Tue 27 Feb 2007
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
Burma’s military junta has concluded an “understanding” with the International Labour Organization to allow victims of forced labor to make complaints to the international body.
A statement released on Monday by the ILO said it has concluded an â€œunderstandingâ€ with the Burmese government that allows â€œvictims of forced labor to have full freedom to submit complaints to the ILO liaison officeâ€ in Rangoon with a guarantee that â€œno retaliatory action will be taken.â€
â€œThis is a very positive development,â€ said Richard Horsey, the ILO’s representative in Rangoon.
â€œIt gives the possibility for the first time for victims of forced labor to have somewhere to complain to, and to have some confidence that they will not face any retaliation. This is very significant,â€ Horsey told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
Burma has been accused of violating ILO Convention 29 on forced or compulsory labor. The convention was ratified by Burma in 1955.
In November last year, the ILO hardened its stance on the issue of forced labor in Burma, warning the government that it might go to the International Court of Justice because of the regime’s refusal to abolish the practice.
The junta’s recent decision comes shortly before the ILO was due to decide on whether to take Burma before the ICJ on March 8.
The ILO statement said the new mechanism will be implemented on a trial basis over a 12-month period and may be extended by mutual agreement.
The ILO office in Rangoon will make a confidential preliminary assessment as to whether a case involves forced labor. If so, the case would be forwarded to Burmese authorities for investigation.
Horsey said as part of the agreement he will have freedom to travel around the country to meet complainants.
The agreement was welcomed by Burmese labor activist and lawyer, Aye Myint, who said that after recent ILO pressure, forced labor cases dropped in major cities in Burma. However, he said the military junta continues to force people to work without pay in rural areas on local development projects as well as on offensive military operations against ethnic insurgent groups, in which conscripts are used as porters.
â€œArmies seem to have a license to use forced labor,” he said. “When they enter villages, they demand labor and food directly or indirectly. In some cases, if villagers can not provide labor, they have to pay money for replacements,â€ Aye Myint said.
The Burmese Army forced more than 200 villagers from 12 villages to provide trucks and move supplies from Mawchi camp to Busakee camp on February 17 in the Bawgali Gyi area in Pegu Division, according to a recently released report by the Free Burma Rangers, a relief group that assists displaced Burmese people.