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ILO report on Burma


[The ILO at its last Governing Body has established a Commission of
Inquiry into the human rights situation in Burma and specifically the
observance of the Forced Labour Convention (ILO No. 129).  This Inquiry,
under Article 29 of its Constitution is one of the most serious actions
that the Governing Body can take.

NB.  Robyn Layton, An Australian lawyer is a member of the inquiry.]

International Labour Office - Governing Body - 268th Session

 Geneva, March 1997
 Report of the Director-General
 Eighth Supplementary Report:
 Complaint concerning the observance by Myanmar of the Forced Labour
Convention, 1930
 (No. 29) made by delegates to the 83rd (1996) Session of the Conference
under article 26
 of the Constitution of the ILO
 Composition of the Commission of Inquiry
 1. At its 267th Session (November 1996), the Governing Body had before
it a report of
 its Officers (GB.267/16/2) on a complaint concerning the observance by
Myanmar of the
 Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), submitted by 25 Workers'
delegates to the 83rd
 Session of the International Labour Conference.  The Governing Body
decided at its
 present session to refer the whole matter, without further discussion,
to a Commission
 of Inquiry set up in accordance with article 26 of the Constitution and
requested the
 Director-General to make proposals to the Governing Body concerning the
composition of
 the Commission.
 2. The Director-General proposes that the Commission of Inquiry be
composed as follows:
 Chairman: The Right Honourable Sir William DOUGLAS, PC, KCMB
(Barbados), former
 Ambassador; former Chief Justice of Barbados; former Chairman,
Commonwealth Caribbean
 Council of Legal Education; former Chairman, Inter-American Juridical
Committee; former
 Judge of the High Court of Jamaica; President of the Committee of
Experts on the
 Application of Conventions and Recommendations.
 Members: Mr. Prafullachandra Natvarlal BHAGWATI (India), former Chief
Justice of India;
 former Chief Justice of the High Court of Gujarat; former Chairman,
Legal Aid Committee
 and Judicial Reforms Committee, Government of Gujarat; former Chairman,
Committee on
 Juridicare, Government of India; former Chairman of the Committee
appointed by the
 Government of India for implementing legal aid schemes in the country;
member of the
 International Committee on Human Rights of the International Law
Association; member of
 the Editorial Committee of Reports of the Commonwealth; Chairman of the
 Committee for Social and Economic Welfare of the Government of India;
Ombudsman for the
 national newspaper Times of India; Chairman of the Advisory Board of
the Centre for
 Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Geneva; Vice-President of E1
Taller; Chairman of the
 Panel for Social Audit of Telecom and Postal Services in India; member
of the United
 Nations Human Rights Committee; member of the Committee of Experts on
the Application of
 Conventions and Recommendations.
 Ms. Robyn A. LAYTON, QC (Australia), Barrister-at-Law; Director,
National Rail
 Corporation; former Commissioner on Health Insurance Commission; former
Chairperson of
 the Australian Health Ethics Committee of the National Health and
Medical Research
 Council; former Honorary Solicitor for the South Australian Council for
Civil Liberties;
 former Solicitor for the Central Aboriginal Land Council; former
Chairman of the South
 Australian Sex Discrimination Board; former Judge and Deputy President
of the South
 Australian Industrial Court and Commission; former Deputy President of
the Federal
 Administrative Appeals Tribunal; member of the Committee of Experts on
the Application
 of Conventions and Recommendations.
 3. The Governing Body is invited to appoint the above nominees to serve
on the
 Commission of Inquiry.
 Geneva, 27 March 1997.
 Point for decision: Paragraph 3.
  International Labour Office - Governing Body - 268th Session
 Geneva, March 1997
 Reports of the Officers of the Governing Body
 First report:
 Complaint concerning the observance by Myanmar of the Forced Labour
Convention, 1930
 (No. 29), made by delegates to the 83rd (June 1996) Session of the
Conference under
 article 26 of the Constitution of the ILO
 1. At its 267th Session (November 1996) the Governing Body had before
it a report of its
 Officers (GB.267/16/2) regarding a complaint concerning the observance
by Myanmar of the
 Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), made by 25 Worker delegates to
the 83rd Session
 of the International Labour Conference. The complainants alleged that
the Government of
 Myanmar had demonstrated its unwillingness to act upon the repeated
calls addressed to
 it by the ILO's supervisory bodies to abolish and cancel legislation
which allows for
 the use of forced labour and to ensure that forced labour was
eliminated in practice.
