Fresh hope for Myanmar

The ILO reports on democratic breakthroughs in Myanmar that came under unprecedented ILO sanctions for widespread and systematic use of forced labour.

Press release | 15 January 2001

BANGKOK (ILO News) – “Expect progress in Myanmar”, forecast the new regional chief of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, on taking up this month the UN agency’s top job in Asia amid reports of democratic breakthroughs in the South-East Asian state that came under unprecedented ILO sanctions last December for widespread and systematic use of forced labour.

The sanctions, which require member States, employers, workers, and international organizations to review their dealings with the country to make sure they are not abetting the practice of forced labour there, are believed to have prompted a re-think of policy and moves to end what a 1998 ILO Commission of Inquiry described as “a saga of untold misery and suffering, oppression and exploitation of large sections of the the Government, military and other public officers”.

Mr Nodera, who gained respect for being a man of dialogue as Japan’s Assistant-Minister of Labour before taking charge of the ILO’s Bangkok-based office for Asia and the Pacific, explains that sanctions are only one facet of his Organization’s position on Myanmar.

“Forced labour is inconsistent with membership in the ILO”, Nodera observes, adding that one of his top priorities would be to send ILO experts to Myanmar to assist in efforts to stamp out the practice through modifying laws, bringing perpetrators to justice and taking administrative measures to ensure that nobody is forced to work unwillingly.

Under the ILO’s 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, its 175 member States have a duty to combat forced labour – along with child labour, discrimination and curbs on freedom of association. As part of the follow-up to the Declaration a global report on forced labour will be tabled at this year’s International Labour Conference in Geneva next June.

Myanmar will also be the subject of special ILO reports in the months ahead to monitor the forced-labour situation there in light of the sanctions placed on the country for breach of the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), which the country ratified in 1955.

Nodera is hopeful that the June Conference will be in a position to examine the results of technical cooperation from the ILO, which can move ahead once the necessary legislative, judicial and administrative framework is in place.

“The ball is in Yangon’s court”, Nodera says.

In a report to ILO Director-General Juan Somavia last November members of an official ILO mission to Myanmar found progress – mainly in the form of legislative measures – since an earlier mission they had carried out in May. Mr Nodera is confident that the achievements already on paper can be converted into realities on the ground.