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International Labour Conference
Ninetieth Session, Geneva, 2002
Special sitting to examine developments concerning the question of the observance by the Government of Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
A. Record of the discussion in the Committee on the Application of Standards 2
B. Observation of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations on the observance of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) by Myanmar 11
C. Other developments concerning the question of the observance by the Government of Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) 26
D. Report of the High-Level Team (Governing Body documents GB.282/4 and GB./282/4/Appendices) 36
E. Minutes of the discussion in the Governing Body (at its 282nd Session) on developments concerning the question of the observance by the Government of Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) (Governing Body document GB.282/PV) 97
F. Report of the ILO technical cooperation mission to Myanmar (19-25 February 2002) (Governing Body document GB.283/5/2) 111
G. Further developments following the return of the ILO technical cooperation mission (Governing Body document GB.283/5/3) 141
A. RECORD OF THE DISCUSSION IN THE COMMITTEE ON THE APPLICATION OF STANDARDS
The Chairperson recalled that this special sitting was being held to determine whether Myanmar was complying with its obligation to give effect to the provisions of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). This item had been placed on the Committee’s agenda pursuant to paragraph 1(a) of the resolution adopted by the Conference at its 88th Session, under article 33 of the ILO Constitution, with a view to the adoption of measures to ensure compliance with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry established for that purpose. The resolution of the Conference stated that: “The question of the implementation of the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations and of the application of Convention No. 29 by Myanmar should be discussed at future sessions of the International Labour Conference at a sitting of the Committee on the Application of Standards specially set aside for the purpose, so long as this Member has not been shown to have fulfilled its obligations”.
For the examination of this case, the Committee had before it the following documents: (1) the observation of the Committee of Experts on the Observance of Convention No. 29 by Myanmar (reproduced below under B); and (2) document C. App./D.6(Corr.), on “Other developments concerning the question of observance by the Government of Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)” which contains the report of the interim Liaison Officer (reproduced below under C); and document C.App./D.7, containing Governing Body documents GB.282/4 (Report of the High-Level Team), GB.282/PV (Minutes of the discussion in the Governing Body at its 282nd Session)), GB.283/5/2 (Report of the ILO technical cooperation mission to Myanmar) and GB.283/5/3 (Further developments following the return of the ILO technical cooperation mission) (all reproduced below under D to G).
A Government representative of Myanmar stated that Myanmar was going through a process of political, economic and social changes, with very encouraging political developments recently which have been welcomed by the international community. The speaker stated that the Government had several measures to report, which had been taken between the 89th Session of the International Labour Conference last year and the present ILC in June 2002, and which had been significant and sustained.
The speaker stated that one important development after the 89th Session of the ILC was the visit of the ILO High-Level Team to Myanmar from 17 September to 6 October 2001. The High-Level Team acknowledged in its report a certain decrease in the incidents of forced labour. It also reported that in contrast to the situation reported in 1998 by the Commission of Inquiry, the High-Level Team found no indications of the current use of forced labour on civil infrastructure projects. The High-Level Team also made some recommendations on ways to resolve the issue.
Another significant development mentioned by the speaker was the appointment of the interim ILO Liaison Officer in Myanmar, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Government of Myanmar and the ILO in March 2002. The speaker stated that the Government of Myanmar had done its part to implement this Understanding. As the Director-General was still looking for a suitable candidate for the post of an ILO Liaison Officer he proposed to appoint an interim ILO Liaison Officer, to which the Government agreed. Consequently, Mr. Leon de Riedmatten, Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, was appointed as the interim Liaison Officer with effect from 6 May 2002. Since then, Mr. Leon de Riedmatten had been able to hold a series of meetings with the authorities and a broad range of people. He had held a total of 24 meetings, including meetings with the Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt, Secretary of the State Peace and Development Council; the Minister of Labour; the Minister of Home Affairs; a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office; the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs; as well as high officials from various other ministries and departments, politicians and representatives of national races, the diplomatic community, the United Nations agencies and NGOs in Myanmar. Furthermore, the interim ILO Liaison Officer was able to hold substantive discussions on crucial issues relating to the observance of Convention No. 29 with the Implementation Committee, led by the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs. Field observation teams led by the members of the Implementation Committee had made numerous trips to various parts of the country. The objective of these trips was to ascertain the observance of orders prohibiting forced labour and the actual functioning in the field of the comprehensive framework of the legislative, administrative and executive measures put in place by the Government.
The speaker emphasized that his list of significant steps taken by the Myanmar Government was not exhaustive, and that all of the developments and significant progress made by the Government of Myanmar and the ILO in this respect have been fully reported by Mr. Leon de Riedmatten in document No. C. App./D.6 (Corr.). The speaker considered that, on the whole, Mr. Leon de Riedmatten’s report was positive, factual and fairly balanced. The significant developments and positive measures taken by the Government of Myanmar outlined in this report clearly demonstrated the consistent political will and the firm commitment of the Myanmar authorities to continue their efforts for the elimination of forced labour in the country. To this end, the Myanmar Government was doing its utmost by taking effective measures systematically and step by step. The speaker stressed that there are certain things to be accomplished by Myanmar and also certain things which need to be accomplished by the international community. The second aspect has been rightly highlighted by the High-Level Team in section 6 of its report. The High-Level Team underscored the importance of economic modernization, consistent political will of the authorities and the engagement of the international community. It also stressed that the international community should be of assistance in the process. As the earnest endeavours of the Government of Myanmar had made further progress, the international community should respond positively to these significant steps. The speaker hoped that these steps will pave the way for a review of the question of removing all the measures taken against Myanmar under article 33 of the ILO Constitution. The Government of Myanmar attached great importance to the process of dialogue and cooperation with the ILO. This process was working well, and has produced tangible results. The speaker hoped to sustain and carry it forward in order to resolve the issue and achieve the aforementioned objective.
The Worker members took note of the statement of the Government representative according to which the situation had improved. They urged the Government to understand that the initiatives and changes which had been mentioned should be appraised by the ILO and that the Organization should be in a position to evaluate the application of Convention No. 29, especially to assess in an objective and impartial way the implementation of the adopted measures and their real impact on forced labour in Myanmar. The elements available for the time being did not lead to the conclusion that the situation was improving. Forced labour ravaged the country for many years and the search for a solution was very difficult in the ILO as in other international organizations. This special session was part of the global approach adopted by the ILO in the face of the situation.
The Worker members recalled that independently of documents D.6(Corr.) and D.7, the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards relied in the first place on the report of the Committee of Experts, without necessarily excluding all the new information.
The Worker members wished that this case would continue to be examined as long as the situation of forced labour in Myanmar did not improve. The seriousness, persistence and systematic character of the violations of Convention No. 29 in Myanmar were no longer contested, but the problem was complex, due to its nature, its diverse forms and its extent. It weighed on the whole population and its consequences were dreadful. It was harmful to employment, since the massive requisitions of labour by the authorities prevented “normal” work, and this was detrimental to the economy of the country as a whole.
Based on the observation that the violations of Convention No. 29 were widespread, systematic and existed in law as well as in practice, the Worker members called on the Government to finally implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and the Governing Body, namely: (1) that the legislation be brought into conformity with Convention No. 29 and, hence, that all legislation rendering forced labour possible be abrogated; (2) that in actual practice, recourse to forced labour be put to an end in the whole country and especially the remote areas; (3) that the penalties foreseen against persons found guilty of having exacted forced labour be effectively imposed.
No doubt, following the initiatives of the Office, changes had been observed. But these changes concerned mainly, if not exclusively, the procedure. Following the appeals of this Committee, the ILO had sent in 2001 a High-Level Team to Myanmar and in the border regions in order to assess the situation on the spot. On the basis of the report of this mission, the Governing Body had adopted conclusions aiming in particular that the Director-General “pursue the dialogue with the authorities in order to define the modalities and parameters of continued and effective ILO representation in Myanmar, which should be put in place as soon as possible”.