 Indeed, the practice of forced labour was becoming more widespread and
the authorities
 in Myanmar were directly responsible for its increasing use, and
actively involved in
 its exploitation. Beyond the forced recruitment and abuse of porters by
the military,
 forced labour was being used systematically, on an ever larger scale,
and in an
 increasing number of areas of activity. Large numbers of forced
labourers were now
 working on railway, road, construction, and other infrastructure
projects, many of which
 were related to the Government's efforts to promote tourism in Myanmar.
In addition the
 military was engaged in the confiscation of land from villagers who
were then forced to
 cultivate it to the benefit of the military appropriators. The
complainants concluded
 that the Government of Myanmar, far from acting to end the practice of
forced labour,
 was engaged actively in its promotion, so that it was today an endemic
abuse affecting
 hundreds of thousands of workers who were subjected to the most extreme
forms of
 exploitation, which all too frequently led to loss of life. The
Governing Body took the
 following decisions on the complaint:
 (a) the Government of Myanmar should be requested by the
Director-General to communicate
 its observations on the complaint so as to reach him not later than 31
January 1997;
 (b) in accordance with article 26, paragraph 5, of the Constitution,
the Governing Body
 shall invite the Government of Myanmar to send a representative to take
part in the
 proceedings of the Governing Body concerning this matter at its future
sessions. When so
 inviting the Government of Myanmar, the Director-General should inform
it that the
 Governing Body intends to continue its discussion of this case at its
268th Session,
 which will take place in Geneva in March 1997.
 2. By a letter dated 23 December 1996 the Director-General informed the
Government of
 Myanmar of the decisions mentioned above.
 3. By a letter dated 5 February 1997 the Permanent Mission of the Union
of Myanmar in
 Geneva transmitted the observations of the Government of Myanmar on the
complaint and
 evidence submitted. The document (without its confidential annexes) is
appended to the
 present report. The Government states that under certain circumstances
the armed forces
 had to employ porters but these were not treated harshly and
inhumanely; they must be
 unemployed casual labour, be physically fit, and receive reasonable
wages fixed and
 agreed to before recruiting; they were never required to accompany the
troops in actual
 battle or exposed to danger. For development and infrastructure
projects undertaken by
 the Government, no coercion was involved in recruiting labour, and it
was remunerated
 equitably; with a view to substantiating this, detailed statements and
photographs of
 some local people interviewed are annexed to the Government's
observations. However,
 there would be no more recruitment and deployment of the local
population in any
 development projects, while members of the armed forced and some
convicted common
 criminals were now employed at worksites. The building of hotels for
foreign investors
 as well as the construction of barracks for border police units were
performed by local
 private contractors who employed voluntary paid labour, and similarly
the allegations
 that forced labour was being used for projects in connection with the
development of oil
 and gas reserves was totally unfounded. Finally, the powers available
under the Towns
 Act of 1907 and Village Act of 1908 were to be deleted according to a
redrafted version
 which was being prepared. In conclusion, the Government considers that
a considerable
 portion of the criticism was based on biased and specious allegations,
and hopes that a
 decision will be made by the Governing Body that there is no need to
form a Commission
 of Inquiry.
 4. The Officers of the Governing Body have noted that contradictions
exist between the
 facts presented in the allegations and those set out in the
observations of the
 Government of Myanmar. It would, however, not be appropriate to enter
into a discussion
 of the substance if it is envisaged to set up a Commission of Inquiry
under article 26,
 paragraph 4, of the Constitution in order to make an objective
assessment of the
 situation. As was pointed out in the report of the Officers of the
Governing Body at the
 latter's 267th Session, it would be incompatible with the judicial
nature of the
 procedure thus instituted to open up such a discussion before the
Commission of Inquiry
 submits its conclusions.
