THE SITUATION OF FORCED LABOUR IN BURMA
PROBLEMS AND POSSIBLE ACTIONS
Member of the ILO GB
6th December 2006
The exploitation of workers through
forced labour in Burma is well documented since years. In order to
explain the continuous existence of forced labour one has to remind
that in Burma since 1962 there is a hursh dictatorship and that the
legislation and other laws and orders - which were subject of comments
of the ILO Committee of experts for many years, but also the following
military decrees and orders - have strangled all forms of democratic
organisation and collective activities in Burma.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
On 18 September 1988, the date of the
military coup, which abolished all state organs, the SLORC issued the
Order n. 2/88 which prohibits any activity by five persons or more,
such as “gathering, waking or marching in procession, chanting
slogans, delivering speeches… regardless of whether the act is with the
intention of creating disturbances of committing crime or not”. Such Order was integrated by the 1908 Unlawful Association Act and other acts .
Already in 1989, the government indicated in its report to the ILO that “mayor
political changes are currently under way in Burma. In particular the
former single party system is in the process of being transformed into
a multi-party system” and this would produce substantial changes. But such changes never arrived.
In 1991 after the March 1990 democratic elections, won by the NLD, the government communicated to the ILO that: “even
though there has been no formal amendment or repeal made to the Act n.6
of 1964 and Regulation N.5 of 1976 they became automatically defunct.” The government representative declared also that: “ general elections had been recognised as one of the most free and fair elections.” And recognised that “ the
provisions of the law concerning the formation of workers’ organisation
in his country that restricted the creation of trade unions to a single
trade union structure was contrary to the provisions of articles 2,5
and 6 of the Convention 87 on freedom of association”.
Later on in1992 the government indicated that “Trade
Union Act is the one among the existing labour law, which have now been
redrafted to meet the new trends prevailing in this country with the
enactment of these new labour laws trade union rights will prevail” the Government also declared that “ in
conformity with Declaration n. 11/92 of 24 April 1992 his governmment
will meet the elected representatives of Parliament to decide on the
convocation of a national Convention” and that “ the new
constitution will incorporate the rights of all workers to form their
own independent trade unions in conformity with the democratic system.”
In 1993 the government stated that “ after
the emergence of new Constitution various laws would have to be
reviewed so as to be brought into line with it. However during the
transitional period the workers’ rights were being ensured by
legislation still in force”
More than 15 years passed since the democratic elections and still
we are listening from the government the same promises that have not
been maintained. The National Convention has been reconvened once again
with a totally unacceptable lack of democracy both in the selection of
participants and in its procedures.
Particularly, on the issue of forced
labour, thanks to the work of the Burmese trade unions, of the
international trade Union Confederation and other NGOs working inside
the country there is a continuous updated picture on the situation of
forced labour which is periodically discussed both at the UN commission
on Human Rights and the ILO.
To tall all the story, in reality the
exaction of forced labor started during the Colonial period when the
British adopted two laws: the Village Act and the Town Act,
which enabled the exploitation of local people for certain activities.
In most of the reports to the ILO, the Burmese government assured that
they did not use the rights, based on such acts, considering them out
of time. Forced labor is widely used all over the country and
particularly where the ethnic minorities are predominant.
The use of forced labour is a violation of three different categories of international law.
It is a violation of human rights norms:The Covenant on civil and
political rights, the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the ILO
The UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly have
adopted during the recent years a series of Resolutions that have not
produced substantial changes.
In 1930 the ILO has adopted the
Convention 29 and Convention 105 in 1957. The first has been ratified
by 136 countries among which Burma, and foresees that “forced or
compulsory labour shall mean all work or service which is exacted from
any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said
person has not offered himself voluntarily”. And the art. 1 states more over that “. Each
Member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this
Convention undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory
labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period”
Trade union action through the ILO
Since the 60th the issue of
forced labor in Burma has been object of interest by the ILO, through
its monitoring and supervisory mechanisms. In the last years the ILO
has started two special procedures against the country. One of which
after an ICFTU initiative in 1996 when the ICFTU presented a complaint
under article 26 of the ILO Constitution, against the use of forced
labor by the military in activities connected with portering of
ammunitions, food and other activities for the army including mines
The ICFTU report showed more over that such activities could not in
any case be listed among the exceptions listed in the Convention.
