Sunday, June 7, 2009
ILO tells Myanmar to stop forced labor
By Jonathan Lynn
June 6, 2009
GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. International Labour Organization told Myanmar on Saturday to end forced labor, saying the action it had taken so far was "totally inadequate."
But the ILO's committee on labor standards stopped short of referring Myanmar to the International Court of Justice, the top U.N. tribunal, as worker representatives demanded.
The ILO has been at odds with the former Burma for more than a decade over what it says is a widespread practice of forcing villagers to work on infrastructure projects or as porters for the army.
The committee said Myanmar's military government had taken some steps to tackle underage recruitment into the military, and to publicize a temporary complaints mechanism, which was extended for one year.
"The Committee was however of the view that these steps are totally inadequate," it said in the conclusions of its meeting.
The committee told the government it must amend both existing legislation and the new constitution to ban forced labor, publicize the ban, punish those who impose it, and stop harassing people who complain about it or those who help them.
Myanmar's ambassador in Geneva, Wunna Maung Lwin, told the committee: "Myanmar has shown its political will, and she has been and will be cooperating with the ILO in a constructive manner with a view to eradicating the practice of forced labor in the country."
But employers' and workers' representatives and Western governments at the ILO dismissed this.
A report by the ILO's liaison officer in Myanmar, Steve Marshall, said only 152 complaints of forced labor had been received under the mechanism agreed in 2007.
"The government continues to play the diplomatic game of doing just enough to create an appearance of cooperation ... No one in this room is fooled by that," said Edward Potter, who speaks for the employers' group on the committee.
Several workers' representatives called for disinvestment from Myanmar, which is rich in oil, gas, timber and gems, and was once a major rice producer.
But Myanmar drew support from China, which values Myanmar as a source of raw materials and route to the Indian Ocean, and from India, which has recently toned down criticism of its neighbor for fear of allowing Chinese influence to grow.
"We are glad to notice that ... the two sides have been conducting close cooperation, taking substantive actions with substantive achievements made," the Chinese representative said.
India also said Myanmar and the ILO had made tangible progress in tackling forced labor.
Myanmar also got backing from fellow members of the Southeast Asian grouping ASEAN.
Singapore urged it to redouble efforts to end forced labor, but criticized speakers who raised the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader currently on trial after years of house arrest, or referred to Myanmar as Burma.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Myanmar criticised for "forced labour'
Sun, Jun 07, 2009
GENEVA - INTERNATIONAL labour experts on Saturday called on the Myanmar government to amend a provision in the country's new constitution that could be interpreted as justifying forced labour.
A special session at the International Labour Organisation on the forced labour situation in Myanmar concluded that the steps taken by the ruling junta towards eradicating forced labour were 'totally inadequate.'
In a report presented at the meeting, the experts pointed to a provision in the new constitution referring to 'duties assigned thereupon by the State in accord with the law in the interests of the people.'
The experts expressed deep concern about a provision in the text of the Constitution that 'may be interpreted in such a way as to allow a generalised exaction of forced labour from the population.'
They called on the government to amend the new constitution, which is meant to take effect in 2010, to bring it into conformity with labour rules.
Myanmar's representative however said the government 'cannot accept criticism on our constitution process", which he said had been adopted by over 90 percent of voters.
ILO experts said that exploitation remained rampant in the Asian country, adding 'there is no genuine and sustained political will to end forced labour.' They also raised 'serious concern on the continued human rights violations in Myanmar and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi' and other political prisoners.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail on charges of having breached the conditions of her house arrest after an incident in which US national John Yettaw swam to her lakeside home in May.
The authorities in Myanmar accused Suu Kyi of covering up the American's presence and rebuked her for offering him food and shelter, allegations that have sparked international outrage.