285th (November 2002) Session of the Governing Body


Item 4 on the Agenda


Developments concerning the question of the observance by the Government of

Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)


Chairperson's summary of the debate


The CHAIRPERSON - It has been a rich debate with many contributions. Some may take a more optimistic and some a more pessimistic view of progress. I think it was timely of the Government of the United States to remind us that what we are talking about, essentially is procedural endeavours which could lead to a real attempt to deal with the problem. The Myanmar Ambassador, in his contribution, and indeed others, used words like success, advancement and progress, and no-one would deny that the statement of political commitment from the Government of Myanmar unquestionably made, and not qualified, is indeed something we can call progress. But I am reminded, of course, by the Government of Japan's reference to the Commission of Inquiry, as long ago as 1998, that the ensuing resolution from the Conference and the action we required of the Government of Myanmar is the eradication of forced labour, the bringing to justice of those responsible for perpetrating the acts of forced labour, and changing the legal process to give effect to the foregoing. In that sense, that is what we have to make our judgement about. If I was to use layman's language, as I do not have the diplomatic training of the many distinguished ambassadors here so forgive me, I would sum up the views of the Governing Body as saying that we welcome the words of the Government of Myanmar but we await the concrete action that must follow. I sense the mood of the Governing Body to be one of wanting to see such concrete action in place before serious consideration can be given to the removal of the 1999 ILC resolution under article 33, whether it is in March 2003 or beyond. To put it in a perhaps more diplomatic form and one more appropriate to convey the sentiments of the Governing Body in written form to those who will read the minutes of this meeting, perhaps it is useful to look and take note of the formal confirmation by Ambassador Mya Than but the Government of Myanmar welcomes the visit of an ILO mission to follow up on the previous discussion between the Office and the authorities as regards a possible programme of action, it should be clear from the documents and the discussions that we have heard that the object of such a mission, if it takes place, should indeed be to finalize agreement on a comprehensive plan of action for the effective eradication of forced labour. It should take into consideration, inter alia, the ideas and suggestions made by the High-Level Team which went to. Myanmar just over a year ago. What we heard today confirms, in particular, the need to establish a credible system for the investigation of allegations which indeed was part of these suggestions.


Subject to that understanding, it will be up to the Office to judge, when the preparatory work, which will have to be conducted through the Liaison Officer, is sufficiently advanced, for such a mission to be really fruitful. In this connection, and in reply to the Ambassador's comments, I would like to point out, as others have done, that to the extent that the object of the plan of action is the eradication of forced labour, the 1999 resolution adopted by the International Labour Conference, leaves wide discretion to the Director-General and to the Office as to the range and nature of technical cooperation projects that could be part of that plan. Indeed, it fits four square with what has been said by the Workers and some Government representatives, that the resolution seeks to ensure that technical assistance given to the Government of Myanmar is indeed for the task of eradicating forced labour and as that in fact, is what is being sought by Governments, including the Government of Myanmar, I think we are all talking the same language and taking the same path.


The differences are between those who believe that we should have gone more speedily up to now and those who think we have made sufficient progress to consider removal of the Article 33 measures. This issue is not for this Governing Body. It would be for consideration in March next year, but I echo the points made. So often we have seen progress made, if it is made at all, only just before meetings of this Governing Body, which makes it very, very difficult for the Governing Body itself to make an assessment of the impact of such changes. I believe that to the extent that it has been recognized by the Government of Myanmar and in the statements of the Ambassador, the commitment of the Government is to take the words and, with the Office's assistance, convert them to concrete action so that we can see for ourselves that the forced labour situation is materially changing. This will be a day that we all hope we can get to as quickly as possible. I would hope that summing up reflects the sentiments of all persons in this hall, from Government, Worker and Employer benches, and I would hope it keeps us on the consensus road to a task we all want to achieve, which is the eradication of forced labour in the country of Myanmar and I hope that this is a point of summing up that has general support.