced labour and freedom of association conventions in the Southeast Asian nation.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted the democratically-elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February 2021 coup.

The UN’s International Labour Organization launched a commission of inquiry into allegations of serious non-observance of international labour standards in the wake of the coup.

The ILO has only used its highest investigation procedure on 13 previous occasions since its foundation in 1919.

The commission of inquiry concluded that the Myanmar junta had imposed wide-reaching restrictions on basic civil liberties and trade union rights.

It also found that the Myanmar military was exacting various different types of forced labour.

The commission “urges the Myanmar military authorities to immediately cease all forms of violence, torture and other inhumane treatment against trade unionists, and to end all forms of forced or compulsory labour,” the ILO said.

It called on the junta to take “immediate action, so as to stop egregious violations” of the conventions on forced labour and freedom of association “and prevent further abuses.”

The commission found the junta’s rule has had “a disastrous impact on the exercise of basic civil liberties.”

“Trade union members and leaders have been killed, arbitrarily arrested, subjected to sham trials, convicted, detained, abused and tortured, threatened, intimidated, subjected to surveillance, forced into exile… due to their trade union membership and activities,” it said.

It also found “systematic and widespread use of residents by the Myanmar military to perform a range of different types of forced labour in the context of military activities.”

This included forced work as “porters, guides and human shields, as well as for cultivation, construction and maintenance of military camps or installations, and the provision of transport, accommodation, food and domestic work.”

The commission called on the junta to release and withdraw all criminal charges against trade unionists detained in relation to their legitimate activities, and to restore the protection of basic civil liberties suspended since the coup.

It also urged the military “to end the exaction of all forms of forced or compulsory labour by the army and its associated forces, as well as forced recruitment into the army.”

The commission’s report furthermore set out recommendations for when the country returns to democracy and called on all parties to achieve a peaceful transition.

Myanmar has three months to say whether it accepts the report, and if not, whether it wants to take the matter to the International Court of Justice.

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