Myanmar activist Khaing Zar Aung expressed “honor and sadness” at the global rights award

Trade union leader and activist Khaing Zar Aung from Myanmar has expressed mixed feelings after receiving the prestigious Arthur Svensson International Trade Union Rights Award in 2024.

Khaing Zar Aung told ITUC: “I accept the 2024 Arthur Svensson award with great respect and sadness, because although I was awarded the award, workers in my country are suffering.”

This award is recognition of the relentless struggle and sacrifices of Myanmar's trade unions and people for justice, democracy and human rights. However, there are still many parties who can do more to help remove the illegitimate military regime in Myanmar.

“I urge the EU, international governments, ASEAN, trade unionists and democracy lovers around the world to use all your influence to stop the current preference for trade, arms and financial flows to the military junta.”

Committed to workers' rights

This award recognizes Khaing Zar Aung's relentless efforts in fighting for trade union rights and democracy since starting work as a 16-year-old migrant garment worker in Thailand, where he also trained migrant workers on their rights.

When the democratic transition began in Myanmar, she returned to her country and eventually led the Myanmar Industrial Workers' Federation which organized the rapidly growing textile sector, which mostly employed young women. He also became a key figure in the leadership of the Myanmar Trade Union Confederation.

A 2021 military coup forced Khaing Zar Aung into exile in Germany, where he represented Myanmar's trade union movement and campaigned for a return to democracy.

“Courage and resilience”

ITUC Secretary General Luc Triangle paid tribute to him: “Khaing Zar Aung played a key role in rallying international solidarity, urging global brands to halt operations in Myanmar and calling on the EU to suspend trade preferences while the military junta was in control. ITUC fully supported his demands.

“He embodies the courage and resilience needed to fight for democracy, social justice and workers' rights under the most oppressive conditions. His leadership is an inspiration to union members around the world, and the global trade union movement supports him.”

Since the coup, it is estimated that more than 4,500 people have been killed and around 30,000 detained in Myanmar. Trade unions have been brutally suppressed with hundreds of activists imprisoned, and basic union rights, such as freedom of association and the right to strike, violently removed. In the ITUC Global Rights Index, Myanmar received a rating of 5+: no guarantee of rights due to violation of laws and regulations.

However, the trade union movement became a center of widespread protest and opposition to the military regime, and contributed to the Civil Disobedience Movement supporting the Government of National Unity.

To support workers and families in Myanmar who have lost their livelihoods due to strikes or other protests, the ITUC established a solidarity fund here to provide donations.

The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on June 12. (ITUC source)