Ecosoc: Statement by the EU Presidency on the situation in the Union of Myanmar regarding use of forced labour


(Geneva, 3-28 July 2006)

(General Segment)


"Social Development; The Situation in the Union of Myanmar Regarding the Use of Forced Labour"

(item 14 b))

Geneva, 26 July 2006

Check against delivery

[Mr. Chairman],

I have the honor to speak for the European Union.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, 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, Serbia, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

[Mr. Chairman],

We would like to thank the Director General of the ILO for his letter requesting ECOSOC to reactivate its consideration of the situation of forced labour in Burma/Myanmar, following up on the considerations of the International Labour Conference. The EU believes that the consideration of the issue at this level is indeed appropriate.

In recent years, the human rights situation of Burma/Myanmar, including the use of forced labour, has been addressed in a number of fora. The United Nations General Assembly, the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and the International Labor Organization have all dealt with it. The Economic and Social Council addressed it in 2001. We regret to note that it is necessary to return to this subject once again.

The European Union is deeply concerned by the information, provided e.g. by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and the Liaison Officer ad interim of the International Labour Organization for Myanmar, according to which state authorities of Burma/Myanmar continue to implement wide-spread and systematic forced labour practices, including forced recruitment, through-out the country. There is also evidence of child labour, including the forced recruitment of child soldiers. Such practices constitute flagrant violations of international human rights law, including the International Labour Organization Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, which dates from 1930 and was ratified by Burma/Myanmar in 1955 – 51 years ago. The European Union condemns such practices unequivocally.

It is deeply regrettable that citizens of Burma/Myanmar, rather than being allowed to pursue their own livelihoods, continue to be obliged by state actors to dedicate themselves without pay to exploitative activities, such as the construction of military infrastructure, roads, as well as the portering of military supplies, under the pretext of civic duty.

The European Union encourages the authorities of Burma/Myanmar to introduce reforms to meet its obligations under the Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour. While welcoming all legal measures to fulfil these obligations, the EU is concerned that these reforms are not being implemented. Moreover, certain actions by state authorities have worked against their implementation.

The European Union has consistently expressed the view that prosecuting persons who lodge complaints against the exaction of forced labour and try to obtain redress, which is their fundamental right, is unacceptable and should stop immediately. Equally, those who use forced labour should not be allowed to continue enjoying impunity. We have taken note of the recent declaration by the authorities in Burma/Myanmar that they are ready to implement a limited moratorium on prosecutions, but reiterate that many uncertainties relating to the nature, timeframe and other practicalities of the moratorium still remain. The implementation of the moratorium has to be accompanied by the establishment of a credible mechanism for dealing with complaints of forced labour, which would include all necessary guarantees for the permanent protection of complainants or their representatives, in negotiation with the ILO by the end of October 2006.

We welcome the recent release of AYE MYINT, a lawyer who raised cases of forced labour, as a sign of good will, but recall that the International Labour Conference last month called upon the authorities to give credibility to the moratorium by releasing all persons still in detention under the aforementioned prosecution policy.

The European Union would like to take this opportunity to commend the International Labour Organization, including its Liaison Officer ad interim, for their patient efforts to engage the state authorities of Burma/Myanmar in a constructive dialogue with the purpose of assisting them to rectify the present situation. These efforts, including the conclusions on Burma/Myanmar adopted by the 95th International Labour Conference, have our full support. It is important that the authorities in Burma/Myanmar is constructive and forthcoming in the negotiations with the ILO, so that a credible system can be established for dealing with complaints related to the use of forced labour, with the objective of eliminating the use of forced labour completely.

We urge the authorities in Burma/Myanmar to respond to the efforts of the International Labour Organization, international human rights actors and other relevant bodies, as well as regional states and the whole international community, in a manner that will ensure the full implementation of the Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour as well as other obligations of the Government of Burma/Myanmar related to the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The European Union continues to pay close attention to the human rights situation in Burma/Myanmar and also to its effects on other countries. We note with concern that the inadequate protection of human rights and pressure against ethnic groups have led to thousands of people leaving their country as refugees.

[Mr. Chairman],

The international community disposes of a broad array of options for action, ranging from the involvement of the Security Council and the International Court of Justice to specific actions by governments and social partners. The EU will take these suggestions into consideration, bearing in mind that they are complementary by nature, and stresses that they remain on the table for further action, if deemed appropriate.

The European Union has always favored dialogue and cooperation as the best means to address the concerns related to the human rights situation in Burma/Myanmar. We have pursued - and will continue to pursue – any options that hold the promise of addressing these concerns. This includes the measures currently discussed within the International Labour Organization. We remain ready to support all efforts made by the authorities in Burma/Myanmar to move in the direction of an all-inclusive democracy with full respect and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.