The International Labour Organisation on Wednesday decided to defer taking Burma to the International Court of Justice over the use of forced labour following the Burmese junta’s signing of a “Supplementary Understanding” last month.

In February the Burmese military government signed an agreement to allow the ILO to set up a mechanism that will enable victims of forced labour to seek redressal.

By agreeing to the “Supplementary Understanding,” Burma has accepted that no one lodging complaints about forced labour would be victimized.

According to the “Understanding” victims of forced labour will have the freedom to approach and submit complaints to the ILO Liaison Officer in Rangoon. And on the Liaison Officer’s assessment, the authorities would investigate and take appropriate action against the perpetrators.

Richard Horsey, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon said, “The main reason for a referral to the ICJ was to look at Myanmar’s [Burma’s] policy of prosecuting people who lodged ‘false complaints’ of forced labour and decide whether such a policy was consistent with Myanmar’s [Burma’s] obligations under the Forced Labour Convention.”

And a decision not to refer Burma to the ICJ was made possible by the signing of the “Supplementary Understanding” by the Burmese government, said Horsey, who is currently in Geneva presenting evidence to the ILO Governing Body on how Burma is keeping its new commitment.

Horsey said in the first three weeks of implementing the mechanism, he had received four complaints of forced labour. While rejecting one case and still awaiting further information on another, he said, he had transmitted two cases to the authorities, and after preliminary assessment found that forced labour was involved.

Horsey told Mizzima that authorities, after conducting investigations into the two cases, which confirmed that the complaints were true, had taken action against the perpetrators.

“Two local government officials have been convicted of illegal imposition of forced labour and given six-month prison terms each,” Horsey said.

The ILO Governing Body’s decision also includes providing more staff members who would assist the Liaison Officer to discharge his responsibilities more adequately.

“The Governing Body requested the Office to move quickly to assign suitable international staff to assist the Liaison Officer, and requested the Government of Myanmar to extend necessary cooperation and facilities,” the ILO Governing body said in conclusion.

Horsey said, forced labour remains a serious problem in Burma and the new mechanism is an attempt to address it by providing an opportunity for people to complain, and to demonstrate that if someone imposes forced labour, they can be held accountable.

“This is important in undermining the sense of impunity felt by those people who use forced labour,” said Horsey, however, adding that forced labour in Burma cannot be eliminated on a case-by-case basis.

“What is needed is a change in attitude and behaviour, and it is hoped that if this mechanism, if it is able to function effectively, can contribute to that,” Horsey added.