INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION FREE TRADE UNIONS
WORLD CONFEDERATION of LABOUR
Speech to the ECOSOC session
– Point 14 b
26 JULY 2006
On behalf of the 180 million workers represented by the ICFTU and WCL worldwide, I would like to express our sincere gratitude for having given us the possibility to address the ECOSOC on the severe and grave violations of human and workers’ rights in Burma/Myanmar. The rich debate that has taken place at the ECOSOC shows the importance of this theme and – while thanking all the governments that have intervened – I would like in particular to thank the distinguished representatives of Canada, USA, Japan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Finland on behalf of the EU and acceding countries. The issue of forced labor has been dealt by the ILO supervisory mechanisms since 1964, with a renewed focus and initiative with the adoption of a specific Resolution in the year 2000 under art. 33 of the Constitution and the strengthened measures subsequently adopted by the Governing Body up to the recent June 2006 Conference.
These initiatives are all aimed at bringing the military junta to finally implement the recommendations of the ILO Commission of Inquiry, therefore discontinuing the use of forced labor in the country, while ensuring that no action is taken against victims and their representatives who complain to the courts or to the ILO.
The authorities' total lack of commitment is clearly expressed by realities on the ground. In over 2,000 pages of reports that the ICFTU has sent to the ILO since November 2004, it remains clear that the imposition of forced labour continues to be a systematic and widespread army practice. This material contains reports from nearly every State and Division of the country on several hundreds of cases of forced portering, repair and maintenance of army camps and villages for displaced people, cultivation of paddy and other fields, road construction, clearing of jungle areas, "human minesweeping", patrolling and sentry duty. It also describes numerous cases of torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence and child labour, including the conscription of child soldiers. As a result of these practices, together with the fact that the SPDC often confiscates land as well as food supplies, the people of Burma/Myanmar face starvation and forced migration, both internally and to other countries. We also recall that several international organizations, such as the Global Fund against HIV AIDS, were obliged since 2005 to terminate grants to Burma, due to government restrictions which make implementation impossible.
While the situation is therefore still very worrisome, we are encouraged by a renewed pressure on the junta coming from international and regional actors.
Nobel Prize Desmond Tutu and former President Vaclav Havel issued a Report in September 2005 asking for an urgent and new diplomatic initiative at the UN Security Council, showing that the situation in Burma is much more severe than in any other country in which the Security Council has chosen to act in recent years, in particular mentioning forced relocations, forced labour and forced recruitment of child soldiers.
Recent briefings took place at the UN Security Council on Burma, including the situation of forced labor.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro issued in February 2006 a Report underlining the widespread and systematic forced labor practices and forced recruitment by State actors including allegation of child labor. Professor Pinheiro declared that it is time for the international community to urge the establishment of an independent enquiry into the rapidly escalating number of death of political prisoners in Burma that should lead to establish the accountability of those responsible.
In March 2006 the International Committee of the Red Cross decided to drastically reduce its activities in Burma due to lack of willingness of the junta to cooperate in the protection activity.
In June 2006 the International Labor Conference of the ILO, as recalled by many, adopted conclusions both in the Committee on Application of Standards and in the Selection Committee, sharing all the very grave concerns on the situation in the country.
On July 15th 2006, the Members of the Parliament Union of Burma and the government in exile issued a Declaration (Turin Declaration) asking the UN Security Council to strengthen the mandate given to the UN Secretary General to find a peaceful resolution to the stalemate in Burma and asking the ECOSOC to help bring about an effective solution to the Burma crisis.
On July 22nd 2006 the ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Caucus (AIPMC) Conference on Burma and Democracies in Transition, committed, inter alia, to work for the inclusion of Burma on the UN Security Council agenda, to work towards engaging China and India actively on reforms in Myanmar and to coordinate interventions at international and regional conferences including the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization and various UN bodies.
Yesterday, July 25th, a joint communiqué of the 39th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting addressed the issue of Burma, expressing concern on the pace of the national reconciliation process, calling for the early release of those placed under detentions and for effective dialogue among all the concerned parties.
All these initiatives, together with the firm position adopted by the Workers’ Group of the ILO Governing Body, prompt us to request the ECOSOC to take urgent action on the following matters:
- to urge the government of Burma/Myanmar to adopt and implement with no delay all the measures required to comply with ALL the recommendations of the ILO Commission of Inquiry;
- to support the possible request of the ILO to the International Court of Justice under art. 9 of the UN/ILO agreement for an advisory opinion on the legal question of the consequences of the constant and persistent failure of Burma/Myanmar to respect ILO forced labor Convention 29;
- to support, in cooperation with the Burma/Myanmar authorities and the ILO Liaison Officer, the establishment of bodies and procedures to ensure that complaints by victims of forced labour are promptly and adequately dealt with, that no prosecution or any retaliatory measures are taken against said victims or their representatives and that all prisoners in relation to this issue are promptly released;
- to encourage governments to implement art. XX a, b and e of the GATT agreement as an acceptable justification for restrictions on trade with Burma/Myanmar;
- to urge governments, regional financial organizations and institutions, as per the ILO Governing Body decision, to revise their economic relations with Burma/Myanmar, including foreign direct investments, both with military and State owned enterprises;
- to request the Secretary General of the United Nations that the situation of Burma, including forced labour, should be included with no delay in the Security Council agenda;
- to have a follow up discussion at the ECOSOC July 2007 session.
Anna Biondi Bird
Director ICFTU Geneva
Secretary Workers’ Group ILO
46, avenue Blanc
CH - 1202 Geneva
 AIPMC comprised legislators from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, joined by like-minded colleagues from Australia, New Zealand and India