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ILO Condemns Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi - 2003-06-07

The International Labor Organization, the ILO, has condemned the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese military government. An ILO committee in Geneva said the detention of Ms. Suu Kyi casts doubt on the Burmese government's professed willingness to eliminate the widespread practice of forced labor.

The International Labor Organization regularly discusses the situation of forced labor in Burma. Over the years, it has achieved some small concessions from the government to end that practice.

However, ILO Executive Director Kari Tapiola says Saturday's discussions took place against the background of the current situation of uncertainty in Burma triggered by the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. "It affected the deliberations in that virtually in all statements, or I would say, nearly in all statements, this situation was mentioned," he said. "And, particularly it was mentioned because in the view of many of the speakers, it actually questions the commitment of the government to the kind of cooperation that we also are trying to do."

Aung San Suu Kyi has been held at a secret location by the Burmese government since May 30 after a clash between her supporters and the military. Several of her followers reportedly were killed and others injured. Ms. Suu Kyi herself is reported to have been injured.

Mr. Tapiola says the ILO committee on the application of standards had intended to discuss ways to move forward on a previously agreed to plan of action against forced labor. This plan includes a road building project, alternatives to the use of forced labor and information and awareness-raising.

An ILO commission of inquiry established in 1998 found widespread and systematic use of forced labor in areas controlled by the Burmese military.

The commission said most of the victims were women, children and the elderly, forced to do portering for the military, construction work, agriculture, logging and other tasks for no pay. It also said punishments were common and included beatings, torture, rape and murder.

Mr. Tapiola says it is difficult to see how the Burmese will implement the plan of action on the table. "The view of the committee is that the recent events have created a climate of uncertainty and intimidation and there it is difficult to establish a plan of action, or it is difficult to carry out a plan of action in a credible manner," said Kari Tapiola. "And this is why the committee expects that the government takes immediate measures to end this situation."

Burmese representatives at the meeting said they would have to study the whole situation.

The ILO cannot suspend Burma from the organization. But it is urging all governments to look at their relations with Burma to see whether they are contributing to forced labor.

While not specifically calling for sanctions, the ILO is calling on governments to take measures that would help eliminate forced labor in that country.