At the time the Burmese authorities accused the ICFTU of
political attack to the immage of the country. The Burmese government
affirmed and not only at that time, alternatively that forced labor
does not exist or that where it is used, it is because it derives from
values and practice connected with the Buddhist religion and
reiterated that some forced labour was in line with the national
legislation. Nevertheless the Committee of Espert continued to ask for
the full implementation of the convention since 1964.
In 1995 the ICFTU together with the ETUC presented also a
formal complaint to the EU System of Generalized Preferences which
enable EU countries to suspend totally or partially their trade
preferences in case of violation of fundamental workers rights among
which Convention 29.
In such a complaint the trade unions were denouncing the use of
forced labour in the construction of infrastructures financed by
At that time reports showed that about 800.000 people were involved
in such programs. Roads, airports, electric plants highways have been
build through forced labour. The most famous example was the Ye-Tavoy
railway, where over 20,000 people had been enslaved on a rotating shift
basis from hundreds of villages between Ye and Tavoy, as well
as from the two towns themselves and other villages far beyond the
reach of the railway itself. In that case roughly 160.000 Karen and Mon
people were moved in that area and more than 30.000 soldiers were
utilizes to repress eventual protests. The case was symbolic because
among the proofs there were leaflets from the authorities which were
distributed in the villages and that explained clearly which were the
punishments for those who refused to leave the family and the village
itself. Two major foreign companies were involved in such activities
and both of them were working in the construction of gas pipelines. For
such activities entire villages were obliged to be destroyed. Further
use of forced labour at the time was for the restoration of monuments,
and other tourist infrastructures ( bridges, airports, hotels etc..) in
order to respond to the new trend of economic opening up.
As a consequence, the Governing Body appointed a Commission of Inquiry which was not authorized by the Burmese government to visit the country, indicating that "such a visit would not contribute much towards resolving the case" and "would interfere in the internal affairs of the country".
In the year 2000 the ILO Governing Body following the fact that the
Government of Burma did not comply with the recommendations of the
Commission of Enquiry of
decided to implement the provision of article 33 of the Constitution of
the ILO; and therefore recommended a series of measures which included,
that the question of the implementation of the Commission of Inquiry’s
recommendations and of the application of Convention No. 29 should have
been discussed at each sessions of the International Labour
Conference,” in a special sitting of the Committee on the Application
of Standards” ore over the GB decided that the Organization’s
constituents – governments, employers and workers – that they:” (i)
review the relations that they may have with the member State concerned
and take appropriate measures to ensure that the said Member cannot
take advantage of such relations to perpetuate or extend the system of
forced or compulsory labour”; and (ii) report back in due course and at
appropriate intervals to the Governing Body; the same request was
directed to the International institutions so that they were invited to
cease as soon as possible any activity that could have the effect of
directly or indirectly abetting the practice of forced or compulsory
labour; invite the Director-General to submit to the Governing Body, in
the appropriate manner and at suitable intervals, a periodic report on
the outcome of the measures set out in paragraphs (c) and (d) above,
and to inform the international organizations concerned of any
developments in the implementation by Myanmar of the recommendations of
the Commission of Inquiry”.
Unfortunately after such important
decisions, and despite a series of technical cooperation mission, an
high level Team, a Very High level Team the issue of forced labor did
not undergo to any significant changes. Even the proposed joint Plan of
Action, a fragile proposal put forward and consisting of various
initiatives including an experimental construction of a road with the
use of animals and the establishment of a Facilitator who should have
being receiving complaints from persons alleging to be or to have being
subjected to forced labour, vanished in front of the continuous
obstacles of the Junta.
In the 2003 the injury and the arrest
of Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation wide crack down on the democracy
movements, made very hard to believe that the Burmese government was
serious about the implementation the Plan of Action.
It was more than ever, clear the eradication of forced labour was not depending from lack of technical means and expertise.
The key problem was and still is,
unfortunately, the confirmed absence of a real political will to
eliminate what can be called one of the backbone of the survival of the
The junta, instead of investing on the
eradication of forced labour and promotion on productive decent jobs,
since 1988 doubled it army, with an estimated 470.667 soldiers, out of
which 70.000 are forcibly recruited children, under the age of 18. Such
children are threatened with jail if they refuse to join the army or
brutally beaten if they try to escape. So the Burmese is now one of the
largest armies in South East Asia to which 49.9% of the state
expenditure is allocated. Large quantities of weapons from small arms
to jet fighters are imported from China, Russia, and other countries.
