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Comments on "ILO mission opens talk
- Subject: Comments on "ILO mission opens talk
- From: darnott@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 08:14:00
RE-SEND (I'VE HEARD THAT SOME LISTS CANNOT READ THE FORMAT)
Comments on ILO press release,
"ILO mission opens talks with Government in Myanmar (Burma)"
According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) press release of 23
May 2000 (full text below), a technical cooperation mission from the ILO
has gone to Burma to hold discussions on the implementation of the
recommendations of a 1998 commission of inquiry which found the use of
forced and compulsory labour in that country to be widespread. The ILO
Director-General, Juan Somavia, is quoted as saying that "The sole purpose
of the visit of the team is to establish with the government a credible
plan of action to ensure the full implementation of the commission's
The mission?s mandate is thus not to inquire whether or not forced labour
exists in Burma -- the ILO considers that this has been proved (see the
report of its Commission of Inquiry into forced labour in Burma) -- but to
help bring the practice to an end.
The Director-General could perhaps have been more specific regarding the
time frame, seeing that at its 87th session (June 1999) the ILO Conference
decided that " ... the Government of Myanmar should cease to benefit from
any technical cooperation or assistance from the ILO, except for the
purpose of DIRECT assistance to implement IMMEDIATELY the recommendations
of the Commission of Inquiry..." [emphasis added]
Given these restrictions, the invitation to the ILO mission implies that
the Burmese military has accepted the Commission?s report and is eager to
implement the recommendations. This understanding is reinforced by the
statement in the press release that "the Government of Myanmar (Burma) has
provided assurances that the mission will be given full cooperation to
effectively carry out its responsibilities" i.e. assistance in the
immediate implementation of the recommendations. No-one, of course, would
believe that the honourable generals would stoop to inviting the mission
merely in order to soften the treatment they are likely to receive at the
ILO Conference (30 May-15 June).
The major ILO recommendations are that:
1) The legislation (Village and Towns Acts) which allows civilian
authorities to requisition compulsory labour should be amended to bring it
into line with the relevant ILO standards;
2) ?In actual practice, no more forced or compulsory labour be imposed by
the authorities, IN PARTICULAR THE MILITARY? [emphasis added];
3) Penalties should be imposed on people who exact forced labour;
(see below for the full text of the recommendations)
The key recommendation is No. 2 since, according to most reports and the
Commission?s findings, it is the Burmese MILITARY which is largely
responsible for requisitioning forced labour.
However, the Burmese military, for instance in the remarkable document,
?Memorandum of the Government of Myanmar on the Report of the
Director-General to the members of the Governing Body dated 21 May 1999?,
accessible on the ILO website at:
is curiously reluctant to acknowledge this particular recommendation. It
prefers rather to emphasise recommendation No. 1, to amend the Village and
Towns Acts, which permit village headmen and other CIVILIAN authorities to
requisition labour. Referring to this recommendation, military spokesmen
frequently cite Order 1/99 of 14 May 1999, ?Order Directing Not To Exercise
Powers Under Certain Provisions of The Towns Act, 1907 and the Village Act,
1907? as demonstrating the SPDC?s commitment to carrying out the ILO's
recommendations. However, this Order also refers only to civilian
authorities, and the distribution list notably omits the army. Since
little or no forced labour is at the initiative of civilian authorities and
since, as the Commission mentioned, these Acts are not cited by the
officers who requisition forced labour, an emphasis on the amendment of the
Village and Towns Acts must be seen as a relative red herring.
In the SPDC Memorandum, recommendation No. 2, in an astonishing display of
semantic legerdemain, is subsumed under the first recommendation, and made
to say merely that the Order (presumably 1/99, which was not even issued
when the Commission?s report was published in July 1998) should be made
public (see following paras and the Memorandum).
According to the SPDC?s Memorandum:
?The recommendations made by the Commission were: firstly, that the Village
Act and Towns Act be brought in line with Convention No. 29?.?
?The second recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry stipulates that the
Order be made public. ...?
?The third recommendation says that penalties should be imposed for persons
under section 374 of the Penal Code for transgression. ??
Nothing is said about military requisition of forced labour.
