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ILO Condemns Forced Labor in Burma


The International Labor Conference has condemned the widespread use of forced labor in Burma, and is demanding that the country's military rulers stop the practice or face sanctions.

The International Labor Organization ILO meeting has adopted resolutions and issued warnings in the past. But, this is the first time the organization has set deadlines for Burma to meet specific demands, or face consequences, including taking the issue to the International Court of Justice.

ILO Liaison Officer in Burma, Richard Horsey, says the organization has many concerns. But, the main one is the government should stop prosecuting the victims of forced labor and should take action against the perpetrators of that crime.

"Unfortunately, what we have seen in the last year is prosecutions of people who complain, rather than of the people who are responsible for the forced labor in the first place," said Mr. Horsey. "And, that is clearly unacceptable. So, the government has announced a six-month moratorium on action against complainants to allow a process of negotiation, and it has released one of two people from detention. So, the first issue is that they have to release the second person from detention and that has been requested before the end of July."

Horsey says the person still in detention is serving seven years for having complained about forced labor to the ILO. He says the government keeps saying it is ready to cooperate with the ILO. But, he says there is no credibility in those assurances, if people who have had contact with the ILO are in prison.

An ILO Commission of Inquiry found villagers in Burma were liable to be detained for arbitrary periods by the army, and forced to carry supplies during military operations, in terrible conditions and subject to brutal treatment.

Horsey says Burma's practice of prosecuting people who complain about forced labor violates the ILO Convention on forced labor.

"Currently, the government has announced that it will suspend that policy, but if, in November, once the government's moratorium has come to an end, and there has been no progress, then the ILO has the possibility to go to the International Court of Justice to seek an opinion on whether Myanmar is in violation of its obligations," said Mr. Horsey. "At the same time, member states of the ILO have the possibility to take a contentious case to the court, and, potentially, any judgment of the court could be enforceable through the UN Security Council."

The International Labor Organization has no provision for suspending a member, but it can recommend that member states take, what it calls, unprecedented measures. These could involve economic sanctions.

Horsey says the ILO's governing body will review Burma's record in November. He says the government will have a price to pay, if it has not taken the necessary steps to improve the situation of forced labor.

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