One example is the ten Russian MIG 29 fighters, which cost in all 130 million. Signs of growing military ties
between North Korea and Burma's ruling junta are stirring concern.
About 20 North Korean technicians have been working at the Monkey Point
naval base near Rangoon, possibly to prepare to install the missiles on
It is therefore clear, that forced
labour is essential to the survival of the army and, there is no way
that Burma can get out of the vicious circle of forced labour, unless
there is a serious political commitment to completely reverse the
More over the military economy has
brought expenditure in education near to 0%. While health system, as by
the WHO data, puts Burma at the 190 place. Social expenditure has
reached unsustainable low levels.
Burma is also an economy of drug
and the second largest opium producer in the world and the first
producers of methamphetamines. Thousand of hectares are cultivated for
opium production. Is’nt the military junta not aware of it?
Therefore an other important mean to
eradicate forced labour is an intervention for the deep change of the
national budget structure.
The already hard economic situation
got worsening, thanks also to the militarization of the rural economy.
Forced labour, land confiscation policy, and rice procurement for
export and for rice supply to civil servants at subsidized prices,
forces farmers to sell most of the harvest to the government at a price
4/5 times lower that the market price. This, together with the export
oriented policy to hard currency, explain the shortage of rice and the
lowering of health conditions of farmers.
Just before each ILO Governing Body or
before the ILO Conference the junta decided to adopt some measures to
show their progress in the implementation of the Convention. But
unfortunately all measures were always more of a cosmetic nature, than
really addressing the heart of the problem.
A wide set of reliable information show
that forced labour and the arbitrary arrests of people to be used as
prison labourers by the army, prevail in the country, especially in
zones when the army is more present, and that the total absence of
freedom of association, cannot provide the ability to be informed and
organise as a fundamental prerequisite for a substantial change.
Practice modifications to stop forced labour
There has been a series of
requests from the commission of Enquiry and from the ILOGB that would
have made the difference in the elimination of forced labour.
Amendment of legislation:
The village act and the town act has
not been modified, while two decrees: 1/99 and the other supplementing
it, have been adopted prohibiting forced labour, and these could be
used as a legal basis to eliminate forced labour if they are strictly applied.
The Committee of Experts identified
four areas in which action needed to be taken by the government and in
particular by the military:
1) As far as the concrete instructions are
concerned, even though they have been requested for a number of years
by the Committee of Experts, as of yet, no concrete and detailed
instructions have been issued to all public officials concerned - most
importantly the members of the armed forces - detailing what types of
practices constitute forced labour and the manner in which the same
tasks should be performed without having recourse to forced labour.
2) As regards the publicity given to the orders, This is the only point where one have to note that some measures were taken, even though their efficiency
is close to being null. Only if people are aware that forced labour is
a crime, they will then have the courage to resist. Extensive publicity
measures should target three specific groups: the population, the
civilian authorities and the military. As of now, no publicity measure
have been taken with regard to the military, both concerning the
existing orders and sanctions, even if this group is the one on which
focus should be put in priority. This is the second serious point of non-compliance by the Government still in need for immediate action of redress.
As regards publicity towards the civilian authorities,
it should have not been too difficult for the central authorities to
reach all 16 states and divisions, which, with their implementation
Finally, with regard to the civilian
population, the most vulnerable group, still a huge amount of people of
Burma have never heard about the orders. Easy and concrete measures
should have been taken to correct the situation, particularly where
allegations of forced labour are the most numerous,
3) concerning the budgeting of adequate means.
This is the most crucial issue. A shift of the nowadays huge budget for
the army and weapons should have been directed to the elimination of
forced labour and the promotion of fair social conditions. At the time
of the discussion the junta explained that for each project there
is a budget allotment, with cost of material and labour is not
sufficient. Clearly, either these allotments are not enough, which
should be increased immediately, or the funds are not going where they
should be going, all problems under the authority of the government.