A technical cooperation mission had followed in February 2002 in order to reach agreement on the possible conditions and modalities for an effective ILO representation in this country. Further to an Understanding between the ILO and the Government of Myanmar, Mr. de Riedmatten had been appointed interim Liaison Officer on 6 May for a period of two months.
But all these events concerned only the procedures. The concrete situation had not changed, in any case not significantly. The Government should do what was needed to bring about a fundamental change of the situation in the three abovementioned areas, since today there was no improvement as pointed out by the Committee of Experts in paragraph 29 of its observation, where it noted that “none of the three recommendations formulated by the Commission of Inquiry and accepted by the Government have so far been met”.
As long as there was no irrefutable and, most importantly, convincing proof that the situation in Myanmar had improved, the Worker members would not even consider changing their position concerning the measures decided on the basis of article 33 of the ILO Constitution.
Finally, the Worker members noted that, in the course of the discussion, each aspect of this particularly complex case would be addressed in the name of the Workers’ group, by other speakers: the evidence of the persistence of forced labour in Myanmar would be addressed by the Worker member of Pakistan; aspects concerning infrastructure by the Worker member of France; the aspects concerning ethnic diversity by the Worker member of Indonesia; social and labour relations by the Worker member of Sweden; the attitude of the army and the infringements of human rights by the Worker member of the Republic of Korea; the attitude of the Japanese Government and foreign development assistance by the Worker member of Japan; the involvement of multinationals by the Worker member of the Netherlands; trans-frontier migration by the Worker member of Thailand; and the information collected by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in the country by Mr. Maung-Maung, General Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma.
The Worker member of the United States, on behalf of the Worker members, said that much had happened since last year’s special session concerning this very difficult case. Despite the latest developments, the basis of discussion in this Committee was the Committee of Experts’ report. Thus, his intervention would concentrate on what the experts had to say regarding Burma’s continuing non-compliance with its treaty obligations under the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). However, he also planned to comment on the information contained in documents D.6(Corr.) and D.7. The comments of the experts were divided in three sections concerning: changes in the law, actual practice and the enforcement of penalties for the exaction of forced labour.
Much had been said both in this Committee and the Governing Body about the administrative orders issued by the regime that instructed the authorities to ignore the provisions of the Village Act and Towns Act which provided the legal basis for the exaction of forced labour. The experts emphasized this year in paragraph 5 of their observation that further measures were necessary as outlined in the report of the Commission of Inquiry in paragraph 539(b). These changes had already been discussed in the past in this Committee and in the Governing Body. It should be emphasized, as noted by the experts in paragraph 4 of the observation, that, according to the High-Level Team, legislative powers had been exercised by the Government at least on two occasions, in June 2000 and February 2001; when it adopted the “Judiciary Law, 2000” and the “Attorney-General Law, 2001”. The arguments presented by the Government in the past for its refusal to amend the Village Act and Towns Act did not seem to hold up, therefore, and the Worker members wondered why the Government remained so obstinate in refusing to comply with the request of the Commission of Inquiry and the Committee of Experts to amend the law. After all, from the point of view of the victims, a mere withdrawal of the administrative orders, perhaps by a single signature of a top military leader, would once again create the “legal” justification for exacting their labour by force. Furthermore, very important questions remained regarding the seriousness of the efforts made by the Government to communicate the orders to its people and to those most responsible for exacting forced labour, the regional and local military leaders. As emphasized in paragraph 9 of the report of the Committee of Experts, clear instructions were still required to indicate to all officials concerned, including officers at all levels of the armed forces, both the kinds of tasks for which the requisition of labour was prohibited, and the manner in which the same tasks were henceforth to be performed.
Regarding the dissemination of the orders to the populace via the mass media, the interim Liaison Officer had informed this Committee in paragraph 25 of document D.6(Corr.) that town criers had been used to scream out verbal explanations. Somehow, this did not seem to be enough. The Worker members wondered about the extent to which any effort was made to disseminate the orders in various ethnic languages and why the radio media did not seem to be used at all. The information contained in the report of the Committee of Experts described a continuing sluggishness on the part of the Government to commit to a real campaign to let the people know that forced labour would not be tolerated and that those held responsible for exacting forced labour would be punished. Recent interviews of victims who had crossed the border into Thailand supported this description. Very few had any knowledge whatsoever that forced labour was now against the law in Burma.
Regarding the actual continuation of forced labour practices in Burma, he wished to emphasize the report issued recently by the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma and by a reputable international NGO, EarthRights International, that documented forced labour in three ethnic States and in two Divisions based on interviews of 77 victims. Of particular note was the fact that the use of forced labour continued to be closely associated with other severe human rights abuses. Many of the victims interviewed by Earth-Rights had been beaten, stabbed, and/or tortured. There had been numerous reports of executions and incidents resulting in multiple deaths. And there had been six cases of rape, several of which had resulted in the death of the victims. This information was a reminder of what this case was really about. Regarding enforcement, the experts had found no indication that any person responsible for the exaction of forced labour and the concomitant crimes had been sentenced or even prosecuted under the Penal Code and in conformity with Article 25 of Convention No. 29. The report of the interim Liaison Officer in paragraph 25 of document D.6(Corr.) confirmed that up to that point there had been no instances of prosecutions under section 374 of the Penal Code. This point seemed to be confirmed by the Government in its intervention. So in sum, the experts concluded once again as they had for a number of years, that none of the three recommendations formulated by the Commission of Inquiry and accepted by the Government had so far been met.
Turning to the information contained in documents D.6(Corr.) and D.7, while recognizing that the establishment of an interim liaison office was an indication of some movement, the Worker members saw this as only a first step in a long journey rather than an historic breakthrough as the Government had characterized it. Several conditions had to be met for the liaison office to be credible and to contribute in a significant manner to the elimination of forced labour. The Worker members anticipated that a permanent Liaison Officer would be appointed soon, and repeated what the Governing Body had said in March that such an appointment was only an initial step toward establishing a full and effective, permanent representative office. In the interim, the liaison office should be quickly and sufficiently staffed and as had been emphasized in the Governing Body discussions, must have complete freedom to carry out its work throughout the country. The Worker members wondered if monitoring progress, or the lack thereof, toward the elimination of forced labour would be one of the responsibilities of the permanent liaison office. This would be an exceedingly difficult task given the dimensions of the problem throughout Burma and would require a staff of sufficient size and competence. They felt it was extremely important therefore, as a start, that a deputy Liaison Officer be retained without delay. They also believed that if the liaison office was to work effectively, continuity between its work and that of the Commission of Inquiry, the High-Level Team and other past missions was essential. The need for continuity should factor into the appointments of the Liaison Officer, the deputy and other additional staff. The Worker members had some serious concern about the language contained in paragraph 24 of document D.6(Corr.) regarding the importance of confidentiality in facilitating the work of the liaison office. They presumed that the Liaison Officer would be required to report to the Governing Body on all aspects of its work including any progress made or the lack thereof toward the elimination of forced labour. If the need for confidentiality compromised this aspect of the Liaison Officer’s work, then the Government must agree to another mechanism such as regular missions to monitor progress or lack thereof. This required the full consent and cooperation of the Government. The need for such ongoing and credible information was extremely important in order to avoid any mistaken impression caused by the liaison office’s confidentiality requirements that the problem had diminished when it fact it might not have.
