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ILO Calls for Release of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi - 2003-06-09

The head of the International Labor Organization, Juan Somavia, has called on the government of Burma to immediately release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The appeal came during the ILO's annual conference in Geneva.

ILO Director-General Somavia told delegates that the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi cast a pall over deliberations by an ILO committee, which met to explore the issue of forced labor in Burma.

The Committee on Application of Standards met Saturday to begin implementing a previously agreed plan to eliminate forced labor in Burma. Instead, Mr. Somavia said, the detention of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has created a climate of uncertainty and intimidation.

"It deplored that situation. And in that context, I call on the government of Myanmar to take immediate measures to release her, her and the other leaders, and to guarantee their freedom," he said. "I am convinced that I reflect widespread feelings in this room."

Mr. Somavia said forced labor in Burma would not end without the appropriate conditions that would allow real and credible action to put a stop to this practice.

A 1998 ILO inquiry found widespread and systematic use of forced labor in areas controlled by the Burmese military. The inquiry commission said women, children and the elderly were forced to do hard labor for no pay. It said punishments, including beatings, torture, rape and murder, were common.

Mr. Somavia then turned to the main theme of his speech, which focused on new anti-poverty proposals. In reviewing some key points of a recent ILO report on poverty, he said that three billion people - half of the world's population - live on less than two dollars a day. And of that total, one billion survive on one dollar a day, most of them in developing countries.

He said official unemployment is at its highest rate ever. He said 180 million people around the world do not have jobs, and that figure is climbing.

"As much as 90 percent of the workers in some countries are working in the back alleys of the marketplace, the informal economy. Income gaps are growing," he said. "And over the next 10 years, more than one billion young people will enter the working-age population."

ILO chief Somavia said a United Nations program launched three years ago to cut global poverty in half by 2015 would fail, unless governments, employers and workers unite to create more jobs. He said the way out of poverty is through work.