4)As regards the monitoring machinery,
the whole machinery is based on Convention No 29 Implementation
Committee. The dialogue established between this committee and the
Liaison officer at the time should have been used to bring more rapid
and concrete results and only persons with authority over the issue of
forced labour should have been members of this committee and the
investigating methods followed by the committee in establishing if
there is forced labour, were clearly not appropriate. It was of serious
concern the fact that all the allegations of forced labour transmitted
by the Liaison Officer to the authorities for investigation, were
either found baseless or were not followed by an investigation. In
the year 2004 the Liaison Officer has received 40 complaints but the
regime admitted that only three of the 40 were the victims of forced
labor and action was taken by the authorities.
So not only a machinery should have
been established, but there should have been all the guarantees of a
fair, transparent and effective procedures
5) Enforcement, penalties and criminalisation
On this point, the Commission of
Inquiry urged the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure that
the penalties which may be imposed under section 374 of the Penal Code
for the exaction of forced labour be strictly enforced. Basically, no
sanction has ever been imposed and no complaint has ever been filed,
except for few cases among which that of Su Su Nway.
Another instrument to divert the
attention of the ILO and particularly of government could be
reconnected with the convictions of the three trade unionists Shwe Mahn, Naing Min Kyi and Aye Myint. While
after ILO pressures the death penalty was cancelled for all of them by
the Supreme Court judgment, all the convicted were condemned some to
transportation for life, some others to some years of jail and all of
them, incredibly, are condemned to an euphemistic “Rigorous labor” with
the crime of high treason for contacting the FTUB: the legitimate trade
union of Burma and opposition groups in exile. Even thought the ILO GB
succeeded to obtain the liberation of the trade unionists, the
situation did not improve and in November 2005 the GB requested to the
Government to take advantage of the time available before March 2006 to
resume an effective dialogue with the office. But unfortunately this
appeal once again was not heard by the Burmese government.
The situation as also affirmed by the
Havel Tutu Report deteriorated furthermore and such negative
developments produced the following:
1) in August 2005 the Global Fund
against HIV AIDS was obliged to terminate grants to Burma, due to
government restrictions making implementation impossible. Later on
other organizations had to take the same decision.
2) the important Report and the call launched in September 2005 by the Nobel Prize Desmond Tutu and the former President of the Check Republic Vaclav Havel asked for an urgent and new diplomatic initiative at the UN Security Council .
According to such Report, the situation
in Burma, is much more severe than in any other countries in which the
Security Council has chosen to act in recent years. It demonstrates
that there are all the determinant factors for the Security Council to
put on its agenda the question of Burma. Among such determinant factors
there are the forced relocations, forced labor and forced recruitment
of child soldiers in a number highly superior to any other country.
More over the Report clearly states that Burma internal situation is a
threat to the stability of the entire region and for the international
community, which would clearly justify the intervention of the Security
Council under chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
3) The ECOSOC, decision, after
the request from the ILO Director General to reactivate its
consideration of the item concerning forced labor, due to the heavy
situation, to discuss this matter during its session on 26 of July 2006
as it happened and in such occasion more than 10 governments or
regional grouping took the floor.
4) On 16 December 2005, the UN Security Council
held a briefing on the situation in Burma, which included the situation
of forced labor. A second discussion took place in July and afterwards
on 15th September 2006, the Security council decided to put Burma on its agenda.
5) The 7th of February 2006
report of the UN Special Rapporteur on human Rights Paulo Sergio
Pinheiro underlines the widespread and systematic forced labor
practices and forced recruitment by State actors including allegation
of child labor. Such report concludes that despite early indications
from the government that it was willing to address these problems, the
Special Rapporteur who was not authorized to visit the country regrets
that all such willingness appears to have disappeared and that
recommendations from the UN General Secretary have not been
He underlined the refusal of the
government to acknowledge and address the declining socio economic
conditions, the deep rooted and worsening poverty and lack of economic
reform, which are moving the country towards an humanitarian crisis.
The Special Rapporteur has furthermore issued a statement on the
situation of human rights in Burma focusing on the political prisoners
and their treatment, which reveals much about the human right situation
and lack of progress toward democracy . He believed 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
6) In March 2006 the International Committee of the Red Cross
decides to drastically reduce its activities in Burma due to lack of
willingness of the junta to cooperate in the protection activity. And
just some days ago the Junta took the incredible decision to close down
5 local offices of the ICRC.