There were of course other, more effective ways to monitor the extent to which forced labour continued to be exacted as well as to collectively empower potential victims to resist it. As the High-Level Team indicated in paragraph 68 of document GB.282/4, if there existed genuine civil society organizations, in particular strong and independent workers’ organizations as required by the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), ratified by Burma, these could have provided individuals affected by forced labour with a framework and collective support which would have helped them to make the best possible use of whatever remedies that were available to defend their recognized rights. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no freedom of association in Burma. Independent trade unions did not exist and any attempt to organize one was dealt with in the harshest terms. The Worker members called on the Government once again, as this Committee had been doing over many years, to fulfil its commitments under Convention No. 87. As indicated by the High-Level Team, this must be a necessary component of any sincere and effective effort on the part of the Government to eliminate forced labour.
Regarding the establishment of an ombudsperson to whom complaints regarding forced labour could be submitted and who would have a mandate and the necessary means to conduct direct investigations, the Worker members were extremely disappointed at the continued resistance by the Government expressed in paragraph 21 of document D.6(Corr.) toward the establishment of such an ombudsperson. In the absence of an independent judiciary, there was an urgent need for such an institution as the only potentially effective legal channel available to victims to end the practice of forced labour and seek legal redress. The failure to implement this important aspect of the High-Level Team’s recommendations suggested to them that the Government was not really serious about enforcing the legal changes it claimed to have made. They saw only small steps and continued resistance rather than real commitment to end the practice of forced labour. Regarding the murders in Shan State, they were extremely disappointed once again in the Labour Minister’s comments contained in paragraph 21 of document D.6(Corr.) regarding the alleged murder by members of the military of seven members of the Shan Community for complaining to authorities about being forced to labour. The continued resistance by the Government to an independent investigation gave them the growing impression that the allegations must be true. If the Government truly believed that the allegations had no basis, then the Government representative should explain why his Government continued to refuse an independent investigation, especially one led by Sir Ninian Stephen, the highly respected Chairperson of the High-Level Team, as proposed at the last meeting of the Governing Body. The establishment of the facts of this case by an independent investigation followed by the prosecution of those held responsible for the murders would demonstrate in very concrete terms the Government’s sincerity in cooperating with the ILO. Conversely, the continued failure to do so would only further erode the Government’s credibility that it was willing and able to punish those responsible for forced labour, including members of the armed forces.
Because of the seriousness of the case over so many years, the Worker members were growing increasingly tired of these small steps. They needed to see real progress toward the elimination of forced labour, not for their sake, but for the sake of the victims, both past and future. The Government had been unable once again to provide any new evidence that would dispute the experts’ view that none of the three recommendations formulated by the Commission of Inquiry had so far been met. They would hope and expect, therefore, that the conclusion of this Committee would reflect the actual reality of forced labour in Burma and this Committee’s urgent expectation that the Government must move much more quickly and resolutely in ending forced labour both in law and in practice. The Government representative of Burma had begun his comment by noting the political progress made in the country. When in the past the Worker members had referred to the political situation in Burma, it had been argued that the political question was beyond the scope of the case, which concerned forced labour only. The speaker agreed with the stance of the Government representative that political developments impact on the elimination of forced labour. He emphasized that, as had been noted by the Commission of Inquiry in the past, the situation in Burma would be effectively addressed only when political normalization and civilian, democratic rule returned to the country.
The Employer members considered that this unusual case concerned serious and longstanding violations of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). The population of Myanmar had been suffering for a long time as forced labour had been exacted of them by the military for building roads, railways, and other infrastructure. For over ten years now, the case had been the subject of observations by the Committee of Experts. However, the immediate abolition of forced labour had been called for by the ILO and promised by the Government more than 30 years ago and this Committee had examined this case repeatedly noting the violation of the rights enshrined in Convention No. 29 in special paragraphs.
Convention No. 29, which had the highest number of ratifications, was rightly considered as a core Convention of the ILO since it touched upon a basic human freedom. Although the Government had at first denied all allegations about the existence of forced labour in the country, this had been described exhaustively in the 1998 report of the Commission of Inquiry. The practice of forced labour had been supported by two laws, namely the Village Act and the Towns Act. The Committee of Experts had asked for an amendment of these laws, a change in the actual practice and the enforcement of penalties. All these calls had been strongly supported by the Governing Body and the Conference Committee. Since no sufficient progress has been observed over the years, the Conference had adopted at its 88th Session in May-June 2000 a resolution in which it was clearly stated that the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards would continue to examine the case every year until final satisfactory improvement had been made. In May 2001, the “Understanding on an ILO Objective Assessment” was concluded between the ILO Director-General’s representative and the Government of Myanmar in order to enable the carrying out of an objective assessment in the country with respect to the practical implementation and actual impact of the legislative, executive and administrative measures which the Government had adopted. In autumn 2001 a High-Level Team visited the country and its report was submitted to the Governing Body at the session in November 2001. A further mission had taken place in February 2002. The fact seemed to be that there was still in Myanmar legal justification for exacting forced labour. The two Acts, which were the basis for the exaction of forced labour, had not been revoked and the practice remained unchanged. However, the Government had issued Order No. 1/99 and its supplementing Order in 1999 in order to provide a statutory correction to the existing legislation with a view to the practical implementation of the Convention. Although this represented an important step, the existing legislation should be amended and this had not been accomplished yet.
Overall, the evolution of this case seemed to have two aspects. The first concerned the process of discussion between the ILO and Myanmar. After an early denial on behalf of the Government, gradual steps had led to increased cooperation with the ILO, a High-Level Team had visited the country and other technical cooperation missions had taken place. Since May 2002, an interim Liaison Officer had been appointed. During the various missions carried out by the ILO, the Government had stuck to its promises and cooperated with the ILO. The reports emphasized this point expressly. However, in order to arrive at this situation, continuous pressure had to be exercised on the Government. Although willingness to cooperate seemed to be growing on the part of the Government, this willingness could have been demonstrated more rapidly. Overall, these points together lent a positive outlook to the case.
However, when it came to the core of the case, i.e. matters of substance concerning the final abolition of forced labour, the Employer members emphasized that the only way to achieve substantive progress would be to abolish in law and practice forced labour, which had prevailed in Myanmar and continued to prevail to a certain extent. Although the two Orders might provide a basis for ensuring compliance with the Convention in practice, the most important problem was the publication of these texts. Knowledge of their content was indispensable in order to ensure their application. The Government had emphasized on various occasions obstacles to the dissemination of information due to the size of the territory and the remoteness of certain areas. It was important to ensure that the dissemination of information concerning these Orders was stepped up through all communication tools available, including the mass media. However, the dissemination of new laws by the local authorities and the military did not seem to be a safe method as these were the principal actors exacting forced labour. Moreover, in view of the many languages spoken in the country, the provisions of the Orders needed to be translated and published in all languages. These Orders were totally unknown in some regions of the county. No progress had been made in this respect. Furthermore, given the enormity of projects carried out with forced labour, the abolition of such labour would have had budgetary implications and would have been reflected in the budget. But no information in this respect was available and this was an indicator that forced labour was not completely abolished. The same applied in the area of penalties as instructions prohibiting the requisition of forced labour seemed to be rarely applied. In this respect, a reversal of the burden of proof was required. The Government had to prove that the requisition of forced labour was not carried out any more. As to the Government’s assertion that forced labour represented a tradition in the country, the existence of a “grey area” between what constituted forced and voluntary labour was problematic. However, the facts provided certain indicators. The army, one of the main authorities exacting forced labour, had been increased. No complaints concerning the use of forced labour had been made since in most cases, those who lodged complaints were punished. The Government denied access to independent observers while, as indicated in document D.6(Corr.), the interim Liaison Officer had heard misgivings about the creation of an ombudsperson. Moreover, there was no inquiry into the allegation of the exaction of forced labour which caused the deaths of seven people and the enforcement of a ban against forced labour depended on local authorities especially the military commanders.
