Written by U Ne Oo on 2000-08-18
Thank you and good evening everybody. I am U Ne Oo -- a Burmese activist. I firstly would like to thank President Jan McMahn (United Trades and Labor Council SA) and our friend Andy Alcock (Information Officer) and everybody here for the opportunity to be able to speak about forced labor in Burma. Before I do that, I would like to tell a little bit about myself and what I have been doing in Australia.
I came to Australia in 1988 as a scholar. Before I came to Australia, I was working in Physics Department in Rangoon University as a university teacher. I came to Australia to do a Ph.D. degree in Physics at the Adelaide Uni degree in Physics at the Adelaide University. As some of you may know, in 1988 there was a big uprising in Burma which a lot of civilians protesters were killed. And since then there have been military government crackdowns on civilian opposition movement. In 1992 I applied for political asylum in Australia and the Aust government granted me refugee status in 1993. Since then, I have been campaigning for democracy and improvement of human rights situation in Burma.
Because we have only 40 persons ofly 40 persons of Burmese origin (which, I do not know them all) in South Australia, we cannot form opposition movement or it is even difficult to sustain a proper community group. So what I do since 1993 is that I engaged in campaign for democracy and human rights as a grass-root activist; Of course with the help of Internet, which I've been able to get in touch with many other exiles in other countries and groups through internet. By grass-roots activist I mean that I prepared reports, write letters, get my friend signed petition etd petition etc.. as a Burmese exile person; of which I do that with out proper support or representation of any organisations. These things are that I have been doing since 1993.
Today I came to the Union movement in South Australia to inform the latest situation concerining with forced labor in Burma. Regarding with forced labor in Burma, the ILO had set up a Commission of Inquiry in 1997 and had investigated situation of forced labor in Burma had made recommendations in 1998ndations in 1998. The latest situation is that in June the International Labor Council meeting has decided to invoke Article 33 of ILO Charter in order to ensure Burmese government comply with the Commission of Inquiry recommendations. It is an unprecedented step that has been taken by the ILO in its 81 years of history.
Now, some of you may ask what kind of forced labor that warrant that United Nations' inquiry. I tell you a little bit about forced labor in Burma. There are mainly twoe are mainly two types of forced labor. One is the government authorities using forced labor in infrasturcture project. For example, if the government wanted to build a dam or a bridge or a road, the government authorities simply summoned people nearby to do the work, months after months, without any pay. So that makes people lost their livelihoods, cause a great deal of hardship for people.
The other type of forced labor is called forced porterage. This happens when the Burmese army ge Burmese army go out on military offensive to rebel areas, they need people to carry their supplies and ammunitions. In this situation, what the army officers do is that they just go to nearby village and grab people, includes women and elderly, at gun point and forced to carry the load. In this situation, the people who ware recruited as porters do not know for how long they will have to work. It can be two day or two week or two month--people would have no idea. During the offensive, the porters are forced to carry veed to carry very heavy load like 20-30 kgs on their back and walk through rough terrain; if these porters tired or sick and simply cannot carry the load they were being kicked and punched and abused by soldiers; these porters are sometime forced to walk in front of army columns -- in order to detonate the land minds. So this is the sort of situation of forced labor.
Forced labor in Burma simply do not mean that the people are forced to work on the jobs that they don't want toey don't want to. Forced labor in Burma means a form of slavery; deprivation of liberty, and of livelihood; and of people being put into a great deal of danger.
Because of this situation, the ICFTU in 1993 had filed a complaint against the Burmese government at the ILO. It tooks the ILO four years to set up the Commission of Inquiry. Latest situation is, as I said before, the International Labor Council has given the Burmese government a deadline of by the end of this November. If Burmese government cannot and do not comply the ILO request, there will be action taken against it by ILO Governing Body .
So, today I came here to the Union Movement in South Australia to inform you and alert you about this situation, so that the Union Movement here may be able to coordinate effectively with the ILO in Geneva in taking action against Burmese military government.
