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INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF FREE TRADE UNIONS (ICFTU)
Burma - de facto exclusion from the ILO
ICFTU OnLine..., 119/990617/LD, 17 June 1999
Brussels, 17 June 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): Burma, where thousands of people are still in forced labour despite universal condemnation, was excluded de facto from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Thursday. The decision followed joint action by the trade union and employers' organisations within the organisation, an unprecedented move in the annals of this United Nations agency. In a resolution submitted to the International Labour Conference, the ILO's annual assembly, which ended today (June 17) in Geneva, trade unions and employers asked the ILO to refuse Burma all technical assistance and to ban the country's representatives from attending its meetings, because of the systematic use of forced labour by the ruling military junta.
The resolution was adopted by a large majority of government, employers' and workers' delegates from the 174 Member States of the ILO. The ILO does not have a mechanism with which to exclude one of its members, but the resolution was approved by 333 votes for, 27 against and 47 abstentions.
Each of the 174 members has four votes. In practice, Burma is "virtually excluded" from the ILO, stated a spokesperson for the organisation. The General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), whose initiative it was, welcomed the ILO's decision. "It is a victory for all those who risk their lives and their freedom to defend rights and democracy in Burma" stated Mr. Bill Jordan, adding that the ICFTU would continue its efforts to isolate the military regime within international institutions. The trade union leader also welcomed the "firmness" shown by the trade unions and employers, who shared "identical views" on the situation in Burma.
In a letter addressed to the President of the International Labour Conference, the presidents of the employers' and workers' groups underlined the blatant disregard shown by the government of Myanmar (the name the military junta chose to give to the country) in face of the recommendations made last year by the ILO Commission of Inquiry. Although refused entry into Burma, the Commission interviewed over 250 eye witnesses and put together more than 6,000 pages of documents. In its report it concluded that "the obligation to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour is violated in Myanmar in national law as well as in actual practice in a widespread and systematic manner, with total disregard for the human dignity, safety and health and the basic needs of the people."
Last May, the Director General of the ILO, Mr. Juan Somavia, reported to the ILO Governing Body that no measures had been taken by the Burmese authorities to follow the recommendations. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) had provided fresh evidence of forced labour, based on many sources from within the country. The ICFTU estimates that more than 800,000 Burmese are subjected to forced labour.
In its resolution, the ILO notes that no-one involved in the use of forced labour had been prosecuted so far. The failure to punish those responsible is also deplored by the ICFTU, which classifies this modern form of slavery practised in Burma as a crime against humanity.
Some 2,000 delegates representing governments, workers and employers from the 174 Member States of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) attended the annual conference. The ICFTU represents 213 trade union organisations in 145 countries, a total of 125 million workers worldwide.
It coordinates the activities of the workers' group within the ILO.
Contact: ICFTU-Press at: ++32-2 224.02.12 (Brussels). For more information, visit our website at: (http://www.icftu.org).