I think the ILO team is going to have an interesting time in Rangoon. Some
observers think that ?The New Light of Myanmar? attack on the ILO reported
in a 24 May AFP wire (see text below) indicates that unless the mission is
nice to them, the generals may withdraw from the ILO rather than face
severe condemnation at the ILO Conference which begins next week. However,
the ILO Constitution (Article 1, para 5) states
"No Member of the International Labour Organization may withdraw from the
Organization without giving notice of its intention so to do to the
of the International Labour Office. Such notice shall take effect two
years after the
date of its reception by the Director-General, subject to the Member
having at that
time fulfilled all financial obligations arising out of its
membership. When a Member
has ratified any international labour Convention, such withdrawal
shall not affect the
continued validity for the period provided for in the Convention of
arising thereunder or relating thereto". So that would not work.
David Arnott, Geneva, 24 May 2000
ILO PRESS RELEASE OF 23 MAY
ILO mission opens talks with Government in Myanmar (Burma)
Tuesday 23 May 2000
( ILO/00/18 )
GENEVA (ILO News) - A technical cooperation mission of the International
Labour Office (ILO) is expected to begin discussions on Wednesday in
Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) with the Government of Myanmar on the
implementation of the recommendations of a 1998 Commission of Inquiry *,
which found the use of forced and compulsory labour in that country to be
The Director-General of the International Labour Office, Mr. Juan Somavia,
underlined in a recent letter to the Department of Labour of Myanmar
(Burma) that this technical cooperation effort is to be based on the
conclusions and the recommendations of the 1998 Commission.
In a statement in Geneva today, Mr. Somavia stressed that "the sole purpose
of the visit of the team is to establish with the Government a credible
plan of action to ensure the full implementation of the Commission's
This Commission, which examined over 6,000 pages of documents and heard
testimony from hundreds of persons, many with eye-witness experience of
forced labour practices, recommended that the Government take the following
? that legislation, in particular the Village and Towns Acts, be brought
into line with the terms of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29),
which Myanmar (Burma) has ratified;
? that no more forced or compulsory labour be imposed by the authorities,
particularly by the military;
? that penalties which may be imposed for the exaction of forced labour be
strictly enforced, with thorough investigation, prosecution and adequate
punishment of those found guilty, in conformity with article 25 of the ILO
Following a series of communications with the ILO, the Government of
Myanmar (Burma) has provided assurances that the mission will be given full
cooperation to effectively carry out its responsibilities.
The implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on
Forced Labour in Myanmar (Burma) has been discussed by the Governing Body
of the ILO on several occasions. At its most recent session in March, the
Governing Body invoked article 33 of the Constitution, recommending that
the International Labour Conference "take such action as it may
deem wise and expedient to secure compliance" if a government fails to
comply with the recommendations of a Commission of Inquiry. The decision to
invoke article 33 and place such an item on the agenda of the International
Labour Conference was unprecedented in the ILO's history.
The Governing Body has formulated a set of measures, which are to be
presented to the International Labour Conference. It is expected that the
current mission will also report to the Conference, which will meet in
Geneva from 30 May to 15 June 2000.
The mission to Myanmar (Burma) is led by Mr. Francis Maupain, Special
Adviser to the ILO Director-General and will include officials from the ILO
headquarters in Geneva and from its regional office in Bangkok.
* * * * *
* Forced labour in Myanmar (Burma). Report of the Commission of Inquiry
appointed under article 26 of the Constitution of the International Labour
Organization to examine the observance by Myanmar of the Forced
Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), Geneva, 1998.