 5. In the light of the foregoing, the Governing Body may - or may not -
wish to consider
 entrusting the examination of the allegations to an independent body
whose establishment
 should make it possible to appraise the facts and, if so, the Governing
Body should
 refrain from commenting on the position of the parties at this stage.
 6. The Officers of the Governing Body make the following
recommendations to the
 Governing Body:
 (a) that it decide whether or not the question should be referred
without any further
 discussion to a Commission of Inquiry appointed in accordance with
article 26 of the
 (b) in the event that the Governing Body decides to set up a Commission
of Inquiry, the
 members of the Commission should be nominated in accordance with the
same criteria, and
 would serve in the same conditions, as the members of commissions
previously appointed
 under article 26 of the Constitution. They would serve as individuals
in their personal
 capacity, would be chosen for their impartiality, integrity, and
standing, and would
 undertake by solemn declaration to carry out their tasks and exercise
their powers as
 members of the Commission "honourably, faithfully, impartially and
conscientiously". A
 solemn declaration in these terms would correspond to that made by
judges of the
 International Court of Justice;
 (c) the Commission should establish its own procedure in accordance
with the provisions
 of the Constitution;
 (d) the Director-General should be requested to submit to the Governing
Body proposals
 concerning the composition of the Commission.
 Geneva, 13 March 1997.
 Point for decision: Paragraph 6.
 Observation of the Myanmar Government on the initial complaint and
 evidence made by 25 Worker delegates to the 83rd Session of the
International Labour
 Conference under article 26 of the ILO Constitution
 Part L Introduction
 1. A group of 25 Worker delegates to the 83rd Session of the
International Labour
 Conference, held in June 1996, filed a complaint against the Government
of the Union of
 Myanmar under article 26 of the ILO Constitution for non-observance of
the provisions of
 the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), reserving the right to
supply additional
 information and supplementary evidence in this regard.
 2. The Government of the Union of Myanmar accordingly made a prompt
reply in October
 1996 to the ILO Director-General on the concrete measures taken by the
 Government to abolish recourse to forced labour as a gesture of
response to the
 above-mentioned complaint.
 3. However, the Worker delegates once again submitted the supplementary
evidence on 31
 October 1996 to the Director-General in support of their initial
complaint to be brought
 to the attention of the forthcoming session of the Governing Body to be
held in March
 4. Consequently, the information was transmitted to the Myanmar
Government by the
 Director of the International Labour Standards Department on behalf of
 Director-General of the International Labour Office to enable the
Myanmar authorities to
 make necessary observations on the allegations of the complainants.
 5. The Myanmar Government, accordingly wishes to provide a detailed
reply and
 information relevant to the findings and allegations of the Worker
 The Government's initiatives for the emergence of a peaceful, modern
and developed
 6. Before responding to the allegations, the Myanmar authorities wish
to point out the
 sincere endeavours being made by the Government for the perpetuation of
the national
 integrity and sovereignty and for safeguarding the long-term national
 7. Myanmar has witnessed in so short a time grisly reverses to the
political, economic
 and social life of the nation just before the present government came
to shoulder the
 responsibility of the State in 1988. It cannot be denied that the State
Law and Order
 Restoration Council Government saved the nation which was on the brink
 8. Since then, systematic and prudent steps have been taken to steer
the nation to
 obviate undesirable and harmful consequences. The Government has
successfully achieved
 its goal in the restoration of law and order throughout the country.
 9. It may be pointed out that it is the present Government which opened
up the country
 politically and economically. A market-oriented economy has been
adopted in place of a
 centrally planned socialist system. And concrete steps are being taken
to implement a
 multi-party democracy system. Thanks to the efforts of the Government,
 market-economic system has now started to flourish in Myanmar and
consequently it has
 induced increasing foreign investments.
 10. Realizing the need for a new enduring state constitution which will
ensure the
 emergence of a truly democratic multi-party system, the State Law and
Order Restoration
 Council formed a National Convention Convening Commission. A National
Convention is
 being held to lay down basic principles for the drafting of a new state
 with the consensus of the participating delegates representing all
walks of life,
 different union nationalities and different ethnic minority groups.
