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The Nation - ILO vote kills Supacha
- Subject: The Nation - ILO vote kills Supacha
- From: tinkyi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 22:20:00
Subject: The Nation - ILO vote kills Supachai's chances
Editorial & Opinion
The Nation June 25, 1999.
ILO vote kills Supachai's chances
LAST week the International Labour Organisation (ILO) passed an
unprecedented resolution which virtually expels Burma from the body.
Thailand unexpectedly joined other Asean members in voting against its
passage. The Nation's Regional News Editor Yindee Lertcharoenchok looks at
the Thai stance and its implications.
Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi must have been unaware of his
imminent loss in the up-hill struggle for the World Trade Organisation's top
job when his Democrat-led government last week joined a minority bloc to
vote against the passage of a crucial international resolution condemning
Burma's use of forced labour.
The Thai decision not only shocked many of its Asian and Western allies,
particularly Japan, which had lobbied to the last minute to water down the
ILO document before its eventual passing, but also infuriated many Thai
government officials, especially those who had advised Thailand to vote
On June 17, the ILO annual assembly in Geneva overwhelmingly adopted an
unprecedented resolution which constitutes a de facto expulsion of Burma and
a refusal of all ILO technical assistance to the Southeast Asian country
because of the systematic use of forced labour by the Burmese junta.
Although the ILO has no mechanism to officially expel its members, the
resolution, which was approved by a large majority of government, employers
and workers delegates from 174 ILO member states, virtually bans Burma's
representatives from attending meetings, symposia and seminars organised by
the ILO. The precedence of the document, which received 333 votes for, 27
against, and 47 abstentions, could force other United Nations agencies to
consider and adopt similar exclusive measures against the Burmese regime.
(Each of the 174 country members have four votes -- two for the government,
one each for the employers and the workers.)
The ILO decision followed joint action and complaints by trade union and
employer organisations within the ILO and the conclusion of the ILO
Commission of Inquiry that the ruling Burmese regime continued ''to inflict
the practice of forced labour, nothing but a contemporary form of slavery,
on the people of Burma''.
Despite Rangoon's denial of such practices and refusal of entry into Burma,
the ILO Commission, based on eye-witnesses' accounts, produced more than
6,000 pages of documents which concluded that ''the obligation to suppress
the use of forced or compulsory labour is violated in Burma in national law
as well as in actual practice in a widespread and systematic manner, with
total disregard for the human dignity, safety and health and the basic needs
of the people.''
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which represents 213
trade union organisations in 145 countries, had also provided fresh evidence
of forced labour and estimated that ''more than 800,000 Burmese are
subjected to forced labour''.
Apart from Brunei which is not an ILO member, and Laos which was not present
at the meeting, the other eight Asean members, including Burma, all voted
against the resolution. In total, delegates of only 11 countries --
representing government, employers or workers -- were against the ILO
document. Interestingly, both the Thai employers and trade workers delegates
voted in support of the document.
The Thai government's stance on the ILO resolution is a clear departure from
the position adopted late last year when the Foreign Ministry decided that
Thailand would give a supporting voice if the UN General Assembly in New
York was to call for a vote on its resolution on Burma. The annual UN
resolution has been adopted by consensus for the past 10 years. It remains
unclear why the Foreign Ministry took a different approach at the ILO,
despite the fact that there had been strong internal recommendations that
Thailand should vote in support of the ILO document. At most, it should have
abstained from voting.
Talking to reporters in Bangkok after the historic voting, Foreign Minister
Surin Pitsuwan gave away very little of his view, saying only that he hoped
the ILO resolution will not result in Burma's further isolation from the
international community. Foreign Ministry spokesman Don Pramudwinai was more
outspoken and openly attacked the world labour body.
He said Thailand and other Asean members denounced the ILO decision and
warned of adverse effects from Burma's isolation. Surin is said to have been
on an overseas trip when the final Thai stance was taken at the ministry and
delivered to its mission in Geneva.
Officials at several Thai government agencies, including the Prime
Minister's Office, expressed surprise when asked about the passage of the
ILO resolution and its implications. Many subsequently voiced strong
disapproval over the Thai position and the lack of inter-agency
consultations before such a crucial decision was taken.
As one high-ranking Thai official put it, the Thai stance at the ILO
reflected ''a seriously wrong judgement'' on the part of the Foreign
Ministry's top leadership which seems to have adopted ''short-sighted and
narrow views'' of Thai diplomacy and its relations with Burma. They also
seem unable to read and differentiate short-term versus long-term interests
and national versus Asean interests. At serious stake is Thai credibility in
the eyes of the world community, particularly Major western trade
partners -- the United States and the European Union -- which have been
strong critics of poor Thai labour standard and practices.
''We [Thailand] have committed a wrong policy. If we believe that Burma will
feel grateful and pay us back for voting against the resolution, they
(Burma) have never done so,'' noted another upset senior Government House
official, who heavily criticised the Foreign Ministry for failure to consult
other key agencies before committing the country to such an important
As it turns out, Thailand stands to lose badly from its poor ILO decision.
Records have shown time and again that Thailand's apologetic defence of the
Burmese junta's political repression and human rights violations has
regularly put the country in the firing line both at home and abroad. Its
unequivocal association with the dictatorial and unrepentant Burmese regime
has jeopardised not only the Thai international standing and credibility but
also Thai national interests.
By refusing to bless the ILO resolution, Thailand virtually anoints itself
as a permanent sanctuary for an estimated one million Burmese illegal
immigrants and refugees who fled to Thailand because of political and
military suppression and all forms of human rights abuses -- forced labour
and relocation. The Burmese ruling generals have never accepted the presence
of these Burmese living in exile and thus refuse to cooperate in their
Moreover, Thailand's highly-publicised policy of ''flexible engagement''
with Burma in which the country reserves the rights to defend the national
interests over the solidarity and interests of Asean grouping proves to be a
mere lip service and a laughing stock among Asean countries, most of whom
have openly been opposed to its adoption from the very beginning.
As Thailand chose to side with the ILO minority opponents, most of whom have
had damaged labour and human rights records, it only confirms Western
criticism of the Kingdom's poor labour rights standard and practices which
include the exploitation of child and cheap alien labour.
Deputy Prime Minister Supachai must be forgiven if he loses in the WTO bid
because of internal sabotage by his political colleagues and civil servants
who played wittingly or innocently into the hands of those countries which
oppose his WTO candidacy on the grounds of bad labour policy in Thailand.