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ILO REPORT ON BURMA 99-05-21 (3/4) (r)

Geneva, 21 May 1999

Report of the Director-General to the members of the Governing Body on

Measures taken by the Government of Myanmar following the recommendations of
the Commission of Inquiry established to examine its observance of the Forced
Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)




(d) Other infrastructure work

40. Information contained in reports by the National League for Democracy and
various non-governmental organizations, submitted by the ICFTU, indicates the
continued use of forced labour for infrastructure projects ranging from
canals and building dykes to building pagodas. According to reports by the

(1) From 1 January 1999, villagers living in the area between Pa-kko-ku
township and Myit-chay township in Magwe Division have been ordered to clear
all their crops (without compensation) and give voluntary labour in digging
canals for the implementation of a new project.

(2) Since August 1998 to date [report issued February 1999] the authorities
have required forced labour of one person per household for a canal
construction project (without payment and setting aside his own work). The
villages from which this conscription is made are ... [16 named villages] in
the township of Myaung.

In addition to this arduous and lengthy service with no remuneration the
authorities have collected by force a total of approximately 5 million
kyats at
the rate of 50 kyats per acre (total acreage of 50,000 comprising 85 villages
in 52 village tracts). What they have done with the money, no one knows.

Then again, those workers who do not own any land have to pay an average of
kyats per household, those who are in service have to pay 100 kyats per head
and those traders or brokers have to pay 200 kyats. The township authorities
have issued orders threatening action for flouting authority against those who
fail to make payment within the prescribed period.

Having to provide a long period of forced labour in addition to the allotted
impositions has resulted in a great hardship (mental and physical) to the
villagers in Myaung  Township.

(3) For the embankment of Sae-ma creek situated close to Pauk-pin village
(Kayan township), every household in the villages of ... was forced to dig two
pits (total 10,000 pits) between 27 and 31 December 1998. In default, payment
of 1,200-1,500 kyats was demanded. Similar orders were made in December 1998
for the embankment of other creeks in Kayan and Thanlyin townships.

(4) The existing embankment (which was constructed with machines) to prevent
permeation of salt water on the eastern margin of Kayan township having
deteriorated, forced labour had to be given by one member of every
household in
the village tracts of ... [11 named village tracts]. Regardless of rain or sun
they were forced to work on this project throughout the months of August and
September 1998. In default, a penalty of 300 kyats was demanded. 

(5) Another information received is that early in 1999 people were being
up to work on constructing an embankment to capture water from the creeks and
streams running out of the Chin State to irrigate the land. Villagers in the
Monywa District were declined to go to the Hantharwaddy camp site. Therefore,
the power wielding divisional authorities summoned all the administrators in
all the villages and ordered them to go and work at the Hantharwaddy camp site
themselves. Failing to comply would result in heavy penalties.

Thee-bin-kha-yine district village tract administrators in the township of
Butalin were reluctant to conscript the villagers in their locality so they
went themselves and worked on the Kalaymyo Hantharwaddy camp site. This tactic
of holding the village administrators to ransom was not at all pleasing to the
villagers. Fifteen villagers followed up to the site to relieve their village
elders. The distance is about 300 miles to the camp site and cost of travel
and from) is about 4,000 kyats. Having to travel at one's own expense with no
remuneration for labour was not an attractive prospect for anyone.

The facts stated above show the cruel and inconsiderate attitude of the power
wielding authorities towards their fellow countrymen and citizens.


     Central Executive Committee
     National League for Democracy

41. Documents submitted by the ICFTU report the extensive imposition of forced
labour on hundreds of villagers for the construction of dykes. Thus, the
January 1999 report by the Mon Information Service (Bangkok) on "forced labour
on construction of dykes for private rice-cultivation projects of SPDC
military" indicates that: 

Since October 1998, the SPDC military has been constructing a range of
dykes on
the coast in Yebyu township with the daily use of 200 to 300 unpaid and forced
labourers conscripted from the more than ten Mon villages of Kywethonnyima
village tract. The dykes are being constructed to create new cultivable land
for realization of planned      private rice projects there. The 7,758
feet-long dyke is being constructed between  Kywethonnyima and Chattaw
villages. Another such dyke will soon be constructed between Mea Taw and
villages. Each village in the area must provide 30 to 50 labourers to work on
the dyke construction for 15 days per month during the low-tide period.

Under the instruction of the local No. 273 battalion, the village tract PDC at
Kywethonnyima issued an order on 2 October 1998, requiring all villages in the
tract to provide labourers to work on the dyke construction [the full text of
this order is quoted].