 11. With the emergence of the new state constitution, the political and
 pattern will take a new shape and form within the framework of the
multi-party democracy
 system in the near future. In other words, the present Government is,
in actual sense,
 laying down firm foundations for a new democratic government which will
govern Myanmar
 under the new state constitution.
 12. Infelicitously, the sincere steps taken by the Government for the
maintenance of law
 and order have been portrayed in some circles as acts of repression.
The development
 endeavours for all-round development of the nation have also been
looked at cynically.
 It is to be borne in mind that it is the present Government that has
opened up the
 country economically and in a large measure politically.
 13. Moreover, it is an undeniable fact that the relentless efforts of
the Government
 have resulted in peace and stability that prevails throughout the
length and breadth of
 the country. National reconsolidation has been restored as a result of
 mutual trust and understanding among the national brethren. These are
the significant
 achievements in our efforts at establishing peace and national unity
which will lead to
 the drafting of a new state constitution.
 14. During the tenure of the present Government, the leaders have been
taking every
 necessary measure to build up Myanmar as a peaceful, modern and
developed nation. To
 achieve that goal, clear-cut political, economic and social objectives
have been laid
 down which are to be observed by all walks of life.
 The four political objectives are:
 - stability of the State, community peace and tranquillity, prevalence
of law and order;
 - national reconsolidation;
 - emergence of a new enduring state constitution;
 - building of a new modern developed nation in accord with the new
state constitution.
 The four economic objectives are:
 - development of agriculture as the base and all-round development of
other sectors of
 the economy as well;
 - proper evolution of the market-oriented economic system;
 - development of the economy inviting participation in terms of
technical know-how and
 investments from sources inside the country and abroad;
 - the initiative to shape the national economy must be kept in the
hands of the State
 and the national peoples.
 The four social objectives are:
 - uplift of the morale and morality of the entire nation;
 - uplift of the national prestige and integrity and preservation and
safeguarding of
 cultural heritage and national character;
 - uplift of dynamism of patriotic spirit;
 - uplift of health, fitness and education standards of the entire
 Building infrastructures throughout the nation
 15. In order to effectively undertake the tasks of ensuring stability
of the State,
 prevalence of law and order as well as peace and tranquillity of the
State and forging
 national reconsolidation, transportation within the country must be
smooth, speedy and
 secure. This will also facilitate and expedite trading and public
transport. It is
 indeed one of the crucial components in the nation building endeavours.
 16. To fulfil this need, railroads and motor roads are being built
throughout the
 country. These development works are aimed not only at regional
development but also for
 all-round development of the nation. The economic and social life of
the communities can
 be improved only when there prevails efficient transportation services.
 17. As of today, it has linked 12 states and divisions by means of
railroads. Altogether
 544.79 miles of railroads have been built during the period of State
Law and Order
 Restoration Council Government. Thanks to these new railroads, the
economic, education,
 health and social conditions of residential people of these areas which
have lagged
 behind in development for several decades are now enjoying
unprecedented improvements.
 These transportation and communication links emerged through the
collective efforts of
 the State, the people and the members of the Myanmar armed forced
(Tatmadawmen). People
 living in the states and divisions are now enjoying the fruits of these
 efforts. There is enough evidence that these rail lines serve the
interest of the local
 populace. There are regions like Zeebya in Pakokku township where
travelling other than
 on foot is impossible during the five-month period of rainy season
which can now be
 travelled by train all the year round. Likewise, most of the sections
between Kalemyo
 and Gangaw which remain isolated during the rainy season because of
flood and soggy mud
 are now accessible by train all year round. Besides, the people can now
enjoy the
 advantage of spending less for travel by train as the fare is much
lower than that of
 bus fare.
 18. These are the vivid examples that active participation of people is
very important
 for a nation in the making. From construction of roads, irrigation
facilities, schools,
 hospitals, market places, parks and others to building of new towns and
all spheres of
 construction, the working people and members of the Myanmar armed
forces have toiled
 with vigour and enthusiasm not only for the benefit of a community in a
strict sense but
 for the benefit of the nation as a whole.
