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Burmese Pro-Democracy Leader Appeals for Labor Rights

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters after meeting with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at her home in Yangon June 2, 2011 (file photo)
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters after meeting with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at her home in Yangon June 2, 2011 (file photo)
Lisa Schlein

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is appealing to the International Labor Organization for continued help in improving her country’s dismal record on human rights and labor rights. Unable to leave Burma, she made her appeal via video to delegates attending the annual International Labor Conference in Geneva.

In her video message, Suu Kyi, expresses her gratitude to the International Labor Organization [ILO] for its steadfast work on behalf of the Burmese people.  

She said social justice is the base of lasting peace, and few organizations have succeeded in pursuing this goal as has the ILO.  

Burma's pro-democracy leader praised the ILO’s achievements in improving international labor standards, employment and social protection for workers around the world. The 65-year-old Nobel Laureate urged the ILO to build upon these successes to make sure all nations adopt policies, which lead to social justice.  

“Here I would like to make a special appeal for my own country, Burma," said Suu Kyi. "Once upon a time it was considered the nation most likely to succeed in Southeast Asia. But now it has fallen behind almost all the other nations in this region. The work of the ILO in our country has highlighted the indivisibility of social, political and economic concerns.”  

She noted the ILO’s efforts to eliminate forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers have broadened to include the cause of prisoners of conscience and freedom of expression, and to get Burma’s military leaders to embrace the rule of law.  

The ILO has been combating forced labor in Burma for more than a decade. Little progress has been made to eliminate this practice, despite repeated promises by the military junta to end forced labor and to reform the country’s labor laws.  

Earlier this month, a special ILO committee overseeing the situation of Burma, also known as Myanmar, expressed regret that no substantive progress has been made toward complying with a 1998 Commission of Inquiry to end forced labor and to prosecute those involved in this practice.  

Suu Kyi said the Burmese people have been struggling for political change in Burma for a very long time. She said they are hungry for a society based on social justice joined to political and economic progress.

"We look to the ILO to expand its activities in Burma to help usher in an era of broad-based social justice in our country," she said. "We are particularly concerned that our workers should be enabled to form trade unions, concerned with the highest international standards as soon as possible.”  

In an emotional appeal to the ILO, the Burmese pro-democracy leader notes failure in one nation raises obstacles in the way of progress in all other nations. Suu Kyi said Burma must not be allowed to fail and the world must not be allowed to fail Burma.

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