Besides having to work on the dyke construction, these several villages have
also been forced into arduous labour on the Ye-Tavoy motor road repair project
since November 1998. This repeated and excessive use of unpaid, forced labour
by the SPDC has effectively deprived the local inhabitants of their own
subsistence. Following the completion of the dykes it is certain that the
villagers will thence be compelled to work as virtual slave labour on the rice
projects in order to enrich the SPDC officers. These unendurable demands, the
frequent extortion and physical abuse being inflicted
on the villagers have led a number of families to flee to outlying areas.

42. Similarly, the imposition of forced labour on several hundred villagers in
the second half of 1998 for the construction of  each of four major dykes in
the Yebu township area for the Army's rice cultivation lands is described in a
February 1999 report by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, submitted by
the ICFTU with details including working, living and sanitary conditions at
construction sites and the mistreatment of villagers by soldiers guarding

The villagers who were conscripted as labourers were not supported with food,
shelter and medical case by the local battalions or village tract leaders.
Whenever the villagers went to construction sites, they had to bring their
food, tools and cash to buy other supplement food such a vegetables, cooking
oil, salt and others. For a villager who went to construction site for one
period, they have to bring about 8 kilos of rice and 1,000 kyat to buy other
supplement food. Since the villagers have been forced to work in various kinds
of government infrastructure project sites, almost have not enough food to
bring along with them or no cash to buy other needed food for survival. In
construction site, because of overcrowded population and lack of pure water,
the villagers could not get pure water to make food or use it as drinking
water. Due to time limitation and no plan adopted by government officials, the
villagers did not build any latrine in construction site and this situation
also affected used water nearby. Facing food shortage and water shortage
problems has been as common conditions in every construction site.

On the other hand, the working hours in almost construction site are
approximately ten hours per day. 


Even during rainy season, the villagers were conscripted in construction of
Singu and Hmaw-gyi dikes. ... The villagers had to build very rough temporary
shelters by roofing with banana leaves but no walls. These shelters could not
protect rain in rainy season and cold snow during cold season, that takes from
November to February in Burma. 

 ... While they were building the pole walls to close water from streams, the
villagers had to stay for the whole day. And they also had to submerge in the
water to hit the top of the poles or to make sure that the poles were put in
order or not. Regardless of rain or hot sun, the villagers could not take any
rest and had to work full time under bad weather conditions. The soldiers
always guarded while the villagers were working. Some villagers were also hit
or beaten when the soldiers were dissatisfied with their working situation.

Because of shortage of food and pure water, terrible weather conditions, hard
work and improper temporary shelters, many villagers have been very vulnerable
to suffering from various kinds of diseases. During the construction, there
were many women and children working instead of their husbands or fathers who
had to work in farms and other day jobs to get income or food for families'
survival. Thus, a majority of women and children in several worksites have
suffered from diarrhea, weakness, fever and other diseases while they were
working in the construction site. However, the soldiers did      not allow any
sick patient to return without a substitute arriving and replacing him or her.
The village headmen had to take responsibility to find substitute villagers to
replace the sick villagers. In addition, the soldiers did not give any
or treatment to these patients, but the villagers had to help each other to
medicines and treated the patients.

In many cases the village headmen were very often beaten by the soldiers for
their inability to manage and send villagers to the worksites as instructed by
their commanders. As an example, a village headman from ... (42 years old) was
severely beaten by the soldiers from LIB No. 408 in the third week of
September. ... The soldiers beat him with jungle boots, gun butts and sticks
for nearly half an hour and so he became conscienceless. His head was broken
and his back was severely injured. They also hit his stomach with gun muzzles
and so he got long-term inner injuries and he could not work any hard work


Similarly, the villagers were often mistreated while they were working on a
construction site. The soldiers also guarded the worksites and whenever they
had any dissatisfaction against villagers, those were always beaten. Verbal
abuses, such a shouting and threatening was a normal abuse against the
villagers. Sometimes, they kicked the villagers with jungle boots or gun butts
or hit with fists. In the second week of November 1998 while the soldiers
ordered the villagers to close a stream in Kywe-tho-nyima dike construction,
they also forced the villagers to submerge into water and hit the poles. While
the villagers were submerging into water, the soldiers also were dissatisfied
with three villagers from Cha-taw village and beat them. One villager was
severely beaten. ... As a result, his left eye became blind. 

On the other hand, although the villagers were sick on the worksites, they
could not stop and continuously had to work in the construction until the
substitute villagers arrived there. If they stopped working, they could be

43. In documents submitted by the ICFTU, based on interviews conducted by the
Karen Human Rights Group, the imposition of forced labour by soldiers on
villagers (including non-Buddhists) for the construction of pagodas is
for central Dooplaya district (Kayin State) in July-Septemer 1998 and a number
of places in Nyanglebin district (Pegu Division) up to early 1999.