All this showed that there was still a long way to go to achieve the abolition of forced labour. This Committee should urge the Government to accelerate the process for the eradication of forced labour in the country. Steps had been made in the right direction, but should go further and faster. Progress should not be only on paper – it was about people and their basic rights. The objective of this Committee should be to make the rights enshrined in Convention No. 29 a social reality for the sake of the population of Myanmar. The Employer members were realists and would continue to look upon developments attentively, critically, with a rational spirit, and with an eye towards the rights of the people of Myanmar.
The Government member of Spain spoke on behalf of the Government members of the European Union. The Government members of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – Central and Eastern Europe States associated with the European Union – the Government members of Cyprus, Malta and Turkey – associated countries – and the Government members of Switzerland, Norway and Iceland had also endorsed the statement. The speaker stated that the European Union continued to encourage the restoration of democracy, the pursuit of national reconciliation, the protection of human rights and the elimination of forced labour in Burma/Myanmar.
The European Union also took note of the last report of the ILO and, in this respect, welcomed with satisfaction the progress achieved in setting up a liaison office in Rangoon as a first step towards the objective of an effective ILO representation in Burma/Myanmar. The European Union called on the authorities of Burma/Myanmar to facilitate requests from the secretariat to ensure that the office had both sufficient staff and technical back up to be able to perform its duties and the freedom of movement and level of cooperation required for it to discharge these duties in practice.
The European Union once again urged the authorities of Myanmar to appoint a permanent ombudsperson, since it believed that its role could be of importance in achieving major progress towards eliminating forced labour. It hoped therefore, that consultations on such an appointment would be held between the Office and the authorities of Myanmar. The European Union also urged the authorities to follow up on the proposal made in the March 2002 session of the Governing Body that the enquiries into the allegations concerning the seven murders in Shan State should be confirmed by an external independent authority accepted by all parties. The European Union expressed its concern that, despite some cooperation with the International Labour Office, no significant progress had been achieved towards eradicating forced labour. The European Union also wished to express its concern that information received on Myanmar pointed to an increase in the incidence of forced labour and forced contributions of labour in certain areas. Furthermore, the European Union called on the authorities of Myanmar to pursue urgent and sustained action for the adoption of immediate steps for the total elimination of forced labour throughout the country. In the light of the foregoing, and of the still very modest progress made in the fight against forced labour in Myanmar by the authorities, the European Union believed that possible consideration of removing the measures imposed under article 33 of the ILO Constitution remained some way off. The European Union would continue to monitor the situation closely in the months leading up to the Governing Body meeting in November 2002.
The Government member of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the ASEAN States Members of the ILO, gave thanks to the Director-General for his efforts in cooperating with the Government of Myanmar. He welcomed the signing on 19 March 2002 of the understanding between the Government of Myanmar and the ILO on the appointment of an ILO Liaison Officer in Myanmar not later than June 2002. He added that the selection of the Liaison Officer was extremely important and needed to be made with the utmost care after consultations with the parties concerned. He welcomed the fact that agreement had been reached on the appointment at this early stage of Mr. Leon de Riedmatten as the ILO Liaison Officer on an interim basis as of 6 May 2002, pending the appointment of a full-time Liaison Officer. He concluded that, with the appointment of an interim Liaison Officer, cooperation between the ILO and the Government was progressing well and emphasized the importance of the discussions in the Committee on this issue being conducted in a constructive and forward-looking manner. He called upon the Government and the ILO to continue cooperation until the issue was completely resolved.
The Government member of Australia, also speaking on behalf of the Government member of New Zealand, expressed a deep, ongoing interest in this matter and noted the modest progress which had been made since the previous year, and particularly the visit and report of the High-Level Team, and most recently the appointment of the interim Liaison Officer. While supporting the continuing cooperation between the ILO and the Government of Myanmar, and recognizing that Myanmar had made and continued to make efforts to eliminate the practice of forced labour, he emphasized that the various visits which had taken place and the ILO presence in Myanmar were only a means to an end. There should be no confusion between progress in terms of the process and progress on the substantive issue itself, namely the elimination of forced labour. The High-Level Team had found towards the end of 2001 that, while there had been a very moderately positive evolution, the practice of forced labour in Myanmar was still widespread. While welcoming the modest improvements that had taken place since 1998 he therefore warned that there was still a very long way to go. He therefore encouraged the Government to redouble its efforts to eliminate the practice of forced labour.
The speaker expressed support for the ILO’s ongoing role in the country and encouraged the Government and the ILO to continue to cooperate on the early appointment of a full-time permanent Liaison Officer, with freedom of movement and access, as a step towards a more substantive ILO presence. In addition, a fully-fledged ILO Office with adequate staff and resources should be established as soon as possible. He also urged the Government to implement the recommendations of the High-Level Team, in particular the appointment of an ombudsperson who would, by mandate and function, have a greater ability to make real progress in investigating and combating forced labour. He also urged the authorities to conduct further inquiries, or to allow an external, independent authority acceptable to all parties to investigate the allegations of the killings of seven villagers in Shan State. He looked forward to a report to the Conference in 2003 which he hoped would record significant substantive progress in the elimination of forced labour in the country.
The Government member of Canada stated that her Government welcomed several recent positive developments in Myanmar, including the liberation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with a view to national reconciliation and the appointment of an interim ILO Liaison Officer (Mr. de Riedmatten). She called upon the ILO and the Government of Myanmar to agree to the permanent appointment of a Liaison Officer at Yangon so that the latter could fully discharge his or her duties by the end of this month, as agreed at the last session of the Governing Body. While these developments augured well for future cooperation between the ILO and the Government of Myanmar, the primary objective was the eradication of forced labour in the country. In this respect, the appointment of an ILO Liaison Officer was only a first step pending the establishment of a permanent ILO presence in Myanmar. As emphasized during the 283rd Session of the Governing Body, the Liaison Officer would only be able to carry out his or her task if granted full freedom of movement and access, including to the National League for Democracy, ethnic populations and the military authorities.
The Liaison Officer could play an important role in disseminating the Orders amending the Towns Act and the Villages Act and she was encouraged by the efforts deployed by the Government in this respect. She nevertheless urged the Government to investigate allegations of forced labour and to prosecute and punish those found guilty under section 374 of the Penal Code. Canada continued to believe that the appointment of an ombudsperson would be a useful recourse for victims of forced labour. It continued to request that an independent investigation be opened into the killings of seven villagers in Shan State reported to have been murdered after complaining to the military authorities that they had been constrained to perform forced labour. Canada hoped that the ILO and the Government would continue to cooperate to establish an ILO presence to assist the Government in the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and the recommendations and conclusions of the Governing Body for the definitive eradication of forced labour in Myanmar.
The representative of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Secretary-General of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, welcomed the release of the national leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, following 19 months of house arrest. However, he noted that, although the international media had reported the news of her release, the military-controlled media in Myanmar had not mentioned one word about it. Nor had the state media reported the order of General Khin Nyunt to forbid forced labour, although he had informed the ILO that an order had been issued after the ILO adopted the resolution on forced labour in the country. This showed that, even though there was public denial, the regime was scared of international pressure and would quietly manoeuvre to ease it.
He recalled that forced labour still continued in the country, even though it had ratified Convention No. 29 in 1955. Farmers, teachers, health workers, regardless of their age, ethnicity or religion, were forced by the military to work without pay for weeks and months, sometimes for up to six months. These people were not allowed to go back and inform their families, or get leave when sick. Forced labour meant a farmer was taken by the military and not allowed to harvest his crop, a fisherman was taken by the military and made to ferry the troops and not fish for his daily income. It meant that whole villages had to work for six months clearing the28 Part 3/6 forest and levelling the ground for the offshore gas pipeline that is run by multinational enterprises. Even following the ILO’s action, people were still being forced to work against their will and without compensation. He referred, for example, to the documented case of a 13-year-old girl who had been forced to clear the undergrowth and plant trees for the military in May 2002. He described how, since 1962, the military regime had so mismanaged the country that, from being one of the richest countries in the south-east Asian region, it had become a least developed country (LDC) in 1987. In this respect, he emphasized that it had become an LDC before there had been any mention of sanctions. It was not therefore the sanctions by the international community following the 1990 election, but the self-imposed isolation and mismanagement by successive military juntas that was consuming the country’s resources, creating humanitarian hardship and forcing the people to leave the country. These were the real reasons why Thailand had over 1 million, Malaysia had over 30,000 and Bangladesh and India had over 50,000 illegal migrants from Myanmar.
