One of Myanmar’s leading trade union leaders has been arrested as part of escalating attacks on pro-democracy figures by the military junta.
Daw Myo Aye, director of Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar (STUM), one of Myanmar’s largest independent unions, is a central figure in the movement for workers’ rights.
She has been one of the most prominent union leaders in the civil disobedience movement, which has been organising national strikes and protests since the military seized power from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
Myo Aye was dragged from her office by the army last Thursday and taken to a police station where she has been charged and detained. According to the union, she is due to be transferred to a prison in Yangon.
“We lost our pillar,” said a member of staff at STUM. “But … we are going to operate with the remaining staff. We operate within the law and we provide assistance to workers in accordance with the labour law. Our organisation will not collapse because she is not here.”
Thousands of people have been arrested and hundreds killed since protests against the military junta began. According to the latest figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 737 people have been killed by the military, and 3,229 individuals are detained or have been sentenced.
Chue Thwel, Daw Myo Aye’s daughter, said: “Since the beginning of the coup on 1 February, I thought they would come for her … I feel they arrested her to set an example.”
A spokesperson for the Worker Rights Consortium, a labour rights monitoring organisation, said: “With many labour leaders already in hiding or exile, the military’s arrest of Daw Myo Aye poses a serious challenge to the vital role of the Myanmar labour movement in the struggle to restore democracy.”
Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin
US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.
Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development
Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.
The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.
Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.
In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.
The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.
But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.
“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”
Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”
She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.
In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”
Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.
Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.
“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.
Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.
Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.
EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge
The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.
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