20/07/2007
History of forced labour

La storia del lavoro forzato in Birmania e il ruolo dell'ILO

THE SITUATION OF FORCED LABOUR IN BURMA
PROBLEMS AND POSSIBLE ACTIONS
Cecilia Brighi
CISL (Italy)
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[1] .

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 Conventions.

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 sweeping

The ICFTU report showed more over that such activities could not in any case be listed among the exceptions listed in the Convention.[2]

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 foreign investors.

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 [3]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 military junta.

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 Burmese warships.

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 situation.

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 committee.

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 implemented.

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 those responsible.

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 European Union.[4]

"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.”[5]

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 volition.

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 be applied”.[6]

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. [7].

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 found guilty.

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. [8]

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 following steps:

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 labour.

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 reporting system;

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 next year.

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.

ECONOMIC RELATIONS

If 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.

We 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.

We 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…

FOREIGN INVESTMENTS

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 in advance.

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 international institutions.

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 future repercussions.

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 change.

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 human rights.

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.



[1] 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”.

[2] 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

[3]the 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 responsibility.

[4] ICFTU letter to the Director General of the ILO on the 31st of August concerning the violation of Convention 29

[5] ICFTU letter to the DG of the ILO concerning the violation of Convention 29 by Burma

[6] 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” .

[7] 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 scope of

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 request.

[8] 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 formal agenda.

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