In explaining why sanctions worked, he gave the following two examples of how, after loudly refusing to cooperate in the course of normal diplomatic discussions, the regime quietly reacted to direct action. First, for over 40 years, the ILO had requested successive regimes to stop using forced labour. The regimes had always denied the violations and replied that they were in the process of rewriting the legislation, while continuing to use forced labour. Only after the ILO took concrete action in 2000 did the regime, in order to ease international pressure, reduce forced labour and then only in areas that could be accessed easily by the international community. Second, the regime used to make seafarers sign a paper declaring that, should they contact the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) for any reason, their passports and seagoing certificates would be revoked. Only when the ITF campaigned through trade action to stop this unfair practice did the regime stop forcing the seafarers to sign the papers.
In conclusion, the speaker recalled that the struggle for democracy in Myanmar had made a lot of progress. Direct action had shown results and it was now time for more direct action to be taken to push the regime towards a transparent democratic system.
The Worker member of Japan, on behalf of the Worker members, welcomed the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which constituted a first step towards the democratization of the country. He called for the recommendations in the High-Level Team’s report to be implemented as soon as possible. However, he deeply regretted that, even after the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, there remained very many prisoners who had been in detention for many years for their political activities and peaceful engagement in trade union movements. He referred, in particular to the case of Dr. Salai Tun Than, who had been arrested for conducting a peaceful protest in November 2001 distributing copies of a petition calling for a general election. His arrest was clearly contrary to democratic principles, including the right to freedom of association. He emphasized that the elimination of forced labour was very closely linked to the process of democratization, and therefore to recognition of freedom of association. He therefore urged the Government to guarantee freedom of association for the whole population of the country and to release rapidly the following political prisoners: Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, Jimmy, Soe Myint, Ba Myo Thein, Dr. Myint Maung, Thet Min Aung, U Tin Win, Phyo Min Thein, Htay Win Aung, Zaw Min, Zaw Tun, Nyunt Zaw, Myat Tun, Soe Htet Khine, Tun Win, Win Thein, Sein Hlaing, Kyi Pe Kyaw, Aung Myo Tint, Ko Ko Oo, Aung Kyaw Oo, Hla Than and Yin Htwe. The restoration of their political rights would contribute to the development of democracy in the country.
He indicated that the Government of Japan bore special responsibility for the democratization of Myanmar as its biggest foreign donor. He therefore called upon the Government of Japan to put pressure on the Government of Myanmar not to use forced labour in Japanese overseas development aid projects, which should be strictly limited to humanitarian purposes. The Government of Japan should ensure that such projects did not benefit the military regime and he indicated that the international trade union movement continued to pay attention to the use of forced labour in the Baluchaung Hydropower Station project funded by Japan. The Japanese trade unions also supported those who had been forced to leave the country and come to Japan as a result of their participation in the democratization of their country. Nevertheless, the Government of Japan continued to detain seven asylum-seekers in a detention centre, namely: Aye Thant Kyu, Win Kyaw, Soe Lwin, Maw Thin, Maung-Maung, Win Myint Oo and Khin Maung Lat. He added that the Myanmar Embassy continued to impose a tax on its nationals who were in Japan, amounting to 10 per cent of their monthly salary, or a minimum of 12,000 Japanese yen. If they refused to pay the tax, their passports were not renewed. He called for an end to this practice, which was clearly contrary to international law.
The Worker member of Sweden, also speaking on behalf of the Worker members, expressed the serious concern of the Swedish and Nordic trade union movement over the grave violations of human rights in Myanmar. His delegation had been one of those which had initiated ILO action on this matter as an expression of the view that a member State could not be allowed to continue violating fundamental human rights standards, particularly where, as in this case, the violation had been continuing for over 40 years. In recent years, the Government had either refused to cooperate with the ILO, or taken action at the last minute to avoid the Governing Body taking decisions against it. The fact that ILO missions had been allowed to visit the country recently did not change the overall impression that the military regime only acted when it faced real pressure. The difficulties faced in establishing an ILO presence in the country illustrated this problem. No real genuine will had yet been shown by the country to cooperate with the ILO and to follow its recommendations. Indeed, the Committee of Experts had concluded that by permitting exploiters of forced labour to be perceived as representing the State authority, the Government was confirming the finding of the Commission of Inquiry that the impunity with which government officials, in particular the military, treated the civilian population as an unlimited pool of unpaid forced labourers and servants at their disposal was part of a political system built on the use of force and intimidation to deny the people democracy and the rule of law. He thoroughly agreed with the principle expressed by Professor Amartya Sen in his address to the 87th Session of the Conference in June 1999 that decent work constituted not merely the requirement of labour legislation and practice, but also the need for an open society and the promotion of social dialogue. Professor Sen had added that the lives of working people were, of course, directly affected by the rules and conventions that governed their employment and work. But they were also influenced, ultimately, by their freedoms as citizens with a voice that could influence policies, as well as institutional choices.
The speaker emphasized that in Myanmar there were no free trade unions and that any attempts to establish them were brutally repressed. The total non-existence of trade unions distinguished Myanmar from other one-party States. Indeed, there was no genuine possibility of tripartite dialogue in a country where trade unions were not allowed to exist. Democracy and freedom of association were indispensable elements for real social dialogue and the elimination of the practices of forced labour in the country. Finally, he noted that the democratically elected representatives of the country, gathered together in Bommersvik in his country earlier in the year, had expressed appreciation to the trade unions, employers and governments for their role at the ILC and urged them to implement the recommendations of the Governing Body until forced labour practices were ended in their country. He therefore called upon all the members of the Committee to take responsibility for implementing the action required to achieve this objective.
The Worker member of Spain stated that forced labour constituted a major crime against individual freedom and represented a return to the Middle Ages with the right of the landowner over his serfs.
The speaker noted that the observation of the Committee of Experts had concluded that, as a consequence of pressure from the ILO, the Government had issued Order No. 1/99 which prohibited forced labour in public works. Nonetheless, the military continued to use forced labour, indicating the lack of will on the part of the Government to end forced labour. The ILO must continue dealing with this issue for three reasons: (1) the gravity of the case which implied the denial of free work and thus prevented the integration of the person in society; (2) the attitude of the Government of Myanmar, which threw out small changes to avoid condemnation but without having the will to solve this very grave problem; and (3) in the context of globalization it was unacceptable that certain countries continued to resort to forced labour. The speaker stated that the Conference Committee should give a clear example in this case of its effectiveness.
The Worker member of The Netherlands, on behalf of the Worker members, endorsing the statements of previous speakers, emphasized the role of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in the implementation of the ILO resolution of June 2000. Although the Guidelines had been adopted in 1976, they had been revised in 2000 and now included guidance on forced labour, which recommended companies to endeavour to contribute to its elimination. Moreover, as part of the revision, the implementation system, which had been very weak in the past, had been somewhat reinforced. In addition to the guidance on forced labour, further elements in the Guidelines were of relevance. The first was the general policy guidance that companies should respect the relevant policies of the governments of the countries in which they operated and take into account the views of other relevant stakeholders. The second was a reference to the responsibilities of companies in the supply chain. It was therefore clear that companies which were based in OECD countries, but which operated in Third World countries, were expected to comply with the OECD Guidelines in those countries. Moreover, it was also very clear that the Guidelines did not recommend companies to comply with the policies of governments which ran counter to their international obligations.
