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International Labor Organization (ILO)

November 17, 2011

312th Session of the ILO Governing Body, November 2011
Institutional Section, Agenda Item No. 6:
Developments Concerning Burma's Observance of Convention No. 29 on Forced Labor
Statement of the United States Government

Chair,

Over the past few months the Government of Burma has taken a number of steps that open up the prospect of reducing and eliminating the use of forced labor. We welcome these steps and hope they will lead to genuine labor democracy.

We would like to note several of the accomplishments noted in the report:

  • The Supplementary Understanding continues to operate effectively, evidenced by the rise in the number of complaints, which suggests a more open environment that allows for citizens to report violations of  their rights;
  • The release of individuals imprisoned for their association with the Supplementary Understanding mechanism;
  • The consultations held between the military and the ILO;
  • The efforts to remove underage persons from military service;
  • The efforts to make sure that economic planning does not lead to the use of forced labor:
  • The training sessions conducted by the ILO that have reached hundreds of citizens seeking to learn about their internationally recognized labor rights.

These important steps suggest an inclination on the part of the Government to move forward in a concrete way. At the same time they also demonstrate the continuing relevance and need for the Supplementary Understanding.

The United States recalls that the benchmark of compliance in this case remains the three recommendations of the 1998 Commission of Inquiry:

  • Bring the legislative texts in line with Convention No. 29;
  • Ensure that in actual practice forced labor is no longer imposed by the authorities; and
  • Strictly enforce criminal penalties for the exaction of forced labor.

The paper prepared by the Office suggests that some progress is being made on each of these issues.

But let us also note very clearly that, to date, these targets have not been met.  Significant violations continue to exist and we continue to be very concerned about many issues, including:

  • The continuing use of forced labor by the military;
  • The continued recruitment of underage soldiers;
  • The need to make the entire population aware of its basic rights with respect to forced labor, particularly in ethnic regions; and
  • The lack of action against violators.

Further, while we note that legislation has been introduced that would repeal the Village and Towns Acts, we regret that the ILO was not consulted in the formulation of this legislation.

It is important to take note of the critical role that the ILO has played in effectively setting an agenda, recommending strategies, and shining a light on the path that can lead to a democratic labor system. We would like to once again acknowledge, with deep appreciation, the role of the ILO Liaison Officer and his team in leading the way.

The ILO's role is more important now than ever. The ILO should work closely with the Government in moving forward the proposed changes and ensuring that those changes are sustainable. We call on the Government to continue working with the ILO to foster education on labor rights, to apply the law prohibiting forced labor, and to effectively prosecute and punish perpetrators.

This role necessitates further expanding the presence of the ILO. It is crucial that the ILO be able to increase the size of its office and thereby increase its capability to advocate, raise awareness and hear the growing number of complaints across the country. To make this possible, it is essential that the Government permit the Office to obtain the necessary visas for additional international professional staff.

We want to note the political changes in the country, particularly the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and the establishment of a two-house Parliament. An open and vibrant political system is a necessary underpinning for a democratic labor system. We thus welcome these efforts toward eliminating forced labor and look forward to their full and rapid implementation.