 A nation has its own significant characteristics
 19. Every nation has its own characteristics of special significance
and ethos.
 Traditions and mores of one country may be totally different from
another country. Each
 country has its own historical background and different conditions.
 dissimilarities largely stem from history, geography, climate and
environment, etc. It
 is natural that these characteristics play a dominant role in
influencing the making of
 policies and adoption of national goals to be achieved. It is therefore
necessary to
 have an understanding and cognition of the background history, culture
and traditions as
 well as the objective conditions and the attitude of the people of the
 concerned. The case relating to Myanmar is no exception. Indeed, the
 observations are especially applicable to Myanmar.
 Part II. Refutal to the allegations
 20. Having set forth the background and facts of the situation
prevailing in Myanmar,
 the authorities now wish to address the allegations made by the Worker
delegates and in
 doing so, the Myanmar authorities wish to place this refutation under
three main
 headings: Public purposes (or) Public sector; Private benefit (or)
Private sector; and
 the law.
 A.   Public purposes (or) Public sector
 (a)  Portering
 - Since regaining political independence in 1948, Myanmar has seen the
emergence of
 insurrection comprising different political views ranging from
Communists to other
 different ethnic minority groups.
 - Since then, successive Myanmar governments have had to deal with
these insurgent
 groups. At one time, there were 16 such armed groups waging terror
against the civilian
 population as well as the Central Government. Fortunately, at present,
15 of 16 such
 armed groups have returned to the legal fold and are taking part in the
economic and
 social development of the country as a whole as well as in their
respective regions.
 - Therefore, it is true that under certain circumstances the Myanmar
armed forces had to
 employ porters for transportation of supplies and equipment over
difficult terrain in
 remote places and mountains near the frontier areas where military
campaigns against the
 armed groups were launched. However, it is not true that the porters
employed were
 treated harshly and inhumanely by the Myanmar armed forces.
 - It should be emphasized here that the recruitment of these porters
were based on
 certain criteria among which were:
       (a)  that they must be unemployed casual labour;
       (b)  that they must be physically fit to work as porters;
       (c)  that reasonable amount of wages must be fixed and agreed to
 - Also, it must be emphasized here that these porters were never
required to accompany
 the troops in actual scene of the battle or neither are they exposed to
 - In the unfortunate even of loss of limb unconnected with any armed
conflict, they or
 their family are equitably compensated in accordance with the
prevailing law.
 - The authorities wish to point out that there was no recruitment of
women, children and
 elderly people as porters at any time.
 - The Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadawmen) emerged on the basis of
nationalism and
 patriotism and it is composed of the sons of the union nationals. It is
a truly national
 army governed by the Defence Services Act of 1959 and is administered
under a strict
 Military Code of Conduct. Accordingly, these servicemen are highly
disciplined and do
 not resort to onerous or oppressive actions against the people.
 - Any isolated aberration is met with severe punishment meted out by a
Military Court.
 As mentioned in the foregoing, the use of porters has significantly
diminished as a
 result of less military operations against the armed groups.
 - With regard to the allegations of the use of porters, the Myanmar
authorities have
 already refuted the allegations made by ICFTU in November 1993 based on
article no. 24
 of the ILO Constitution.
 - Although there have been criticisms made by the Worker delegates in
connection with
 military porterage and forced labour practices in Myanmar, there are
also some views and
 remarks made by some personages in these regards. The excerpts from the
press conference
 given by US Presidential Envoys Ambassador Mr. William Brown and Senior
Official of the
 National Security Council of the White House Mr. Stanley Roth on 15
June 1996 at the
 Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand is appended (see Annex I).
 (b) Construction of development and infrastructure projects by the
 - Among the development of infrastructure projects undertaken by the
SLORC Government
 are Aungban-Loikaw Railroad construction, Ye-Dawei Railroad, Pathein
Airstrip Extension,
 construction of dams and embankments, etc. In all these above projects,
there was no
 forced labour involved.
 - For the construction of the projects and other projects not mentioned
above, the use
 of labour was purely voluntary, and it was remunerated equitably. No
coercion whatsoever
 was involved in recruiting them. Recruitment of this labour was done
according to the
 local recruitment procedures of employment exchanges established by the
Department of
 Labour. There are altogether 78 township level Labour Offices all over
the country
 operating under the Employment and Training Act and Employment
Restriction Act.