Taking the example of his own country, he explained how the OECD Guidelines could be of use to ILO constituents for the implementation of the resolution. In 2001, when the Government of the Netherlands had reported to the Director-General on its implementation of the resolution, it had stated that it had neither encouraged nor discouraged economic activities by Dutch businesses in or with Myanmar. A few months later, following dialogue with the trade unions, the policy had changed and the Government decided to discourage economic transactions with the country. Furthermore, the Government of the Netherlands had recommended trade unions to address the activities of multinationals and other companies doing business in Myanmar. In the National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines, the trade unions had lodged a complaint against a major Dutch investor in Myanmar on the grounds that it had not complied with the ILO resolution, which formed part of the Dutch Government’s policy. The trade unions had also charged the company with not taking into account the views of a major stakeholder in the country and of doing nothing to implement the OECD Guidelines as they related to forced labour. Following this procedure, the trade unions were currently engaged in bilateral dialogue with the company on the manner in which it could comply with the OECD Guidelines. Moreover, the action taken had resulted in parallel measures concerning a business partner of the company in the United Kingdom. The Dutch trade unions, in cooperation with the Burma Centre of the Netherlands, were taking similar action with regard to a number of travel agencies. Based on this action in his own country, he called upon governments to ensure that enterprises trading with Myanmar were more aware of the OECD Guidelines, and on the Member States of the European Union to actively promote the OECD Guidelines as a means of implementing the ILO resolution. Employers’ federations should make their members more aware of their support for the ILO resolution and the OECD guidelines. Finally, in their efforts for the implementation of the ILO resolution, trade unions in OECD countries could make better use of the OECD Guidelines as a channel for addressing the activities of multinational enterprises which were based or operated in their country. They could also urge their representatives in European works committees to take similar action.
The Worker member of Senegal recalled that the regularity with which this case came back before the Committee was undoubtedly due to the persistent attitude of the authorities of Myanmar. As recalled by an ICFTU report, recourse to forced labour in the country was a general practice, particularly in conflict areas, and the controversy surrounding the murder of villagers in Shan State was sufficient illustration of the level of subjection to which the population was reduced by the authorities and the fate which awaited individuals who dared to claim their rights. This was the real situation, despite the statements to the contrary by the Government. The latter’s lack of sincerity was also amply illustrated by the very limited nature of public information on the illegal nature of forced labour. Taken together, this meant that in future the Government’s credibility could not be based only on a few gestures of good will at the procedural level, but needed to be supported by real efforts verified by impartial bodies.
The Worker member of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the Worker members, said that his country had seen a major increase in the number of illegal immigrants from Myanmar. Estimates of their numbers had risen from 500,000 in 1991 to nearly 2 million in 2000. The Government of Thailand had permitted the registration of these illegal migrants, of which 500,000 had now registered, thereby helping to prevent their exploitation by employers. He called upon the Government of Myanmar to change its system of governance and its economic policies which, combined with forced labour and forced relocations, were the reasons behind the exodus. If such changes were not made very rapidly, the numbers of migrants would increase still further. He added that the Government and people of Thailand had supported the membership of Myanmar in ASEAN in the hope that, by becoming a partner, Myanmar would witness changes made to improve the conditions of the people. Nevertheless, the violations were continuing. He therefore called for the maintenance of the ILO resolution and much stronger monitoring to prevent continued violations of workers’ rights.
The Worker member of France, speaking on behalf of the Worker members, referred to the observation in the report of the Committee of Experts which noted that widespread forced labour still prevailed in the absence of clarity in Order No. 1/99 and its Supplementing Order No. 1/99, which did not distinguish clearly between obligatory and voluntary service. The legislation of Myanmar does not yet clearly prohibit recourse to forced labour, and its use continues in practice. The population is not generally informed of its rights and cannot escape from the military’s exactions of labour, provisions, food and money. No indications of a budget or concrete indications from the Government of Myanmar exist to corroborate its assertions of a decrease, let alone the elimination of forced labour. All testimony collected by the High-Level Team showed, to the contrary, that the military continued with its practices at the local level; the size of the army had more than doubled over the last ten years, which implied an ever increasing recourse to the practices of extorting labour and confiscating property from villagers. The military was in charge of developing infrastructure, such as railroads, roads and bridges, and resorted to forced labour to build them under the threat of weapons. The decrees and orders adopted by the junta would have real value only in a democratic state governed by the rule of law; but such a state had been abolished by those who now governed the country.
The speaker emphasized that unpaid work, or work where the wages are confiscated by the state or in the private interests of the military is forced labour. Wages, even where they are paid by foreign companies, are frequently subject to confiscation; workers are rounded up in the villages and their gains are extorted by the local military. The exaction of wages of a worker paid by a foreign company or the exaction of labour for public work result finally in forcing workers to work without equitable compensation in violation of Convention No. 29. The same applies to forced labour in prisons, where exploitation is so great that detainees die of exhaustion.
Concerning so-called free and voluntary labour in infrastructure projects, witnesses aboundeded to the widespread practice and the accompanying barbaric acts. The speaker referred to testimonies given by victims called up in 2002 for the construction of civilian road infrastructures, one of which was for the benefit of an international oil company whose representatives had inspected the beginning of the work. Such practices constituted not only a violation of Convention No. 29, but also of all of the fundamental principles, as well as all civic, economic and social freedoms. Human rights are interdependent; the violation of a fundamental right such as the right to freely chosen work and equitable remuneration cannot but come with other grave violations of all fundamental Conventions and UN Covenants. The country will never witness sustainable development on these foundations of oppression and exaction.
The speaker added that villagers belonging to ethnic minorities along the State’s frontier are often victims of ethnic discrimination. Agricultural and plantation workers do not enjoy freedom of association even though Myanmar has ratified the Right of Association (Agriculture) Convention, 1921 (No. 11), and the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87).
All international action should be aimed at aiding the people of Myanmar, oppressed in a country where democracy had been taken away, by a regime under which forced labour constituted a general practice of the military State. Since no real and sustained progress was yet evident on the part of the military rulers of the country, the ILO must continue its action.
The Worker member of Pakistan, on behalf of the Worker members, welcomed all the statements condemning the crime of forced labour. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, which was supposed to be an age of knowledge, reason and humanitarian values, and when everyone believed that they stood for democratic values, it was a cause of shame that crimes against humanity and basic human values and dignity continued to be committed. Although the Government representative had indicated that the appointment of the Liaison Officer was one of the measures that were being taken as part of a step-by-step process for the abolition of forced labour, all the members of the Conference Committee recognized that forced labour was a clear violation of human rights and of Convention No. 29. Would it not be possible for the Government to punish severely those who had perpetrated this crime so as to prevent future violations? However, there was no evidence of any judicial action or punishments in response to the recommendations of the High-Level Team. Indeed, in practice, as noted by the Committee of Experts, the progress that was being made appeared to be inconsistent in the various areas, with higher levels of forced labour occurring in remote areas. There were particular problems in preventing the use of forced labour by the military, especially in the border areas. The problem was aggravated because of the reprisals against those who denounced forced labour practices and the lack of trust in the police and the judicial system. In conclusion, persistent violations of this basic human right continued in the country, and persons who endeavoured to make use of their trade union rights were imprisoned. The exaction of forced labour by the military was particularly common. He therefore called upon the Government to take all the necessary measures to abolish the practice of forced labour and to provide full protection to all those who were subjected to forced labour. All those who exacted forced labour should be brought to the courts and those found guilty should be punished. All these special measures needed to be taken as rapidly as possible, and not as part of an extremely slow step-by-step process.
