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Group Says Burma Hid Forced Labor Abuses From UN Monitors - 2001-12-03


An international labor rights group says forced labor continues on a massive scale in Burma.

The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, ICFTU, says Burma's military continues to use forced labor "in spite of their denials and alleged spirit of cooperation with the International Labor Organization."

A high-level ILO team spent three weeks in Burma this past September to assess the Rangoon military government's response to international demands to end the practice. However, the ILO team concluded that despite new legislation, forced labor continued, particularly in villages close to military installations.

The ICFTU report says before and during the ILO visit to Burma, forced labor decreased in some areas, but then resumed on what it calls an identical scale.

"Sometimes at a very high level these orders were published in the clear knowledge that they would never be abided by, and senior officers even bluntly told the villagers that," said Janek Kuczkiewicz, the Burma specialist for the labor rights group. "In some cases, SPDC, State Peace and Development Council, officers actually threatened to shoot people if they protested against forced labor."

Burma's military government says it cooperated fully with the ILO team, providing it with unlimited access to all areas it wanted to visit.

However, the government refuses to allow international labor monitors to be based in the country, a step the ILO describes as crucial to establishing how committed authorities are.

Janek Kuczkiewicz describes the relationship between Burma and the ILO as two steps forward, three steps back. He says even if a permanent ILO presence was established in Burma, it would take even longer for it to have any effect.

"How do you want to monitor a situation which is not restricted to 17 central jails at state level, or even a few dozen forced labor camps, again at state level, in an operation reminiscent of the International Committee of the Red Cross for instance," he said. "How does that compare to the need to monitor hundreds of thousands, even millions of people who are forced to work against their will? Is the ILO or anyone else in a position to dispatch a monitor next to each worker in Burma?"

Mr. Kuczkiewicz says the trade confederation's information, while covering the same problems detailed by the ILO, is more detailed and recent and for this reason could not have been included in the report of the ILO mission to Burma.

In its latest resolution on Burma, the U.N. General Assembly links forced labor directly to the lack of progress in democratization. It urges the military government to take concrete steps at all levels to make sure that forced labor is eradicated.

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