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Myanmar: Stop harassment of workers, UN agency urges military

The street leading to the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. (file photo)
Unsplash/Alexander Schimmeck
The street leading to the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. (file photo)

Myanmar: Stop harassment of workers, UN agency urges military

Peace and Security

The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) has called on the military in Myanmar to end the harassment and intimidation of workers by security forces, and ensure that they can exercise their rights to freedom of expression, in a climate free of violence and fear.

In a statement on Tuesday, the agency said it received allegations that police and military are conducting door-to-door searches for trade unionists at their dormitories and hostels in the Hlaingtharyar industrial township, in the country’s largest city, Yangon. 

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It is alleged that the acts of harassment and intimidation are “largely targeted” at young female workers working in the private sector industries of Yangon, who are living far away from their families in the rural areas, ILO said. 

“The ILO urges the military authorities to cease all acts of harassment and intimidation against these workers, in particular young female workers, and ensure that all workers can exercise their rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression as well as other human rights in a climate free of violence, pressure, fear and threat of any kind”, the agency added. 

Ongoing protests 

Mass protests have grown steadily across Myanmar since the military takeover on 1 February, and arrests of several key leaders and elected officials, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.  

The takeover followed escalating tensions between the government and the military over the November 2020 elections, which were won by Ms. Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD). 

At least two individuals, including a child, are reported to have been killed and many injured, since the crisis erupted. There are also reports of use of excessive and lethal force by security forces, including live ammunition, against demonstrators.  

Fears of disruption of essential services 

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The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has voiced deep concerns over the use of force, cautioning that it may contribute to an escalation of violence against women, girls and young people. 

In a separate statement, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, also expressed fears that essential services, including safe pregnancy and childbirth programmes, could be disrupted due to the ongoing crisis. 

“In light of the unfolding events in Myanmar, UNFPA joins the wider UN family in expressing its strongest concern over the adverse impacts on the rights, safety, health and well-being of the people of Myanmar, including women, girls and young people” UNFPA said. 

Disruptions to essential services to meet the health needs of women and girls, including safe pregnancy and childbirth, “will have serious, even life-threatening implications if timely access to emergency obstetric and newborn care is compromised or not provided in general”, it added, noting that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities would be hit the hardest. 

“UNFPA stands with women, girls and young people in Myanmar and their right to sexual and reproductive health care, even during the crisis”, the agency added. 

ILO and UNFPA reiterated the call of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres for the military and security forces to respect the fundamental human rights of the people of Myanmar.

Threat to COVID vaccinations

Briefing reporters at UN Headquarters in New York later on Wednesday, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that the UN team in Myanmar was "gravely concerned" that the political and social unrest would jeopardize the COVID-19 vaccination campaign already underway.  

"Our colleagues say that Myanmar had developed a robust, meticulous national deployment and vaccination plan. It had already vaccinated 105,000 health workers as of 31 January", he said.