The other thing, I would like to
ask all thing, I would like to
ask all the union leaders is to help us in raising public awareness
about Burma in South Australia. This is because, in South Australia, we
have very few Burmese. So people here do not even know where Burma is.
So I would very much appreciate the union leaders here get in touch with
us in future to raise awareness about Burma in SA. That's all I want to
say. Thank you all very much.
Summary of events:
- Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a mainland Southeast Asian country and Southeast Asian country with total landmass of about the size of South Australia and has population of 50 million. Burma�s population consists of 60 per cent Burman who inhibit flat-lowland areas and the ethinc minority people who usually reside at the hilly-border regions. Both majority and minority of the population are indigenous to the land. Burma has been under the military dictatorship of one form or another since 1962.
- In August 1988, there was a spontaneous mass uprising which has been largest in been largest in Burma�s history. The military government violently suppressed the uprising, killing an estimated 10,000 unarmed civilians. In 1989 the civilian opposition formed the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to contest in the general election. Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of Nobel Peace Prize for 1991, is one of the founders and general secretary of NLD.
- In Burma�s border areas, the military has been waging the decade-old war against ethnic minority rebels. The rebel groups generally demand a form of federal system of government which will guarantee them equal political rights as the majority Burmans.
- In May 1990, a general election was held and the opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has won 80 % majority of vote. The military then refused to hand over the state power to the election winning party NLD. Instead, the military has imprisoned the elected MPs and forcing them to resigned from the NLD party.
- In 1991, the United Nations haIn 1991, the United Nations has appointed a Special Rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses in Burma. The Special Rapporteur investigates the situation of human rights in Burma including the use of forced labor by Burmese government and reports back to the UN General Assembly each year. These annual reports indicate that a widespread and systematic use of forced labor by the government of Burma.
- In 1993, the International Confederation of Free Trades Union filed a complaint against the Burmese military governmenmilitary government at the ILO under Article 24. The ICFTU alleged the military government had been illegally exacting forced labor from the Burmese population, which contravene the Forced Labor Convention of 1930 (No. 29). In December 1996, the UN General Assembly resolution called for an inquiry into the practice of forced labor in Burma.
- In March 1997, the Governing Body of ILO set up a Commission of Inquiry into forced labor in Burma. The Commission has been able to gather evidences from numerous wries from numerous written reports by various sources as well as from oral testimonies given by the witness forced labor victims since the Commission itself took the field missions to Burma�s neighboring countries. The Commission has also invited the military government of Burma to give its evidence from the beginning of the inquiry. However, the government declined to participate in the inquiry and has denied that any forced labor exists in Burma.
- In July 1998, the Commission of Inquiry has handed its findinghanded its findings to the ILO Governing Body. The Commission�s recommendations include Burma to bring its domestic laws in line with international labor standards and also the government to cease the use of forced labor. In following months, the Governing Body of ILO monitored the actions of Burmese military government and concluded that there has been no improvement of the situation.
- In July 1999, the International Labor Conference has therefore decided the ILO to withdraw any technical cooperation with cooperation with or that of assistance to Burma (see page.2).
- In July 2000, the International Labor Conference has determined that the practical situation in Burma remained unchanged over the year and has decided to invoke Article 33 of ILO Constitution to secure Burma�s compliance of the recommendations of the 1998 Commission of Inquiry. The ILC has given Burma the 30th November 2000 as a deadline to comply with the recommendations (ILO press release page 3-4).
Press Release by ILO on 14 June 2000
for original document please check with ILO HOME http://www.ilo.org
International Labour Conference adopts
Resolution targeting forced labour in Myanmar (Burma)
Wednesday 14 June 2000 ( ILO/00/27 )
GENEVA (ILO News) - Delegates to the Internationtes to the International Labour Conference (ILC) today voted to take action to compel the Government of Myanmar (Burma) to comply with ILO Convention No. 29 on forced labour. Burma ratified Convention No. 29 in 1955.
