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Reuters-Amnesty slams Myanmar as AS

Subject: Reuters-Amnesty slams Myanmar as ASEAN labour meet venue 

Amnesty slams Myanmar as ASEAN labour meet venue
08:01 p.m May 12, 1999 Eastern
YANGON, May 13 (Reuters) - Amnesty International on Thursday slammed the
choice of Myanmar as a venue for a regional labour meeting which it said
should focus on the military government's widespread use of forced labour
and jailing of trade unionists.

The London-based human rights group said thousands of members of ethnic
minority groups were used as forced labour in Myanmar and trade union rights
were ``non-existent.''

Despite this, Amnesty said, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations had deemed Yangon a suitable venue for its May 10-15
conference of senior labour officials and ministers.

``ASEAN government ministers are meeting to discuss labour issues in a
country where thousands of people are routinely seized and forced to work
against their will and trade unionists are jailed,'' it said.

``The time has come for ASEAN to live up to the promise it made when
admitting Myanmar in 1997 to lead efforts for change in that country.

``ASEAN members nations must use this opportunity to put pressure on the
Burmese authorities by raising the issue of forced labour and the rights of
trade unionists.''

Amnesty said several trade union activists are serving long prison terms for
political and labour activities in Myanmar.

It said Than Naing, a labour leader and possible prisoner of conscience, had
been imprisoned for more than 10 years.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989 after taking a leading role in
forming strike committees during a 1988 uprising for democracy which was
bloodily crushed by the military.

``The case of Than Naing highlights the plight of all trade unionists in
Myanmar, who are prevented from operating freely for fear of persecution,''
Amnesty said.

It said the scale of forced labour in Myanmar, encompassing dangerous and
brutal military porterage, had increased dramatically in the past seven
years, to involve hundreds of thousands of civilians, including political

The government's claim that citizens contributed such work ``voluntarily''
was contradicted by hundreds of testimonies received by Amnesty.

Many of those working of the government's ``development projects'' had to
spend so much time working for the military they could not support
themselves and their families, it said.

Myanmar ratified the Forced Labour Convention in 1955 ``but has continually
flouted its provisions,'' Amnesty said.

Last year, a commission of inquiry established by the U.N.'s International
Labour Organisation found the government ``guilty of an international crime
that is also, if committed in a widespread or systematic manner, a crime
against humanity.''

It is not the first time recently Yangon has been declared an inappropriate
venue for an international conference.

In February, INTERPOL came under heavy fire from Europe and the United
States for staging a heroin conference in a country that is one of the
world's leading producers of the drug.