 - With a view to substantiating the above facts, field surveys were
sent to the
 respective areas to verify that the recruitment of labour was done in
accordance with
 the procedure. Detailed statements and photographs of some local people
interviewed are
 annexed (see Annexes IIa-IIg).
 - The Government of the Union of Myanmar has taken concrete action
regarding the use of
 civilian labour in infrastructure building and development projects. A
further and
 unprecedented step has been taken in using members of the armed forces
(Tatmadawmen) in
 these projects. There will be no more recruitment and deployment of
local populace in
 any development projects. Tatmadawmen are now taking part in these
works to serve for
 the interests and general well-being of the people in addition to the
 responsibility of defending the country. One concrete example is the
 participation of Tatmadawmen in the railroads construction and other
public works in the
 Mandalay, Magway and Tanintharyi divisions. Photographs of Tatmadawmen
at the respective
 worksides are annexed (see Annex III).
 - It may be pointed out here that some prisoners who were convicted of
criminal offences
 such as murder, rape, etc. (common criminals) are sometimes employed in
 (c) Hotel industries in Myanmar
 - With a view to promoting the tourist industry the Government has
invited foreign
 investors to build hotels in Myanmar. In response to this invitation
investors from
 Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and Hong Kong, etc., have come to
Myanmar putting
 100 per cent investment in the construction of hotels in Yangon,
Mandalay, Bagan, etc.
 The system adopted is known as BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer).
 - These foreign companies which own 100 per cent investment have their
own contractors
 who in turn appoint local subcontractors. It is these local
subcontractors who recruit
 local workers who are skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled labourers. The
competition or
 demand for local workers can be said to be very keen. In other words
inducement in the
 form of high salary or wages is offered by the foreign companies.
 - As such, the question of forced labour does not arise. In addition to
that local
 labour law and procedures see to it that equitable wages and proper
conditions of work
 are observed by the companies. In most cases these subcontractors go
through the labour
 exchanges run by the Department of Labour.
 - Although it is the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism which is responsible
for the
 promotion of building hotels in Myanmar, the Ministry plays no part in
the employment of
 the construction workers.
 - With regard to the allegation that forced labour was used in the
construction of
 "barracks", it may be stated that accommodations for border policing
units in Rakhine
 State were constructed by private building contractors employing
voluntary paid labour
 (see Annexes IVa-IVb).
  [N.B. page 10 of the report is missing here]
 principles is the principle that "The State shall enact necessary laws
to protect the
 rights of the workers".
 - The authorities are keenly aware of the criticisms made by some
delegates at the
 Conference over the powers available under Towns and Village Acts.
Therefore, in the
 redrafted version which is being prepared the clauses which attracted
so much of the
 delegates attention have been deleted.
 Part III. Conclusion
 21. The Myanmar authorities wish to reiterate that they are aware of
the criticisms made
 by some Worker delegates relating to the use of labour in Myanmar for
 development projects. In fairness, they wish to point out that a
considerable portion of
 the criticisms relating to Myanmar are unfortunately based on biased
and specious
 allegations made by expatriates living outside Myanmar. These
expatriates are people who
 wish to denigrate the Myanmar authorities for their own ends. The
Myanmar authorities
 had made an effort to answer, in all sincerity, the questions addressed
to them. A
 sincere, frank and respectful submission has been made in this
observation to be placed
 before the members of the Governing Body. The Myanmar authorities
sincerely hope that
 the members of the Governing Body, including the signatories to the
letter addressed to
 the Director-General of the ILO will, in their wisdom, understand and
accept the
 explanations or refutations made in this observation.
 22. The Myanmar authorities earnestly hope that a decision will be made
by the members
 of the Governing Body that there is no need to form a commission of
inquiry relating to
 Myanmar. On their part, the Myanmar authorities give their pledge to
continue and
 further their cooperation to uphold the letter and spirit of the ILO
Constitution with
 the invaluable assistance of the International Labour Office.