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NEWS - Rights groups representing u

Subject: NEWS - Rights groups representing unions in 143 countries seek

Burma probe
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Rights groups representing unions in 143 countries seek Burma probe

The Nation - May 14, 1999

INTERNATIONAL labour and human rights groups have urged Southeast Asian
countries to discuss and look into ''systematic'' use of forced labour
Burma, the country chosen to host a two-day Asean labour meeting

In a press statement, the Brussels-based International Confederation of
Trade Unions (ICFTU) said it had early this month submitted to the
International Labour Organisation (ILO) a 15-page report, supplemented
900 pages of fresh evidence of forced labour in Burma.

The allegations, it said, were drawn from over 14 different sources,
including the United Nations as well as state and non-state agencies.
report ''strongly'' alleged the Burmese junta was continuing the use of
forced labour throughout the country, a practice ''which under
law is tantamount to slavery'', added the statement.

The ICFTU, whose allegations against Burma in 1995 later led to the
Union's cancellation of trade preferences for Burma's exports in 1997,
estimated that over 800,000 Burmese were still victims of forced labour.

Its latest report is designed to help the ILO ''assess what measures can
taken in order to force Burma's authorities'' to comply with
labour standards, said the statement.

The ILO's Commission of Inquiry, established in June 1996 after the
complaints, released its findings last August, accusing the Burmese
of ''condoning crimes against humanity by resorting on a massive scale
forced labour in its running of the country's economy''. It found the
military government ''guilty of an international crime that is also, if
committed in a widespread or systematic manner, a crime against

In a similar criticism against the Burmese forced labour practices,
London-based Amnesty International has questioned Asean's decision to
the labour meeting in ''a country where thousands of people are
seized and forced to work against their will, and trade unionists are

Similar to the calls by exiled Burmese dissidents, the labour and human
rights groups have urged Asean labour ministers to focus their talks on

junta's use of forced labour and repression of trade union rights.

The Asean meeting takes place less than 10 days before the ILO's
newly-appointed director general Juan Somavia is to report on the

''That Asean labour ministers should even consider meeting on an equal
footing with Burma's generals in their bunker-like capital is an insult
the international community in general, and to the Burmese people in
particular,'' said ICFTU general secretary Bill Jordan in the statement.

''By allowing forced labour to continue unabated, Burma's military
keeps seeing the country's entire population as a bottomless reservoir
free manpower and, in doing so, treats the ILO and its supervisory
with utter contempt.''

The latest report of the ICFTU, which groups 213 national trade unions
143 countries representing 124 million workers, provided, among other
things, first-hand accounts and eye-witness interviews of those who were
abused or witnessed the forced labour practices.

It also provided names of Burmese officers, their Army units, and the
patterns of their abuses against civilians of various ethnic

Amnesty International said that forced labour in Burma was not a new
phenomenon and that it had documented the practice for over 10 years.
''During the last seven years the scale of forced labour has increased
dramatically, involving hundreds of thousands of civilians, including
criminal and political prisoners.''