Fri 25 Mar 2005
Filed under: International,News
Geneva: Myanmar’s military government must stop backsliding on its promise to wipe out forced labor, a United Nations monitor said Thursday.
Ruth Dreifuss, a member of an International Labor Organization team that investigated the Asian nation last month, said the international community wants to see solid progress. Dreifuss’ team cut short its mission, saying it had been denied an expected meeting with a top junta official.
“For years we’ve had a contradictory message,” she said following a meeting of the ILO’s governing body. “There is always a promise to do something, a few little steps, then a terrible backlash.”
ILO officials cited the treason convictions of three individuals who had met with staff from the U.N. agency during investigations of forced labor. Although two were released earlier this year as part of a general amnesty of 5,000 detainees, one – U Shwe Mahn – remains in prison.
“We want clear words, a clear message and clear facts,” said Dreifuss, former president of Switzerland.
The ILO has long been an ardent critic of forced labor in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Under pressure from the 178-nation organization, the country’s junta has worked with the U.N. body in recent years on a program to halt forced labor.
Earlier this month, Myanmar Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Soe Win wrote to Dreifuss and other members of the ILO team, telling them his country was “committed to the elimination of the vestiges of forced labor in close cooperation with ILO.”
“I wish to reassure you that we are against forced labor and are committed to this principle,” he wrote in the March 10 letter, which was published in ILO documents.
On March 15, however, another senior Myanmar official slammed ILO, accusing it of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
Labor Department director Gen. Soe Nyunt said that despite his government’s cooperation with ILO, the agency had continuously pressured Myanmar based on false information it receives from the junta’s critics. He said the ILO was ignoring the welfare of Myanmar’s 54 million people, a claim rejected by officials from the agency.
In 2000, ILO took the unprecedented step of calling on its members to impose sanctions against Myanmar because of the military government’s failure to curb forced labor.
In response, the junta allowed the Geneva-based organization to open an office in Yangon in 2002. A year later, ILO withdrew its sanctions call.
In 2004, however, the ILO said that unless the junta took swift action, the call for sanctions would be revived.
Some countries, including Japan and the United States, have already imposed sanctions. The U.S. Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 placed import restrictions on goods from Myanmar.
“The general view is that this wait-and-see attitude is no longer justified,” said Francis Maupain, ILO special adviser on Myanmar.