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ILO Burma report due on ILO website

The report of the ILO Technical Cooperation Mission, along with the
recent documents submitted by the SPDC to the ILO should be on the
ILO website tomorrow (Wednesday 8 November) at 9am Geneva time
-- 8.00 GMT.

Go to the following URL


then go down to item 6 (GB.279/6) which will probably have a yellow
arrow alongside it. It will probably be a pdf file, requiring Acrobat Reader.

If that URL doesn't work, go to www.ilo.org  then click on:

Governing Body/
Documents (under 279th Session)/
then scroll down to the document.

For French and Spanish versions, click on Francais or Espagnol
at the top of the page



The International Labour Conference (ILC) decided last June on a series of
measures with regard to Burma which will take effect on 30 November
unless the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)
is satisfied that in the meantime, Burma has taken serious steps to end
forced labour in law and practice. The Governing Body will make its
decision next week.

On the surface, the ILC measures are not punitive and I would not
describe them as sanctions. They essentially amount to more
scrutiny by the ILO and other bodies and a call to international  actors
to make sure their relations with Burma cannot be used to perpetuate,
extend or abet forced labour -- which ought to be standard procedure

Nevertheless, the SPDC seems anxious to avoid them and is likely to
go much further than in the past to give the appearance of being serious
about  ending  forced labour. Precisely how far we will see tomorrow
when  we read the SPDC document dated 1 November and the one
issued by the Home Ministry, both referred to in the enclosed AFP

Most forced labour in Burma is recruited by the 450,000-strong Burmese
army, deployed in 12  regional commands. Burma watchers are sceptical
about the  SPDC's will to make a serious effort to end forced labour since,
they say, the faltering Burmese economy is too small to support such a
large army without the use of forced labour. As Rangoon cannot pay
adequate wages to the soldiers in the field, or supply  them with food and
other necessities, the army has to live off the land, using forced labour to
grow food crops, build barracks, roads etc., along with money-making
projects like cash crops for the benefit of the officers

It is possible, say the shadowy watchers, that serious attempts by the
SPDC to end the practice would be resisted in the field, thus threatening
the loyalty and unity of the army, which is the chief institution of the
State. A fragmenting army is the recurrent nightmare of the ruling generals.

Interested observers, if there are any left awake after the US Presidential
election, will therefore be looking very carefully at the ILO report when it
appears  on  the ILO website tomorrow, to see if  the documents
issued by the Home Ministry and SPDC contain any loopholes or tricks
that offer the appearance, but not the substance, of a genuine programme
to end  forced labour in Burma.

It should be relatively easy to draft a document which bans forced
labour and brings Burmese law into conformity with ILO Convention 29.
Much more difficult will be the means to implement the law, in the light
of the army's dependence on forced labour for its survival in the field.

I hope that all of you out there with an interest in these matters,
including human rights monitors, experts in labour law, in the Burma
Army and related topics, will read the report and the documents
carefully and post your analyses as soon and as widely as possible
on the Burma listservs and discussion groups or even to me. These
analyses will  no doubt be read and incorporated into the ILO
Governing Body debate next week when the members will  decide
whether or not to postpone the measures decided by the ILC last June.


Myanmar junta makes last-ditch attempt to head off ILO sanctions

by Sarah Stewart
  YANGON, Nov 7 (AFP) - The Myanmar government said Tuesday it had
issued a powerful directive banning forced labor, in a sign of its deep
concern over sanctions threatened by the International Labor Organisation

The decree from the feared State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
represents the highest level order available in the military-run country and
backs a Home Ministry directive on the same issue.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win said the SPDC handed down the
directive on November 1 in line with a request from the ILO team which
visited last month to assess Myanmar's progress in stamping out forced
labor. "There are some points that the ILO wanted spelled out in detail
-- that forced labor is illegal and an offence under existing law," he told
AFP.  "This order has been circulated right down to the village level and
posted in every police station," he said. "It states that all responsible
persons including the armed forces, police and local authorities should
not requisition forced labor."

The ILO's governing body is now meeting in Geneva to consider the
team's report and decide how far Myanmar has gone towards complying
with recommendations it laid down two years ago.

If Myanmar is found not to have done enough, the ILO could bring down
a range of measures, including further sanctions from its member nations
that could deal a mortal blow to the already decrepit economy.

The deliberations come at a time when the junta is already under intense
pressure from the United Nations to fall into line with the international
community or risk being permanently branded a pariah state.

By all accounts, the military government is taking the ILO's threat very
seriously and has repeatedly said it is willing to cooperate.

Khin Maung Win said that with the decree from the SPDC, Myanmar had
now done everything possible to convince the ILO it was serious about
eliminating forced labor.  "I am convinced that the government is showing
the necessary political will  to ensure there are no more instances of forced
labor," he said.  "But how the governing body will decide is hard to forecast.
We hope for  the best but we are prepared for the worst."

The minister said another cause for concern was that Myanmar was not
even  sure what punishment it could face if the ILO decision went against
it.  "No one in the ILO really knows what the implications are because
there is  no precedent for such a resolution," he said.

Myanmar still refuses to officially admit that forced labor is a problem,
despite reams of evidence from rights groups and a 1998 ILO committee
of inquiry which found the practice was "widespread and systematic".

Refugees who escape over the border in Thailand tell depressingly
consistent accounts of military raids on villages, where even the old and
infirm are rounded up and put to work carrying weapons and supplies.
While their crops wither and livestock die, they are forced to work long
hours for no pay and insufficient food. And in the worst cases, those
who are  unable to keep up are beaten or killed.

The SPDC directive is seen as speaking directly to the powerful military
commanders fighting insurgencies in Myanmar's north that the brutal
practice  will not be tolerated.  Some commanders have argued that
"portering" is a traditional practice  that  has been going on for centuries
and which is vital to the operations of the  cash-strapped military.