TOPICS: Myanmar ignores more sanctions to quit ILO

Ignoring warnings of ‘’far reaching and extremely serious consequences’’, Myanmar’s military rulers have told the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that the country will be quitting the United Nations labour body. Francis Maupain, special adviser to ILO, was told by Myanmar’s labour ministry that the government had decided to leave the ILO and that a notice has been prepared. “From the ILO viewpoint, the decision of any member to withdraw is always to be regretted, irrespective of the circumstances,’’ Maupain said, adding, “It must

be remembered that such a decision becomes irreversible when the two-year notice period expires, assuming the authorities do not change their mind in the meantime. During that period, the country remains a member with all rights and obligations. This is why the most recent mission to Yangon hoped that cooperation could be maintained during the notice period. The notice period starts from the moment the Director General, Juan Somavia, receives the letter, according to an ILO spokesman. As yet, no formal notification has been received at the ILO headquarters in Geneva.

Maupain visited Yangon with an open mind, according to ILO insiders. The fact that the junta agreed to the visit was seen as a good sign, considering the persistent attacks on the ILO for most of this year and restricting the movement of the ILO representative in Yangon. The team members had hoped to get a concrete commitment from Myanmar’s leaders that they would continue to cooperate with the ILO to stamp out forced labour and that the ILO representative would be allowed to travel freely in the country. But, instead, the situation deteriorated. Myanmar has found particularly unacceptable the creation of a mechanism by the ILO to help victims of forced labour and regarded this as an invasion of the country’s jealously guarded sovereignty.

The pro-government mass organisations have held rallies condemning the ILO and urging the authorities to kick the ILO out. More recently, the ILO representative in Yangon received more than 20 lurid death threats, according to ILO. These threats have since ceased, but no action has been taken by the authorities to investigate who was responsible.

Earlier this year, the labour minister said it was illegal for villagers and workers to report cases of forced labour to the ILO. Ten workers were arrested this year because they sent evidence of forced labour to the ILO, according to an activist with the Federation of Trade Unions. They were sentenced to several years in jail this month. A few days later, a young National League for Democracy leader, Su Su Nway, was sentenced by a court in Insein prison to 18 months for swearing at and threatening authorities.

Earlier this year, Su Su Nway successfully sued the local authorities for using forced labour. They were given prison sentences. But the authorities counter-sued the activist.

Many labour activists in Myanmar believe the presence of the ILO in Yangon is essential if they are to have any measure of protection. — IPS