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EU action on Burma judged insufficient

EU action on Burma judged insufficient

Brussels, 14 October 2004, (ICFTU Online): Following the biannual ASEM (*) summit in Hanoi (8-9 October 2004), the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) are expressing their deep dismay over the organisation's decision to admit Burma (also known as Myanmar) as one of its members. The south-east Asian country has long been the subject of heavy criticism from the ICFTU, the world's largest trade union body, for its continued violations of human rights, especially its systematic imposition of forced labour on the civilian population, as well as the ruling military junta's lack of respect for democracy.

Before the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit, the European Union's statements concerning the possible participation of Burma in the meeting seemed to indicate a clear position that, on this occasion, human rights violations had a higher priority than commercial considerations. It is therefore all the more surprising that the summit neglected to demand that the Burmese authorities release opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders. This also contrasts strongly with the European Council's conclusions of September 2004 which declared the EU's intention to take determined measures unless the Burmese military junta released opposition leaders, allowed the NLD to operate freely, and invited the NLD and other political parties to participate freely in the National Convention.

Observing that none of its three conditions had been met, the EU Council decided on 11th October 2004 to maintain existing measures against the military regime in Burma; to add a few more names to its 'visa ban' list; and to adopt some measures in the area of foreign investment. Regrettably, the wording of the provisional text on foreign investment renders its effectiveness somewhat doubtful. Without urgently needed, adequate clarifications as to the meaning of the new measures, they risk being meaningless.

Concerning other issues at the ASEM Summit, the ICFTU and ETUC expressed their support for the ASEM Leaders' recommendation to expand the Asia-Europe dialogue on labour and employment at all levels. The union organisations emphasised that such dialogue should focus on decent work based on respect of fundamental workers' rights, with full involvement of trade unions.

For further information EU Foreign Ministers statement on Burma/Myanmar (Dutch EU Presidency website): ASEM Chairman's statement: European Council's statement of 11th October: (see page 12)

(*) ASEM is the Asia-Europe Meeting, created in 1996 between the then 15 member states of the European Union and 10 countries of the Asia-Pacific region (Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam).

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