TEXT OF THE COMMISSION?S RECOMMENDATIONS
539. In view of the Government's flagrant and persistent failure to comply
with the Convention, the Commission urges the Government to take the
necessary steps to ensure:
(a) that the relevant legislative texts, in particular the Village Act and
the Towns Act, be brought into line with the Forced Labour Convention, 1930
(No. 29) as already requested by the Committee of Experts on the
Application of Conventions and Recommendations and promised by the
Government for over 30 years,(1033) and again announced in the Government's
observations on the complaint.(1034) This should be done without further
delay and completed at the very latest by 1 May 1999;
(b) that in actual practice, no more forced or compulsory labour be imposed
by the authorities, in particular the military. This is all the more
important since the powers to impose compulsory labour appear to be taken
for granted, without any reference to the Village Act or Towns Act.(1035)
Thus, 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 above 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 promulgated and made
known to all levels of the military and to the whole population. Also,
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
budgeting of adequate means to hire free wage labour for the public
activities which are today based on forced and unpaid labour is also required;
(c) that the penalties which may be imposed under section 374 of the Penal
Code for the exaction of forced or compulsory labour(1036) be strictly
enforced, in conformity with Article 25 of the Convention. This requires
thorough investigation, prosecution and adequate punishment of those found
guilty. As pointed out in 1994 by the Governing Body committee set up to
consider the representation made by the ICFTU under article 24 of the ILO
Constitution, alleging nonobservance by Myanmar of the Forced Labour
Convention, 1930 (No. 29),(1037) the penal prosecution of those resorting
to coercion appeared all the more important since the blurring of the
borderline between compulsory and voluntary labour, recurrent throughout
the Government's statements to the committee, was all the more likely to
occur in actual recruitment by local or military officials. The power to
impose compulsory labour will not cease to be taken for granted unless
those used to exercising it are actually brought to face criminal
540. The recommendations made by the Commission require action to be taken
by the Government of Myanmar without delay. The task of the Commission of
Inquiry is completed by the signature of its report, but it is desirable
that the International Labour Organization should be kept informed of the
progress made in giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission.
The Commission therefore recommends that the Government of Myanmar should
indicate regularly in its reports under article 22 of the Constitution of
the International Labour Organization concerning the measures taken by it
to give effect to the provisions of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930
(No. 29), the action taken during the period under review to give effect to
the recommendations contained in the present report. In addition, the
Government may wish to include in its reports information on the state of
national law and practice with regard to compulsory military service.
Most of the relevant ILO documents can be found on
and the Report of the Commission of Inquiry is on
AFP WIRE OF 24 MAY
ILO mission to Myanmar opens amidst government vitriol
YANGON, May 24 (AFP) - As a delegation of the International Labour
Organisation began a first-ever mission to Yangon Wednesday, Myanmar's ruling
junta lashed out at the ILO as an undignified organization controlled by big
The three-man delegation will hold talks for three days with the Myanmar
regime on implementation of ILO recommendations against forced labour,
alleged to be widely practised in the country.
The ILO refused to comment on the specifics of its mission to Myanmar, but
businesspeople in Yangon said they expected ILO officials to tour their
factories to inspect for signs of forced or child labor.
And diplomatic sources told AFP they expected representatives of the junta
to take ILO officials to visit several jails.
But the state-controlled newspaper New Light of Myanmar dismissed the ILO
mission, saying the ILO "had lost its dignity" because it has abandoned its
"main function of setting down norms for workers' rights."
Instead, the New Light said, the ILO simply promotes the agendas of "new
colonialists" such as Britain and the United States, who try to apply
political pressure on Myanmar.
"We pity the ILO," it said.
Diplomatic sources said the Myanmar government's simultaneous slamming of
the ILO while allowing the organization into Yangon seemed
but added that the junta becomes extremely defensive on labor issues.
An ILO commission of enquiry in a report in August 1999 found compulsory
labour in Myanmar was practised in a "systematic manner with a total
disregard for the human dignity, safety and health" of the people.
A study done by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions had
previously put the number of people in Myanmar subjected to different forms
of forced labour at more than 800,000.
The ILO governing body ordered Myanmar's case to be raised at the
organisation's assembly in June 2000, and in March invoked for the first time
an ILO article allowing it to recommend measures to oblige the offending
party to comply.
It recommended that the Myanmar government ensure that its legislation is
brought into line with the terms of the 1930 forced labour convention which
Myanmar has ratified.
It also urged the eradication of forced labour in the country and called
for rigorous prosecution and punishment of those found guilty of exacting
Myanmar had already been marginalised in the ILO in an unprecedented
resolution last June.
ILO delegates in June 1999 voted in an unprecedented move to de-facto
expel Myanmar because of its alleged widespread use of forced labour.
"This is as isolated as a country can get in an organization which does not
have a mechanism for expulsion," ILO spokesman John Doohan said at the time.
The New Light of Myanmar Tuesday said that it had never been expelled but
rather had voluntarily suspended its participation in the ILO until "the ILO
treats its members with equality and justice."
On May 12, a meeting in Manila of Southeast Asian labour ministers said
Myanmar had agreed to accept an ILO mission.
The Myanmar goverment had previously described ILO reports as partisan and
Yangon's junta stands accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses
including rape, torture and holding political prisoners. The United States
and the European Union enforce a range of punitive sanctions including
trade and visa bans.