8) On the 26th of May, the
Presidency of the EU Union expressed deep concern for the junta
stepping up of pressure over the ethnic groups. A further statement
Austria on behalf of the EU condemned the decision by the SPDC to
extend ASSK house arrests. “ this decision is another sign that the
Burmese government is unwilling to compromise and move in the direction
of an all inclusive democracy” .
7) Just few week ago, UN Under
Secretary Mr. Gambari, visited the country under the General Secretary
mandate to seek a fruitful dialogue with the junta. Apparently there
was very little f success of such high level talks with the junta. We
have to recall that immediately after his first visit, the junta
confirmed the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi for another year.
On 31st of August the ICFTU/ITUC
presented further evidence of continuation of forced labor in Burma. In
the report the ICFTU indicate that “as recently as 5 July 2006, Burma's
military regime warned Aung San Suu Kyi in its official
English-language newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, that "her days are numbered," and "she is heading for a tragic end."
The ominous condemnation and apparent death threat said that Suu Kyi
"was in her final days," and "guilty of betraying the national cause
while relying on aliens," including the United States, Britain and the
"Attempts to translate into reality the
1990 election results are in vain," the military junta said. Describing
the conditions under which she would be freed, the SPDC stated that
"definitely, the restrictions imposed on her will be lifted on the day
she stops demanding democracy. The restrictions will never be lifted
until she abandons her practice of liberal policy," it said, indicating
a possible future renewal of her house arrest, which was extended last
May for another year.”
The ICFTU/ITUC reported that: “While
forced labour seems to be one government tactic for terrorizing
civilians, some practices seem to be aimed merely at pestering the
population”. According to information received on 9 August 2006, local
authorities summoned parents in Pegu Division and forced them to sign a
pledge saying that they will steer their children clear of politics.
“What they forced us to sign was, that we will control the pupils, not
let them get involved in political affairs, and to control our
children. All parents were forced to sign,” a parent said. "(Parents
were told) not to allow their children to associate with politicians or
political activists. Those parents who refuse to sign the pledge are
also threatened with legal actions against them and their children.".
The report includes evidence of
government-imposed forced labour in nearly every State and Division of
the country, ranging from forced portering, forced labour in
"development projects", construction or maintenance of infrastructure
or army camps, forced patrolling and sentry duty, clearing or
beautification of designated areas, child labour including the
forced conscription of child soldiers, sexual slavery, human
minesweeping, and confiscation of land, crops, cattle and/or money.
In Karenni State, at least 45,000 - 50,000 of the total Karenni
population of 300,000 are internally displaced. Approximately 23,000
are in refugee camps, 10,000 are in forced relocation camps, 3,000 are
in Shan State, and 1,000 in Karen State.
“According to evidence received by the
ICFTU on 14 July 2006, eye-witnesses account extensively of prisoners
working on road construction projects, rubber plantations and tea
plantations in shackles in Chin State and other parts of Burma. An
eyewitness stated that prisoners in one labour camp are yoked like oxen
and forced to plough the fields.”
Despite the ILO's call for a moratorium
on all prosecutions, by the end of July 2006, three men from Aunglan
Township, Magwe Division - Thein Zan, Zaw Htay and Aung Than Htun –
continued to be scheduled to appear in court on 7 August 2006 on
charges of “giving false information.” And only afterwords these cases
seem to be resolved positively. The three men had reported the death of
a local villager, Win Lwin, in December 2004, who was allegedly killed
while being forced to build a road. The authorities have never
investigated the incident, claiming the man was working of his own
The FTUB denounced the use of forced
labor also in construction sites for the Akyab-Rangoon and
Kyaukpru-Ann- Rangoon motor roads.
Forced laborers were also obliged to wear uniforms of the fire service and the army, to avoid attracting the attention of international human rights organizations and local people to forced labor.
They were about 400 prisoners,
mostly from Akyab jails, being forced to work on the construction
daily. The prisoners were brought in seven army vehicles from the Akyab
prison to army headquarters in Ann on October 4, in order to work on
the road construction.
The army is detaining the prisoners in
the barricaded buildings surrounded by barbed wire, and bringing them
to the construction site in army vehicles every morning. Among the prisoners, most have served their terms and are set to be released from jail very soon a source said. It is not uncommon for the authorities to force, soon to be released prisoners, to work in road construction sites.
