Eight union leaders in Myanmar – including the Council of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) Assistant General Secretary Daw Phyo Sandar Soe – were charged with violations of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law on 21 February. The charges are related to protests held by unions in early 2019 against the Government for failing to engage in meaningful consultations with unions on new labour laws. Although the individuals charged were fined, not jailed, (10,000 kyats each -~$US7.00), there should be no penalty for peaceful assembly.
“No functioning democracy should curtail workers’ freedom to associate and to express their views. In fact, governments should, rather, follow constructive and democratic practices, as recommended by the ILO, and fully consult and involve the social partners in the preparation of any labour legislation in addition to not punishing them for exercising fundamental human rights,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Nonetheless we acknowledge that the negligible fines imposed by the courts in these cases may mean that the judges do not see these charges to be of a serious nature.”
The Peaceful Assembly Law, under which the union leaders were charged, is national legislation, however, it provides scope for regional governments to interpret the law. In Mandalay the law is interpreted and applied in a discriminatory manner so as to restrict the exercise of peaceful assembly by non-Mandalay citizens.
“We are glad to have this case concluded so we can get on with our work,” said Sandar after sentencing. “Nonetheless we believe that the Mandalay regional government’s interpretation of the law is excessively restrictive and – whether intended or not – could have the effect of stifling dissent. The CTUM has filed a complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association on this matter.”