Thursday, June 9, 2011

Forced labour complaints on the rise in Burma, says ILO

Thursday, 09 June 2011 12:53 Thea Forbes

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)  – The International Labour Organization (ILO) office in Burma has seen a dramatic rise in complaints about forced labour owing to increased public awareness about the problem, Agence France-Presse has reported.

The opening ceremony of the 100th annual conference of
the International Labour Organization in Geneva. The
UN-backed agency works for workers' rights around the
world. Photo: AFP / Sebastien Feval
The ILO has received 506 complaints of forced labour since the start of 2010, AFP reported.

‘The number of complaints received continues to increase reflecting increased awareness of the law and rights under the law as well as increased confidence to complain’, Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon told Mizzima in March.

The ILO has received 749 complaints since its forced labour complaint mechanism and office was established in the country in February 2007, according to AFP.

The ILO, a UN agency, has been running awareness-raising campaigns since 2007 across the country and distributes Burmese language brochures to disseminate information. It is currently trying to reach an agreement in order to release the brochure in different ethnic languages to promote further awareness.

Earlier, Marshall told Mizzima that there are still many people in Burma who are unaware of their rights under international and domestic law, and ‘…the number of complaints cannot be used to reflect the size of the problem…many people are still either unaware of their rights or are not in a position to attempt to exercise them’.

'There is still a long way to go', Marshall told AFP.

He said that the ILO had “serious difficulty” assessing allegations against non-state armed groups, but they were negotiating with the government to get access at least to cease-fire groups.

He also pointed out that although each army recruitment complaint (often for underage child soldiers) related to just one person, there are also some complaints that are registered which are cumulative complaints from many people in one single case, according to AFP.

Marshall told AFP that since 2007 there have been 174 successful cases of people who have been recruited underage by the military and subsequently released to their families. In response, 20 officers and 110 other ranks have been disciplined, according to defence officials.

Forced labour, especially by the Burmese military, has become endemic in many areas of Burma. For much of the ethnic population it has become the norm. Although the government has shown signs of cooperation by allowing the ILO to continue its work in Burma for another year as of February 2011, there are still at least five people detained in prison associated with the lodging of complaints.

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