In June 2006 the Junta instrumentally
instead of tackling seriously the issue of forced labour decided to pay
a little price liberating Su Su Nyaw and announcing a moratorium on
prosecutions, by providing further details on how this moratorium world
As from the Office report, the Burmese government refused to enter into an agreement with the ILO.
International Court of Justice
INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE
This is also why the workers group supported once again in the November 2006 GB the to give
mandate the Director General of the ILO to request, on a priority
basis, an advisory opinion to the International Court of Justice, on
the legal question of the consequences of the constant and persistent
failure of Myanmar to respect its obligations under the Forced Labour
Convention, 1930 (No 29 based on the Agreement between the United Nations and the International Labour Organization article IX. .
The request according to the workers
group should be based on the general violation of the Convention,
rather than on the specific technical reference to the prosecution of
persons on allegations of lodging false complaints of forced labor, or
on the establishment of a mechanism with adequate guarantees o ensure
thorough investigation, prosecution and adequate punishment of those
This because these two issue, even
though important, represent only a partial violation of the convention
and the ILO should prepare a question on the violation as such of the
Convention, that can be supported by an extensive ILO official
documentation, including the report of the Commission of Enquiry and
the subsequent documents listed in the Office paper for the GB. 
In the conclusions of the Selection Committee on the additional agenda item concerning Myanmar, as adopted by the 95th Session of the International Labour Conference, June 2006, a
number of other points were raised as further action to promote the
2000 resolution and subsequent GB decisions. This included the
It was requested that the Office
should provide information about other remedies that may exist under
international criminal law for action against perpetrators of forced
This also included the question of
whether Burma as a State, or individuals from the junta could undergo
to trial on crime against humanity. In this regard forced labour could
be considered as slave like conditions.
A further conclusion of the November
2006 GB stated that further information should have been sent to the UN
Security Council that included Burma in its agenda, and that the ILO
Office should inform the Security Council on the developments on the
issue of forced labor and of further initiatives.
More over again we believe that due to
this situation and to the data showing that there are an increase of
export from Burma to different countries including Europe, that Office
should request all Members to establish tripartite committees at
national level to assist this reporting and to direct the Office to
allocate human and material resources to establish and service this
In the Conclusions of the Selection Committee it was proposed, among
others, that a Multi-stakeholder conference could be convened. This
seems to be a further commitment to be implemented in the beginning of
So now a series of further initiatives are to be prepared internationally particularly at the ILO.
Some political critical issues are open for the international action.
it is clear that forced labour is an instrument for maintaining the
power, a set of different actions need to be taken. The ILO in this
regard has to play an important role to address all the continuous
violations by the Junta and to oblige the government to fulfill all the
requirements raised by the Commission of Enquiry at the time.
consider of an outstanding importance the implementation of the request
of the Director General that asked more than once to all the ILO
constituents to revise their economic and trade relations with Burma,
including state owned and military owned enterprises and FDI.
all know that Burma is a country rich of natural resources and that the
economy is in the hands of the military. It is impossible to do
business in Burma without feeding the junta and without strengthening
the army. In fact the law on the state ownership approved in 1989
allows the government to control all the 12 key economic sectors.
Private enterprises can export only after authorization of the Union of
Myanmar Economic Holding (UMEH) or of the Myanmar Agriculture Produce
training, which receives l’11% of all transactions. Such companies are
managed by the Defence Ministry . UMEH has investments in all the main
sectors: tourism, banks, precious stones, real estates, loggings,
pension funds for the military etc…
According to Economist Intelligence
Unit in 2005, the amount of foreign direct investment in Burma’s oil
and gas sector, represented a three fold increase in one year.
The main source country of this
investment is the People’s Republic of China with about 89% of total
FDI in these sectors and now also India. Regarding China, his
investments in Burma had a ten fold increase from 2003 to 2005.
The next biggest investor after China
is Thailand. Thailand’s role as an investor in Burma has increased
recently and remains a pervasive influence on the Burmese military
regime. Last year Thailand signed a project with Burma to construct
four large dams on the Salween River, for which Technical Assistance
and feasibility studies by some Japanese power companies were conducted
These dams to provide
hydro-electricity are located in a region of Burma populated by three
of the largest Burmese ethnic groups: Karen, Karenni and Shan.
