EPSU joins trade union movement protesting the forced military service in Myanmar

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(1st March 2024) The military junta in Myanmar introduced compulsory military conscription on 10 February 2024. It is a form of forced labour. The European and global union movement have asked for more effective measures against the junta and for more action to restore democracy. The European unions approached the President of the European Council and the Member States’ representatives for forceful action of the EU.

In a letter to the President of the European Council and member state representatives the European unions asked the EU Member States to agree on urgent EU action as soon as possible. The forced military service endangers the lives of workers and citizens in Myanmar who have already been living under the military junta’s reign of terror for over three years. Reports from the field are alarming. Already young workers living in hostels near the industrial zones, or in family houses in the big cities and in villages are in danger of being kidnapped or arrested by the military and the militias in all villages and towns.

With reports that the junta will use employee data to identify targeted individuals, men aged 18 – 35 years and women aged 18-27 years, urgent action is needed to stop employees’ data being used and moreover for the whole process to be stopped and for democracy to be restored to Myanmar.

The ILO Convention No. 29 protects civilians from mandatory military conscription that allows to impose work that is not of a purely military nature (Article 2(2)(a)).  Further, the Convention prohibits attempts to disguise the use of conscripted civilians for work of a non-military character as work required “in cases of emergency”. Such work is only allowed in cases of genuine, sudden, unforeseen emergencies calling for instant action, where the duration, the extent of compulsory service as well as the purpose for which it is used are strictly limited (2012 ILO General Survey, para 280).

A large-scale and systematic practice of imposing compulsory labour on the population for a prolonged period of time within the framework of the national service programme, and allowing for the use of conscripts for work in a vaguely formulated, undefined “states of emergency” (Article 21(a) of the 2010 People’s Military Service Law) goes well beyond the exceptions provided for in the Convention.

We recall that the 2023 ILO Commission of Inquiry concluded that the 2010 Peoples’ Military Service Law is not compatible with Myanmar’s obligations under Convention No. 29. (page 11 and paras 614-617).

Urgent EU action is needed

As such, we ask for all EU Member States to universally oppose this recent act by the military junta and to take urgent action with the aim of targeting the regime, including:

  • An immediate public reaction from the European Council and the EEAS opposing this announcement in the strongest of terms.
  • For the EU to impose as soon as possible further sanctions including as a priority sanctions on the banking and insurance sector, on jet fuel, on junta state and region  chief ministers, directors of business owned by senior junta members and their families and  directors of military controlled businesses which have not yet been included among the sanctioned persons list, and companies such as Shwe Byain Phyu Group of Companies that imports and distribute petroleum, including on behalf of MEHL and Myanma Five Star Line Company Limited a shipping company.
  • For the withdrawal of Myanmar’s trade preferences under the EU’s Everything But Arms System given the serious violations of human rights, as it was decided for Cambodia.
  • For EU brands and factories still operating in the country to not collude with the regime, to protect the identity of their employee and refrain from sharing information obtained through the SMART ID scheme. Furthermore, EU brands must insist that their suppliers do not impose overtime during the current situation to mitigate the risk of employees being kidnapped or forcibly taken by the military troops on their way home late at night with reports of these instances being reported on the ground.

We urge EU Member States to stand up for the people in Myanmar.

For the joint letter

For ILO Convention 29

For the ILO Inquiry into the Junta in Myanmar

For a previous article

For information on work of PSI