In an unprecedented resolution under the never-before invoked article 33 of the ILO Constitution, the Conference - by a vote of 257 in favour, 41 against, and 31 abstentions - called upon Myanmar to "take concrete action" to implement the recommendations of a 1998 Commission of Inquiry, which found that resort to forchat resort to forced labour in the country was "widespread and systematic".
In a letter dated 27 May 2000 and delivered to the members of an ILO technical cooperation mission to Myanmar, the country's Minister of Labour, Major General Tin Ngwe, informed the Director-General of the ILO "that we have taken and are taking the necessary measures to ensure that there are no instances of forced labour in Myanmar". He also wrote that Myanmar "would take into consideration appropriate measures, including administrative, executive and legislative measures, to ensure the prevention of such occurrences in the future".
While recognizing that the Minister's letter "contains aspects which seem to reflect a welcome intention on the part of the Myanmar authorities to take measures to give effect to the Recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry", the Conference considered that "the factual situation (had) nevertheless remained unchanged to date". By a vote of 52 in favour, 242 against and 27 abstentions the Conference rejected amendments designedrence rejected amendments designed to postpone a decision at this year's session of the ILC.
Under the terms of the resolution adopted today, a series of measures will take effect on 30 November 2000 unless, before that date, the Governing Body of the ILO is satisfied that the intentions expressed by the Minister of Labour have been translated into a framework of legislative, executive and administrative measures that are "sufficiently concrete and detailed to demonstrate that the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry have been satisfiave been satisfied".
The measures adopted may include:
� Placing the question of the implementation of the Commission of Inquiry's recommendations on the agenda of future sessions of the Conference and to set aside a special sitting of the ILO's Committee on the Application of Standards to examine the matter so long as Myanmar (Burma) has not been shown to have fulfilled its obligations;
� Recommending to the Organizations constituents as a whole - governments, employers and workers - that they review their relathey review their relations with Myanmar (Burma) and take appropriate measures to ensure that such relations do not perpetuate or extend the system of forced or compulsory labour in that country and to report back to the ILO Governing Body;
� Inviting the Director-General of the ILO, Mr. Juan Somavia, to inform international organizations working with the ILO to reconsider any cooperation they may be engaged in with Myanmar (Burma) and, if appropriate, to cease as soon as possible any activity that could have the effect of directlyfect of directly or indirectly abetting the practice of forced or compulsory labour;
� Inviting the Director-General to request the United Nations' Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to place on the agenda of its July 2001 session an item concerning the failure of Myanmar (Burma) to implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission of Inquiry and seeking the adoption of recommendations directed by ECOSOC or by the General Assembly, or by both, to governments and other specialized agencies to ensure that by their involvement they are not directly or indirectly abetting the practice of forced labour;
� Requesting the Director-General to submit to the Governing Body a periodic report on the outcome of measures directed to international organizations and the United Nations and to inform those entities of any developments in the implementation by Myanmar (Burma) of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.
The Commission of Inquiry had called upon the Government to ensure that no more forced or com ensure that no more forced or compulsory labour be imposed by the authorities, particularly by the military, and that legal measures and penalties be brought against perpetrators of forced or compulsory labour.
Under the terms of the resolution, the ILC authorizes the Director-General to respond positively to all requests by Myanmar (Burma) that are made with the sole purpose of establishing the necessary framework before the November deadline. These efforts could include further technical cooperation missions, eventually supported by a sustained ILO presence on the spot if the Governing Body confirms that the conditions are met for such presence to be truly useful and effective.
This is the first time in the ILO's 81-year history that the Conference has had recourse to measures under article 33, a procedure that is designed to be invoked only in the event of a country failing to carry out the recommendations of an ILO Commission of Inquiry, which is itself a procedure reserved for grave and persistent violations of international labour standards. international labour standards.
The 1998 Commission, which was made up of three distinguished international jurists, concluded that "the obligation to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour is violated in Myanmar in national law as well as in actual practice in a widespread and systematic manner, with total disregard for the human dignity, safety, health and basic needs of the people".