These groups have greatly suffered in
the past during the construction of various infrastructure projects in
Burma and there are great concerns that they are likely to do so again.
The Burmese military regime has been
waging war for many years against the ethnic peoplesliving in the areas
where the dams would be situated. This has resulted in massive refugee
flows, with hundreds of thousands of people becoming internally
displaced and countless numbers tortured or raped or killed.
THE most important thing, however, as
far as the ILO Committee is concerned, is the fact that such
infrastructure development always goes hand in hand in the massive use
of forced labor.
Foreign Direct Investment with the full respect of worker’s right may help open societies to promote development.
This is not the case of Burma. The
profits from FDI are not redistributed among workers, but continue only
to feed the government and its arrogance toward its people and the
Another important factor that block
eventual positive development is the alliance among the so called
“likeminded group” . a series of governments that do not want to see
the reality and that by principle intervene to support the Junta.
For political and economic interests
the key countries are China and India. Both of them want to maintain a
strong political influence accompanied by the need to exploit the huge
Burmese natural resources, first of all gas. But both of them have also
military interests. Other countries do not want that the principle of
political interference could win because the want to avoid possible
So in this scenario it is of an
outstanding importance that the governments who do not accept such a
blatant violation of some fundamental rights, take the lead to reverse
the situation through a mixture of political and economic initiatives.
Once again it is important to convince
some key governments in the Security Council, that it is time to have a
Resolution that would enable the UN to develop a strong initiative for
a serious and effective tripartite dialogue with all the interested
parties including ASSK, the NLD and the ethnics.
It is important that a convergent
diplomatic action convince governments to give up with such an
unnatural support to a military regime.
It is time that a coordinated action among the employers, the trade unions and governments monitors
the situation of investments and trade in order to adopt practical
measures to interrupt such activities until the situation does not
It is time that the ICJ is addressed coherently and that all the possible documentations are sent also to the ICC.
Those who are paying a very high price
in the country deserve such a synergic strategy. They deserve to be
helped in promoting democracy.
I think about the Burmese trade unions that alone, silently are organizing in a clandestine way workers in the factories.
They are working without very much political and financial support to :
- expand the networks of the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB) inside Burma;
-strengthen ethnic trade unions;
-broaden non-violent political activities;
- build international support for the Burmese democratic opposition;
- maintain pressure on the ruling
military junta to comply with internationally recognized labor
standards, particularly on forced labor and freedom of association;
- and heighten awareness of Burmese
migrant workers in Thailand and India regarding international labor
standards and the role of democratic unions in supporting democracy and
Working as an integral part of
the democratic opposition, the FTUB continues ongoing efforts within
Burma to bring pressure on the regime through a call for basic worker
rights and through programs designed to address the everyday economic
and social issues confronting the people of Burma. They are
continuously providing information on developments in Burma to
political leaders, trade unions and labor organizations, human rights
groups and other NGOs, governments and international organizations.
I think that a concrete commitment to
help the Burmese trade unions and the democratic organizations to
strengthen themselves and their activities is a concrete sign of
respect for the action that Su Su Nway and her supporters have been
doing with a high personal price.
As we said at the ILO “the wait and
see” situation is not more there. It is time to act with determination
to give a boost to the change. We can do and we must do it.
 The 1908 Unlawful Association Act states in Section 17.1 that “whoever
is a member of an unlawful association, or takes part in meetings…
shall be punished with imprisonment of non less than 2 years”.
On 30 September 1988 the military regime issued Order 6/88,
known as the “law on the Formation of Associations and Organisations”.
This Order has been at the attention of the Conference Committee on
Application of Standards for many years.
This Order states that all ” organisations shall apply for permissions to the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs” and provides in Section 3 (c), that “organisations that are not permitted shall not form or continue to exist and pursue activities”. Such organisations are listed in section 2 (b) and include “an
association, society, union, party, committee, federation, group of
associations,.. and similar organisation that is formed with a group of
people for an objective or a program either with or without a
particular name” This Order applies also to workers’ and employers’ organisations.
The reasons for an organisation can be
denied permission to form are extremely broad. And there is no
mechanism for appeal against a decision, denying permission for an
organisation to be established.