The Worker member of the Republic of Korea, on behalf of the Worker members, citing findings of the High-Level Team, a communication of the ICFTU respecting the Myanmar case as well as the conclusions of the Committee of Experts, noted several human rights violations by the Myanmar military. He stated that some of the most serious human rights abuses had occurred in the context of forced portering, wherein civilians, including children and ranging in age from 15 to 60, had reportedly been abducted and pressed into service for the military. He noted that while porters usually carried supplies for soldiers on patrols, they had also been placed at the head of columns to detonate mines and spring ambushes, and were also used as “human shields” in combat. He pointed out that porters were also subject to constant physical abuse and that many of them had witnessed other porters being killed by the troops they served.
The speaker referred to observations by NGOs indicating that a total of four days per family, per month measure was less a ceiling than a floor and that during the dry season the Rohingyas were forced to work on average about one week a month, sometimes ten days or two weeks. With respect to development projects involving forced labour, he noted that beatings, torture and summary executions were commonplace abuses of human rights, citing in particular reports of women being raped by soldiers and of a woman killed for having stopped work to feed her baby. Additionally, he cited the 2001 ICFTU Annual Survey on Violations of Trade Union Rights which indicated that labour and human rights abuses continued unabated.
In conclusion, he stated that the Government of Myanmar must provide genuine credible evidence of progress on the forced labour issue as an absolute precondition to consideration of a shift in ILO measures under article 33 of the ILO Constitution, and expressed his continued support of the NLD.
The Worker member of India expressed indignation and anguish with regard to the continued violation of Convention No. 29 by the military government of Myanmar. He noted that the Village Act and Towns Act of 1907, which empower the authorities to requisition labour without wages, were a part of Myanmar’s colonial legacy, and expressed regret that it had chosen to maintain these laws – to the detriment of its people and their human rights. He noted that the problem of forced labour persists to this day, in spite of amendments to the Village Act and Towns Act, and urged the ILO to pursue further discussion with the Government to see an end to the matter. On this point, however, he emphasized that the promotion of international labour standards should not be linked to the question of maintaining trade and commerce with Myanmar, as doing so would prove counter-productive and act against the interests of that nation’s workers. He concluded by stating that any actions taken with respect to this matter should be free of interference from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.
The Worker member of Indonesia, on behalf of the Worker members, stated that, based on reports from the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB), NGO EarthRights International, and other documents, he regretted to say that the Government of Myanmar had not made any significant progress in abolishing forced labour in Myanmar.
He drew attention to the issue of ethnic nationality in forced labour which mostly happened on the Myanmar border in states such as Karen, Mon, Chin, and the Indian border Tavoy township. The military often forced people to work as unpaid porters or work for military purposes. He gave the example of an ethnic Karen civilian who was forced to labour several times for the military – carrying very heavy military equipment for an extended period with little rest and no provisions for food or water. He also described the disruption and trauma to the villagers as a whole caused by the need for males to flee to avoid being forced to labour. Villagers in Karen State had received the news about General Khin Nyunt’s order prohibiting forced labour, but they thought that the prohibition did not concern their region because the army still practised forced labour as usual. The speaker recalled that, although the Governing Body at its 282nd Session in November 2001, requested that the Order supplementing Order No. 1/99 be disseminated through major ethnic languages to enable people to understand the ongoing efforts which had been made, the High-Level Team noted that the orders had not been disseminated via the mass media, and had been distributed only in English and Burmese, but not in any of the other major ethnic languages spoken in the country, causing misunderstanding.
The speaker concluded by stating that there was no indication that the Government of Myanmar had taken specific and serious action on this matter. Therefore, he insisted that the Government of Myanmar give a reasonable explanation of action taken so far in realizing the recommendations formulated by the Commission of Inquiry, which it had accepted. He also called on the ILO constituents to continue to take concrete action to eliminate trade and assistance which may contribute to the practice of forced labour discrimination against ethnic minorities.
The Government member of Japan expressed his appreciation to the Director-General for his efforts to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with the Government of Myanmar and welcomed the agreement between the ILO and the Government of Myanmar on the establishment of an ILO Liaison Officer. He also welcomed the appointment of Mr. Leon de Riedmatten of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue as an interim Liaison Officer, and expressed satisfaction with his report.
The speaker considered that it was of the utmost importance for the Government of Myanmar to take appropriate measures in response to the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, so as to meet the expectations of ILO Members which have been cultivated over the last two years. He expected that the first step of the Government of Myanmar would be a cornerstone for working on the establishment of continued and effective ILO representation in Myanmar. He encouraged the authority in its efforts to ensure the prompt and effective elimination of forced labour, and referred to the lifting of restrictions on the movement of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on 6 May 2002, which could create a favourable environment for facilitating democratization and national reconciliation and contribute to the elimination of forced labour. The speaker hoped that it would be possible for the Government of Myanmar and the ILO to work together resolutely, and he strongly hoped that a formal Liaison Officer would be appointed and fielded soon and would fulfil his or her duty of continued cooperation to eradicate forced labour.
The speaker also stated that the relationship between Japan and Myanmar did not and would not contain any element that induced, directly or indirectly, forced labour, nor did any assistance projects undertaken by Japan, which were concentrated in the area of basic human needs. This included the rehabilitation of the Baluchaung No. 2 hydroelectric power plant which produced 24 per cent of the total electricity in the country and was in need of repair. The speaker recalled that the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General had acknowledged the need for further humanitarian assistance to Myanmar, especially in the areas of health, education, electric power and food aid. Lastly, the speaker stated that, should it be the case that the democratization process was further accelerated, the Government of Japan would support the efforts towards nation-building in a more active manner.
In reply to comments of the Worker member of Japan, he stated that the Government of Japan strictly observed its obligations under applicable international instruments and Japan’s laws and regulations in the treatment of foreign nationals in Japan.
The Government member of the United States stated that the situation of forced labour in Myanmar was a long-standing concern of her Government. She welcomed the positive steps taken by the Myanmar authorities since this Committee’s special sitting last year, and particularly in the weeks since the March 2002 Governing Body. There had been numerous indications of good faith intentions, and a number of important procedural measures had been initiated. Nonetheless, the fact remained that, at the end of the day, the very specific, substantive recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry had still not been fully implemented: the Village Act and the Towns Act still needed to be brought into conformity with Convention No. 29, as the orders promulgated thus far were not sufficient; clear, detailed and adequately publicized instructions were still required to ensure that forced labour was not imposed in practice, especially by the military; and penalties for the exaction of forced labour still needed to be strictly enforced by means of thorough investigation, prosecution and appropriate punishment of those found guilty.
The Committee of Experts, the High-Level Team, and most recently, the Liaison Officer ad interim had made detailed suggestions as to how the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations would be effectively implemented. The Myanmar authorities should act upon these suggestions without delay. In particular, it was critical to proceed immediately with the establishment of full and effective permanent ILO representation in Myanmar. In addition, the establishment of a fully independent and impartial ombudsperson to investigate allegations of forced labour was a necessary complement to the other monitoring and enforcement machinery currently in place. The controversy over the deaths of seven villagers in the Shan State demonstrated the need for this type of independent, external investigation.
Lastly, the speaker stressed that the objective of the ILO was not to punish Myanmar, but rather to help Myanmar, in a constructive way, to eradicate a practice that was an offence to human dignity and that all ILO Members agreed must not be tolerated. Until such time as all three recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry had been fully implemented, it was the obligation of the International Labour Organization to maintain the measures adopted by the 88th Session of the Conference in accordance with article 33 of the ILO Constitution.
