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Letter from ICFTU-APRO Genreal Secr
Subject: Letter from ICFTU-APRO Genreal Secretary
7 May 1999
13th meeting of ASEAN Labour Ministers, May 10-15, Rangoon
On behalf of the ICFTU-APRO representing over 30 million workers in the
Asia Pacific region, I am writing to raise with you an important issue
relating to the basic rights of workers in one of the ASEAN member
countries. This issue has a direct impact on the view taken by the
international community of ASEAN as a grouping of nations that is
increasingly concerned with promoting respect for international labour
This issue is the systematic and continuing use of forced labour by the
Government of Myanmar (Burma), despite that nation's obligations as a
country which has ratified ILO Convention No. 29. Since you will be
travelling to Burma to attend the 13th meeting of the ASEAN Labour
Ministers from May 10-15 in Rangoon, we would like to propose that you
raise this issue with the Government when you are there. Specifically, we
request you to strongly urge the Government of Myanmar (Burma) to comply
without failure with the recommendations of the ILO Commission of Inquiry
on Forced Labour in Burma, including the immediate cessation of use of
forced labour, punishment of those guilty for its use and amendment of the
relevant colonial laws to bring them into compliance with Convention 29.
The ILO Commission set a deadline of May 1, 1999 for the Government of
Myanmar (Burma) to comply with these recommendations but it is now clear
that the Government has no intention of meeting that deadline.
The ILO Commission, which was composed of neutral, highly respected
international jurists, reported that the problem is widespread. The
Commission found that "There is abundant evidence before the Commission
showing the pervasive use of forced labour imposed on the civilian
population throughout Myanmar (Burma) by the authorities and the military.
The manifold exactions of forced labour often give rise to the extortion of
money in exchange for a temporary alleviation of the burden, but also to
threats to the life and security and extra judicial punishment of those
unwilling. All the information and evidence before the Commission shows
utter disregard by the authorities for the safety and health as well as the
basic needs of the people performing forced or compulsory labour. Forced
labourers, including those sick or injured, are frequently beaten or
otherwise physically abused by soldiers, resulting in serious injuries;
some are killed, and women performing compulsory labour are raped or
otherwise sexually abused by soldiers."
The widespread abuse of forced labour by the Government of Myanmar (Burma)
is without precedent in Asia after World War II. Together with the
international trade union community generally, the ICFTU/APRO firmly
believes that forced labour in any form is an affront to the basic rights
and dignity of working persons everywhere.
The reports gathered and submitted by the ICFTU to the ILO indicate that
there is no evidence to suggest the Burmese authorities have taken any
serious measures to implement the recommendations made by the Commission of
Inquiry. Further we believe that the Government of Myanmar (Burma) has
failed to consider recommendations with the required seriousness and
commitment and that it is treating the ILO, and its supervisory bodies,
with contempt by allowing forced labour to continue unabated.
On such a flagrant case of abuse of the fundamental rights of working
people, we believe that every country in ASEAN needs to clearly state that
a continuation of this situation should not be allowed. Please take the
opportunity of the May 10-15 meetings to raise, both publicly and
privately, our concern that the pervasive use of forced labour in Myanmar
(Burma) must cease immediately.