Section 6 provides that persons who violate the order “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years” while persons who are “founded
guilty of being a member of, or aiding an and abetting or using the
paraphernalia of organisations that are not permitted to for under
section 3 (c) or Section 5 can be jailed up to three years”.
a) any work or service exacted in virtue of compulsory military service
laws for work of a purely military character; (b) any work or service
which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a
fully self-governing country; (c) any work or service exacted from any
person as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law, carried out
under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the
said person is not hired to or placed at the disposal of private
individuals, companies or associations; (d) any work or service exacted
in cases of emergency (e) minor communal services
to request the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to place an item on the agenda of its July 2000 session
Commission of Enquiry recommended: A) that the relevant legislative
texts, in particular the Village Act and the Towns Act, be brought into
line with the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), as already
requested by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions
and Recommendations and promised by the Government for over 30 years,
and again announced in the Government’s observations on the complaint.
This should be done without further delay and completed at the very
latest by1 May 1999; B) that in actual practice, no more forced or
compulsory labour be imposed by the authorities, in particular the
military. This is all the more important since the powers to impose
compulsory labour appear to be taken for granted, without any reference
to the Village Act or Towns Act. Thus, besides amending the
legislation, concrete action needs to be taken immediately for each and
every of the many fields of forced labour examined in Chapters 12 and
13 above to stop the present practice. This must not be done by secret
directives, which are against the rule of law and have been
ineffective, but through public acts of the Executive promulgated and
made known to all levels of the military and to the whole population.
Also, action must not be limited to the issue of wage payment; it must
ensure that nobody is compelled to work against his or her will.
Nonetheless, the budgeting of adequate means to hire free wage labour
for the public activities which are today based on forced and unpaid
labour is also required; C) that the penalties which may be imposed
under section 374 of the Penal Code for the exaction of forced or
compulsory labour be strictly enforced, in conformity with Article 25
of the Convention. This requires thorough investigation, prosecution
and adequate punishment of those found guilty. As pointed out in 1994
by the Governing Body committee set up to consider the representation
made by the ICFTU under article 24 of the ILO Constitution, alleging
non-observance by Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.
29), the penal prosecution of those resorting to coercion appeared all
the more important since the blurring of the borderline between
compulsory and voluntary labour, recurrent throughout the Government’s
statements to the committee, was all the more likely to occur in actual
recruitment by local or military officials. The power to impose
compulsory labour will not cease to be taken for granted unless those
used to exercising it are actually brought to face criminal
 ICFTU letter to the Director General of the ILO on the 31st of August concerning the violation of Convention 29
 ICFTU letter to the DG of the ILO concerning the violation of Convention 29 by Burma
 The ILO stated that “if
the moratorium was breached, or if it came to an end without agreement,
on a satisfactory mechanism as envisaged under point 3 and 4 , the
situation would immediately be brought to the attention of the membership, to review any steps that it may be appropriate to take , including international legal steps on the basis of art. 37.1 of the ILO constitution” .
 Relations with the International Court of Justice
1. The International Labour
Organisation agrees to furnish any information which may be requested
by the International Court of Justice in pursuance of article 34 of the
Statute of the Court. 2. The General Assembly authorises the
International Labour Organisation to request advisory opinions of the
International Court of Justice on legal questions arising within the
its activities other than questions concerning the mutual relationships of the Organisation and the
United Nations or other specialised
agencies. 3. Such request may be addressed to the Court by the
Conference, or by the Governing Body. acting in pursuance of an
authorisation by the Conference. 4. When requesting the International
Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion, the International Labour
Organisation shall inform the Economic and Social Council of the
The November 2006 Gb conclusions stated among others:” Following the
Conference conclusions in June 2006, a specific item would be placed on
the agenda of the March 2007 session of the Governing Body, to enable
it to move on legal options, including, as appropriate, involving the
International Court of Justice. The Office should therefore make
necessary preparations for the Governing Body to request an advisory
opinion of the International Court of Justice on specific legal
question(s), without prejudice to the possibility that a member State
could take action on its own initiative. – As regards the question of
making available a record of the relevant documentation of the ILO
related to the issue of forced labour in Myanmar to the Prosecutor of
the International Criminal Court for any action that may be considered
appropriate, it is noted that these documents are public and the
Director-General would therefore be able to transmit them. – In
addition, the Director-General could ensure that these developments are
appropriately brought to the attention of the United Nations Security
Council when it considers the situation in Myanmar, which is now on its