Myanmar’s new quasi-civilian government has pledged to end to forced labour in the Southeast Asia country by 2015. What’s more, it is backing up the pledge with something tangible.
As the independent journal Mizzima observes, the government is also permitting the distribution of leaflets that will help thousands of people throughout the country learn to resist forced labour.
For decades, the Burmese military recruited ‘ethnic’ civilians to word under slave-like conditions, cleaning military camps, building military structures and walking ahead of troops in areas filled with landmines.
Despite the end of outright military rule last year, the problem with forced labour is ongoing, particularly in Karen state, where the military has set up close to 200 military camps.
(Mizzima) – Burma has restated its committment to end forced labour in the country by signing another one-year agreement with the International Labour Organization, enabling the agency and government to move forward on efforts to cease the practice.
Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein signed the memorandum of understanding with an ILO liaison officer on Friday in the Naypyitaw, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported.
“Myanmar has signed MoUs with the ILO and has been cooperating with the ILO in combating forced labour and is committed to eradicate it from the country,” the official newspaper said.
In June last year, the ILO Rangoon office said it had received 506 complaints related to forced labour since the start of 2010 – more than double the number during the previous three years.
It said the increase was because of an ILO-government campaign to raise awareness about human rights.
The ILO said that forced labour is sometimes caused by a lack of proper funding for projects demanded by rural authorities. However, most incidents male adults and youth conscripted into the military.
The ILO office has been engaged in distributing information and brochures and conducting workshops with government officials and civil society groups at all levels. The government has permitted the distribution of leaflets that will help thousands of people in the country’s ethnic enclaves learn to resist forced labour.
The leaflets offer residents in ethnic minority areas a chance to file complaints with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) about the human rights abuses they endure at the hands of government troops or local officials.
The Shan ethnic minority is one of the first to benefit from this new education campaign. The one-page, A-4-size sheets of paper have been distributed since January in the local Shan language – stepping away from the policy of previous military regimes to suppress ethnic languages, according to a story this month by the Inter Press Service (IP).
Following the distribution of nearly 30,000 leaflets in the Shan state over the past two months, the ILO has set its sights on raising awareness about its “complaints mechanism for forced labour” in six other ethnic areas, according to the IPS.
Consequently, the plight of forced labour victims in the ethnic areas was not forgotten during the early round of peace talks that the country’s largest rebel groups – the Karen and the Shan – have had with the Thein Sein administration since late last year.
The Karen National Union (KNU) demanded an immediate end to forced labour as the sixth item in an 11-point plan for peace talks with Burma’s railway minister, Aung Min, head of the government negotiating team.
“Fighting in the Karen area has resulted in a lot of forced labour, so we wanted it included in the early round of talks,” David Tharckbaw, KNU vice-president and head of the movement’s peace committee, told IPS. “They [the Burmese government] accepted these concerns in principle.”
“As of February 2012, forced labour was ongoing in five villages in the Tantabin township,” the Karen Human Rights Group said in a Mar. 12 field report.
In an interview in May 2010, Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, told Mizzima: “Myanmar is a large country with a variety of communication constraints. The information brochure agreed to with government has and continues to be widely distributed though government departments, INGOs, NGOs and CBOs and its content is regularly promulgated through the media both internal and external.
“It would be expected, however, that still a large portion of society would not yet have access to that knowledge. It is hoped that an agreement to produce the brochure in other national (ethnic) languages will be reached as this would help considerably. Joint government/ILO awareness sessions of government officials (civilian and military) continue and the ILO has started running monthly workshops for community-based organizations.”
He said there are areas in the country, because of their geographic location, or their economic situation or their political situation, which have had more serious histories in respect of forced labour.
He said, “Chin [State], I would say, is an area that because of its geographic location, and possibly because of some of the political environment, has had serious issues in the past. I do not see it as necessarily being worse than any other similar part of the country, but again I have to say that we are working towards the future, and we are not concentrating purely on what has happened in the past.”
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