Mon 18 Dec 2006
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
The Burmese government on Sunday held a press conference at which it denied the use of forced labor in what appeared to be the latest attempt to make its case against UN Security Council intervention in the country.
Three weeks after defending its record on HIV/AIDS, drug eradication and political prisoners, the government said it had â€œnever failedâ€ to abide by its obligations to the International Labour Organization as a signatory to the 1930 Forced Labour Convention.
The ILO apparently disagrees-in February it plans to request a ruling from the International Court of Justice in The Hague to determine whether Burma is failing to tackle the problem
Deputy Minister of Labor Maj-Gen Aung Kyi, at Sunday’s press conference in Naypyidaw, admitted that â€œlabor contributionâ€ had been used by the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) between 1955 and 1990 in counter-insurgency operations. The practice had since stopped though, he said, following peace deals with 17 armed groups. That claim is disputed by Karen groups, in particular, who say that the military continues to force Burmese to act as army porters, human mine sweepers and to construct army camps and roads in eastern Burma.
Aung Kyi said the government was justified in requesting Burmese to work in certain cases, including â€œtasks for regional developmentâ€ and cases of national emergency. He told journalists that Burma â€œwill continue to cooperate with the ILO as long as its attitudes are not harmful to the interests of the nation and the people.â€
Richard Horsey, the ILO’s representative in Rangoon, on Monday called on the military to engage in open discussion in a bid to ease the current standoff with the world labor body. â€œThe ILO has always considered it important to have a frank dialogue with the Myanmar [Burma] authorities on issues of concern,â€ he said. â€œI would want to have that dialogue directly, rather than through the media.â€
Horsey was due to meet with Aung Kyi on Monday afternoon, he added, as talks continue in the hope of reaching agreement on a mechanism to address cases of alleged forced labor in Burma.
The military’s failure to meet the ILO’s requests on how such a mechanism would work prompted the organization last month to begin preparations for a referral of Burma’s case to the International Court of Justice. The junta responded on Sunday by saying that such a move would be â€œunnecessary.â€
â€œIt is not in accord with the ILO constitution,â€ Aung Kyi said.
The deputy labor minister said the authorities had investigated 62 cases of alleged forced labor perpetrated by the civil administration and the military. Ten officials are thought to have been convicted in 2004 and 2005 before the ILO stopped passing on information on suspected instances of forced labor after a spate of convictions against â€œfalse complainantsâ€ and their representatives, including lawyer Aye Myint and National League for Democracy member Su Su Nway.
Government efforts to distance itself from alleged forced labor practices come as the UN Security Council prepares to consider a non-punitive resolution on Burma before Christmas. A draft resolution recently circulated by the US among the 15 members of the UNSC calls on the junta to cooperate with the ILO to eradicate forced labor in Burma.