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Statements in International Organisations


INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION: 301st Session of the Governing Body (6 – 20 March 2008, Geneva)

Developments concerning the question of the observance by the Government of Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) - Statement by France on behalf of the Presidency of the European Union

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Mr. Chairman,

I have the honour of speaking on behalf of the European Union. The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* , the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the EFTA countries Iceland and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, and Switzerland, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.

1. Five months on from the violent crackdown on peaceful protests in Burma/Myanmar, political and human rights activists continue to be arrested, detained and sentenced to long prison terms. Non-observance of fundamental international human rights standards by the authorities brought vast human tragedy and dire economic reality to the whole population of Burma/Myanmar. In this context we support the efforts of the Human Rights Council and its Special Rapporteur.

2. The EU has been repeatedly expressing grave concern about the human rights situation and in particular about non-compliance with the following two ILO core Conventions: the Forced Labour Convention (No.29) and the Freedom of Association and protection of the Right to Organise Convention (No.87). Recruitment of child soldiers is also particularly saddening. Reports on harassment of those who complain, or assist others to do so, persist, in spite of authorities' Order No. 1/99 and a range of subsequent orders, declaring forced labour illegal.

3. The EU Common Position and restrictive measures in response to such developments in Burma/Myanmar are being reviewed on regular basis, taking into account the conduct of authorities, including their respect of the core ILO Conventions. Next review is envisaged by the end of April 2008.

4. The EU welcomed the Supplementary Understanding concluded between the ILO and the Burma/Myanmar authorities on 26 February 2007 in order to eradicate forced labour and with the aim to establish an effective complaints mechanism for victims of forced labour to seek redress. Therefore, we have supported the decision to defer requesting advisory opinion on the respect of Forced Labour Convention by Burma/Myanmar from the International Court of Justice.

5. We support also the recommendations by the ILO mission that visited Burma/Myanmar from 25 to 28 February 2008 with the mandate to fully review the operation of the Supplementary Understanding since the last Governing Body and to assess the future of ILO in Burma/Myanmar.

6. While we regret the lack of substantial progress on the ground, we note with interest the following positive aspects of the Supplementary Understanding implementation process as reported by the ILO mission:

  • the Working Group, supported by the Ministry of Labour, is responding to complaints:  as a consequence, 11 victims of underage recruitment have so far returned to families;
  • the ILO Liaison Officer in Burma/Myanmar has undertaken internal travel, awareness-raising, training and education activities and employed an international professional as assistant;
  • 60 deputy township judges were delivered a lecture on International Conventions and national laws on forced labour, the rights and responsibilities of Burma/Myanmar citizens under those laws, the Supplementary Understanding and operation of complaints mechanism;
  • the Supplementary Understanding has improved working relations between ILO and the Burma/Myanmar authorities, despite insufficient increase in awareness of local authorities, the military and the general public as to their commitments and rights under the ILO Conventions, national laws and the Supplementary Understanding;
  • the ILO mission met the Central Executive Committee of the NLD that consequently presented written position on the implementation of the Supplementary Understanding;
  • the trial period of the Supplementary Understanding has been extended for another year.

Mr. Chairman,

7. While recalling the conclusions of the last Governing Body, the EU must regret that the Burma/Myanmar authorities failed to publicly and clearly declare at the high-level, that all forms of forced labour are prohibited throughout the country, and will be duly punished.

8. We are also deeply concerned that the population, particularly outside Yangon, is by and large not aware of the complaint mechanism set up by the Supplementary Understanding due to absence of its translation, distribution and wide awareness raising campaign in media. Many victims fail to lodge complaint also due to fear of reprisal or due to logistical barriers. The EU urges the authorities of Burma/Myanmar once again to arrange for the translation and wide dissemination of the Supplementary Understanding. The EU urges that authorities of Burma/Myanmar to cooperate in this regard as closely as possible with the Liaison Officer. We also request the authorities to give active support for activities of the Liaison Officer whilst assuring his freedom of movement.

9. The EU is dismayed by reports of continuing and increasing forced recruitment of minors into the military, especially since September 2007. We strongly support the work of the joint team of the authorities, UNICEF, ICRC and ILO, charged with developing and delivering training for trainers’ course to military recruiting staff on the law and practice concerning underage recruitment. The EU is concerned about the reports of recruitment of civilian porters for the army, many of whom lose their lives or limbs due to landmines.

10. The EU will continue to closely follow the cases mentioned in the Appendix of the report, especially of Su Su Nway, U Ming Aung, U Thet Wai and of six labour activists imprisoned on 1 May and sentenced in September 2007. We welcome the temporary release of U Thet Wai on bail, but we find it unacceptable that anybody at all still could be charged for contacts with the ILO in the first place.


Mr. Chairman,

11. The EU deeply deplores the Burma/Myanmar authorities’ actions to further restrict fundamental human rights and crack down on peaceful activists following the September 2007 protests. We would like to encourage neighbouring countries to continue with their efforts in leading Burma/Myanmar toward ending forced labour and encouraging national reconciliation.

12. The EU notes the authorities’ announcement on 9 February of a referendum on a new Constitution in May 2008 and multi-party elections in 2010. It underlines that only a process that involves the full participation of the opposition and ethnic groups will lead to national reconciliation and stability. We fully support the efforts of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Mr. Gambari to facilitate the launch of such a process. The EU also contributes to this process inter alia by the efforts of the EU Special Envoy Mr. Fassino. To this end the EU reiterates its call for the release of all political detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the start of a substantial time-bound dialogue with all political stakeholders and full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of association and universal prohibition of all forms of forced labour.

Thank you.

[1]* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.


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Date: 15.04.2008