44. In reply to the Director-General's request for information, a government,
referring to sources from all over Myanmar, quoted the following examples of
forced labour associated with infrastructural development projects during the
last ten months, 
corresponding to paragraphs 444 to 457 of the report of the Commission of

* Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) Division. There were detailed reports of villagers in
Ngapudaw and Laymyethna townships being forced to provide labour to build
embankments in March-April. Those unable to do so had reportedly been fined
and/or imprisoned. 

* Magwe Division. According to detailed reports, the local government
authorities bean forcing villagers in Pakokku      township to work on a large
canal project in January and one villager who protested was subsequently
detained. There were also reports of households in Taundwingi township being
forced to provide labour to smaller canal projects or make cash contributions
of varying amounts. 

* Arakan (Rakhine) State. It was reported that in Maungdaw and Buthidaung,
Muslim households have been forced to provide labour to help build several new
"model villages for non-Muslim immigrants. 

* Chin State. ... that in Hakka township, northern Chin State, villagers have
been forced to contribute labour to a hydroelectricity project. In Paletwa
township, southern Chin State, villagers had to provide labour and to collect
road building materials for a new trunk road. 

* Shan State. There were reports of villagers being required to contribute
labour to water projects associated with the Zawgyi dam in south-western Shan
State. Some are being forced to dig canals which will actually divert water
away from their own fields towards government-run agriculture projects. 

* Bago Division. There were detailed reports of households in Waw township,
including female-headed households, being ordered to help rebuild dykes after
last year's monsoon. Those unwilling or unable to contribute any labour were
required to hire others to take their place. 

B. Measures to stop the exaction in practice of forced or compulsory labour

45. In its recommendations of July 1998, the Commission of Inquiry indicated

 ... besides amending the legislation, concrete action needs to be taken
immediately for each and every of the many fields of forced labour examined in
Chapters 12 and 13 [of the Commission's report] to stop the present practice.
This must not be done by secret directives, which are against the rule of law
and have been ineffective, but through public acts of the Executive
and made known to all levels of the military and to the whole population.
action must not be limited to the issue of wage payment; it must ensure that
nobody is compelled to work against his or her will. Nonetheless, the
of adequate means to hire free wage labour for the public activities which are
today based on forced and unpaid labour is also required ...(21) 

46. While the Commission indicated that action needed to be taken immediately,
it appears from the information supplied by both the Government of Myanmar and
other sources that the concrete measures called for by the Commission of
Inquiry had 
not been taken by mid-May 1999.

47. One single source mentioned two isolated instances of corrective action
taken by the Government of Myanmar upon complaints by the National League for
Democracy. In reply to the Director-General's request for information, a
government, having listed examples of forced labour that had been supplied by
sources from all over Myanmar, added that it had been quoted:

 ... two examples of cases over the past ten months where the Government has
acted to stop forced labour practices. On 2 November the Chairman of the
opposition National League for Democracy wrote to SPDC Chairman Senior General
Than Shwe complaining that civilians in Htantabin township, Yangon Division,
had been told by loudspeaker to contribute labour towards a land reclamation
project and that 500 people were now being forced to help clear swampland. On
23 November he wrote again to complain that the army were forcing villagers in
Kungyangon township, Yangon Division, to work on army-owned salt pans. Demands
for forced labour on these two projects has now reportedly stopped and there
are reports that the Government has taken disciplinary action against a local

According to the same government, these:

 ... two examples were a small step in the right direction. But its report
presented overwhelming evidence that forced labour continued to be used
routinely and systematically over the past ten months in every one of
Burma/Myanmar's 14 
states and divisions. There was scant evidence of any serious will on the part
of the Government to take concrete action in response to the Commission of
Inquiry's report. In a speech to mark Labour Day on 1 May, SPDC Chairman
General Than Shwe instead urged Burmese/Myanmar workers to "beware of
neo-colonialists meddling and exerting control in international organizations
 ... with an air of safeguarding human rights and workers' rights".