The Government member of India stated that he had carefully examined the agenda documents and the information available before the Committee. He welcomed the appointment of Mr. Leon de Riedmatten as the interim ILO Liaison Officer pending the appointment of a full-time ILO Liaison Officer, pursuant to the agreement reached between the Government of Myanmar and the ILO. He noted with satisfaction the activities carried out by him to date as well as the full cooperation extended by the Government of Myanmar. India, as a matter of principle, had all along supported adoption of a promotional approach by the ILO in regard to matters falling within its mandate and had consequently been opposed to a punitive approach to further the ILO’s aims. It was convinced that the ILO’s objectives could best be promoted through dialogue, cooperation and technical assistance. The speaker concluded by noting the full cooperation extended by the Government of Myanmar which he hoped would continue, as well as the agreement reached between the ILO and Myanmar. He encouraged both sides to continue their dialogue to resolve outstanding issues with a view to the removal of the measures taken against Myanmar.
The Employer member of Japan reiterated that the employers are optimists but realists and expressed his sincere hope that forced labour in Myanmar would come to an end as soon as possible. He expressed his appreciation for the efforts made by the Director-General and his staff in this issue. He quoted from document C. App./D.6(Corr.), paragraph 28, which gave general indications of various actions the Liaison Officer could implement, and stated that the ILO was competent to take on such tasks. Lastly, he emphasized the importance of broad tripartite involvement and technical cooperation to bring forced labour to an end in Myanmar.
The Employer members noted the serious and comprehensive debate, which was necessary because of the issues involved. The speaker noted signs of progress, such as procedures established for cooperation between the Government of Myanmar and the ILO, and various administrative measures taken. It was very important to have technical cooperation to make progress. However, as to the substance of the case, small steps had been taken but larger ones were needed. Many obstacles still existed, such as the size of the country, its closed nature, the involvement of the authorities at many levels, and the fact that forced labour was a long-standing practice that would take time to eliminate.
An ILO permanent presence in Myanmar was crucial until the problem was solved. The measures cited in the Liaison Officer’s report also needed to be taken, such as employment promotion. The Government had to see that forced labour harmed not only the victims, but also the country as a whole, through lost opportunities and a poor image in the international community. In general, the case should be viewed with some rays of light, but a great deal of darkness still remained. The conclusions of the Conference Committee had to reflect both the progress already achieved and the big problems remaining in the complete abolition of forced labour, in order to stimulate further dialogue with the Government of Myanmar towards a resolution of the problem.
The Government member of Myanmar stated that he had listened with great interest to the discussion, and appreciated the statements of speakers, in particular those from the ASEAN States, who had welcomed the changes undertaken.
Regarding calls for an ombudsperson, the speaker stated that Myanmar already had a system to deal with complaints – the Miscellaneous Legal Issues Division of the Attorney-General. This body was charged by law with bringing complaints to the attention of the relevant authorities to protect the interests of the people. Officials were obliged to examine complaints in conformity with the Attorney-General’s guidelines. The speaker also noted that there were 28 new sub-townships with assistant township officers empowered to deal with grievances, including complaints of forced labour. Such a system would be more effective than an ombudsperson due to the remoteness of many areas of the country. Furthermore, the interim Liaison Officer had held wide discussions on the issues.
The speaker stated that the case of the seven villagers who were murdered had been investigated and that the perpetrators had been found to be terrorists; furthermore, the case was not related to forced labour. Discussions with Mr. de Riedmatten had addressed this issue.
The speaker objected to Mr. Maung-Maung of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma having been allowed to take the floor. The speaker alleged that Mr. Maung-Maung was a terrorist and criminal, and therefore letting him take the floor was an abuse of this ILO forum.
The speaker expressed his desire to continue dialogue and cooperation between Myanmar and the ILO, which had proven to be fruitful. He stressed that the ILO should encourage the Government to do its utmost, but it would not be helpful if efforts were not recognized. He expected that the Conference Committee would reciprocate and respond positively to the Government’s show of good will.
The Worker members said that the very high level of interest in this case by the members of the three groups of the Committee was sufficient illustration that the situation in Myanmar would need to be kept under examination for a long time to come and, in any event, until real progress had been noted at the three levels referred to by the Commission of Inquiry and the High-Level Team. Until the legislation in Myanmar was brought into conformity with Convention No. 29, the practice of forced labour had disappeared and, finally, effective action was taken against those found guilty of exacting forced labour, the pressure on the country would have to be maintained. The Worker members believed that if there existed in Myanmar real organizations of civil society, and particularly strong and independent workers’ organizations, as provided for in Convention No. 87, which had been ratified by Myanmar, such organizations could provide the victims of forced labour with the support that they needed to be able to avail themselves of the recourse available to them to defend their recognized rights.
Finally, in view of the comments made by the Government member of Myanmar addressed to a Worker member of the Committee, Mr. Maung-Maung, the Worker members recalled that, in accordance with Convention No. 87, which had been ratified by Myanmar, trade union organizations were free to designate their representatives; they drew the attention of the Conference Committee to threats to the physical safety of the designated union representative.
After noting the information provided by the Government representative, the Committee noted with deep concern the observation of the Committee of Experts evaluating the effect given to the three recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, taking into account the information contained in the report of the High-Level Team. With regard in the first place to the Village Act and the Towns Act, which had not yet been amended, the Committee of Experts had noted that Order No. 1/99, as supplemented, had been given considerable publicity and may momentarily have affected certain civil infrastructure projects, but had not brought an end to the exaction of forced labour, particularly by the military. The specific and practical instructions and the budgetary provisions that were lacking had not yet been adopted, or even prepared, with a view to replacing in practice recourse to forced labour by the offer of decent wages and conditions of employment to make it possible to attract the necessary labour freely. Finally, no sanction had been imposed under section 374 of the Penal Code or any other provision, in accordance with Article 25 of the Convention, on those responsible for the exaction of forced labour, while the means of recourse available to complainants were not effective.
The Committee also noted the information on the High Level Team and its follow-up contained in the supplementary report submitted to the Committee. It noted that as a result of the cooperation of the authorities, it was possible for the first time to have available, through this report, an evaluation conducted freely in the country and on the other side of the border on the impact of the new regulations on the real situation of forced labour throughout the country. It also welcomed the fact that one of the recommendations of the High-Level Team intended to ensure the presence of the ILO in Myanmar had been followed up and that the ILO’s presence had already been ensured in practice through the appointment of the interim Liaison Officer and the report that he had already been able to produce. However, it emphasized that this presence was only a means and would have no significance unless the future Liaison Officer rapidly had the capacity and administrative support, as well as the facilities, to conduct the various activities that could contribute to the effective implementation of the prohibition of forced labour. These facilities needed to include freedom of movement and access and required the cooperation of all the authorities, including the military. The Committee further regretted that no practical effect had yet been given to the other important proposals made by the High-Level Team with regard, on the one hand, to the murder of victims of forced labour in Shan State and, on the other hand, the establishment of an independent and credible form of mediation to offer a new means of recourse in which future victims could have confidence. Such an institution was particularly necessary in the absence of freedom of association, the significance of which for the situation of forced labour had been emphasized by the High-Level Team. The Committee also regretted that the provisions prohibiting forced labour had not been disseminated more broadly through all channels and in all appropriate languages, as called for by the High-Level Team. In general terms, the Committee emphasized the need for real, rapid and verifiable progress, not only at the procedural level, but also and in particular at the level of the persistent reality of forced labour and the widespread impunity of those responsible, and particularly the military. It encouraged the Office and the Director-General to pursue their efforts resolutely on all these issues, as well as their dialogue with the Government and all the parties concerned, and to report to the Governing Body, which would be responsible for examining, as appropriate, the conclusions to be drawn from the progress or lack of progress at its session in November 2002.
In this respect, the Committee noted that the Government representative, at the end of the discussions, had expressed the will of his Government to discharge its international obligations and to pursue the dialogue with the ILO.
Finally, it recalled that the Government would have to supply a detailed report for examination by the Committee of Experts at its next session on all the measures adopted to ensure compliance with the Convention in law and practice.