48. While no general action to stop the imposition of forced labour had thus
been taken by the Government of Myanmar until mid-May 1999, the Government
indicated in its letter of 18 May 1999 that an Order issued by the Ministry of
Home Affairs dated 14 May 1999 directing the relevant authorities not to
exercise the powers conferred on them under section 7(1)(l) and (m), and
section 9 and 9A of the Towns Act and section 8(1)(g), (n) and (o), section
11(d) and section 12 of the Village Act, 1907.(22)  This indication does not
fully correspond to the content of the Order issued by the Ministry of Home
Affairs dated 14 May 1999,(23)  which directs:

  ... the Chairmen of the Ward and Village Tract Peace and Development
and the responsible persons of the Department of General Administration and
the                                           Myanmar police force not to
exercise powers under these provisions relating
to                                   requisition for personal service
prescribed in the abovementioned Towns Act, 1907, and the Village Act, 1907,
until and unless any further directive is issued, except for the following

(a) requisition for personal service in work or service exacted in cases of
emergency on the occurrence of disasters such as fire, flood, storm,
earthquake, epidemic diseases that would endanger the existence or the
well-being of the population;

(b) requisition for personal service in work or service which is of important
direct interest for the community and general public and is of present or
imminent necessity, and for which it has been impossible to obtain voluntary
labour by offer of usual rates of wages and which will not lay too heavy a
burden upon the present population. 
49. The Order issued on 14 May 1999 reserves the exercise of powers under the
relevant provisions of the Village Act, 1908,(24)  and the Towns Act, 1907, in
several ways. In the first place, the Order reserves "any further directive"
that may be issued to exercise the powers.

50. Secondly, the Order makes two exceptions under (a) and (b) whose language
corresponds in part to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). Exception
(a) reproduces the essential wording of the exception from the scope of the
made in its Article 2(2)(d). Exception (b) reflects part of Article 10 of the
Convention which reads as follows:

                                               Article 10

1. Forced or compulsory labour exacted as a tax and forced or compulsory
to which recourse is had for the execution of public works by chiefs who
exercise administrative functions shall be progressively abolished. 

2. Meanwhile, where forced or compulsory labour is exacted as a tax, and where
recourse is had to forced or compulsory labour for the execution of public
works by chiefs who exercise administrative functions, the authority concerned
shall first satisfy itself -- 
(a) that the work to be done or the service to be rendered is of important
direct interest for the community called upon to do the work or render the

     (b) that the work or the service is of present or imminent necessity;

(c) that the work or service will not lay too heavy a burden upon the present
population, having regard to the labour available and its capacity to
the work;

(d) that the work or service will not entail the removal of the workers from
their place of habitual residence; 

(e) that the execution of the work or the rendering of the service will be
directed in accordance with the exigencies of religion, social life and

51. It will be noted that conditions made in paragraph 2(d) and (e) of Article
10 of the Convention have not been retained in exception (b) of the Order
of 14
May 1999.

52. More importantly, it is indicated in paragraph 1 of Article 10 of the
Convention that forced or compulsory labour of the kind envisaged under this
Article "shall be progressively abolished". As noted by the Commission of
Inquiry in its report,(25) 
Article 10 is part of a series of provisions containing conditions and
guarantees "to restrict and regulate recourse to compulsory labour pending its
suppression", that is, during the "transitional period" provided for in
1(2) of the Convention. In this
regard, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and 
Recommendations observed in 1997 that:

Since the Convention, adopted in 1930, calls for the suppression of forced
labour within the shortest possible period, to invoke at the current time (67
years after its adoption) that certain forms of forced or compulsory labour
comply with one of the requirements of this set of provisions, is to disregard
the transitional function of these provisions and contradict the spirit of the

In the view of the Committee, use of a form of forced or compulsory labour
falling within the scope of the Convention as defined in Article 2 may no
longer be justified by invoking observance of the provisions of Article 1,
paragraph 2, and Articles 4 to 24, although the absolute prohibitions
in these provisions remain binding upon the States having ratified the

The Commission of Inquiry in its report(27)  has shared this view, having
regard also to the status of the abolition of forced or compulsory labour in
general international law as a peremptory norm from which no derogation is

53. Moreover, in its findings as to compliance with the Convention, the
Commission of Inquiry has considered that: 

 ... in the present case, the undertaking under Article 1(1) of the Convention
to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the
shortest possible period precludes the Government from having recourse to
     that it had over many years declared obsolete and not applied.(29) 

54. In conclusion, in providing for the exercise of powers to impose
labour under an exception patterned after Article 10, paragraph 2(a) to (c) of
the Convention, the Order of 24 May 1999 does not provide for the action
for by the Commission of Inquiry in its recommendations under paragraph 539(b)
to ensure "that in actual practice, no more forced or compulsory labour be
imposed by the authorities, in particular the military".

55. Furthermore, it needs to be remembered that the Order of 14 May 1999 is
limited to the exercise of powers under the Village Act and the Towns Act,
while the Commission on Inquiry pointed out in its recommendations that in
national practice "the powers to impose compulsory labour appear to be taken
for granted, without any reference to the Village Act or the Towns Act".(30) 
Thus, wider concrete action needs to be taken, in conformity with the
Commission's recommendations, "to ensure that nobody is compelled to work
against his or her will".(31) 


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