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Cablegate: Ilo - Burma: Conference Sees Minimal Steps but Little Real

VZCZCXRO8331
RR RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHPOD
DE RUEHGV #1478/01 1581103
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071103Z JUN 07
FM USMISSION GENEVA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4334
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUEHXI/LABOR COLLECTIVE
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON 0472
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 2712
RUEHGP/AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE 0941
RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE 0226
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 1926
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 5582
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2276

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 GENEVA 001478

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

LABOR FOR ILAB
STATE FOR IO/T; IO/UNP; IO/FO; DRL/IL; EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PHUM PREL ILO
SUBJECT: ILO - BURMA: CONFERENCE SEES MINIMAL STEPS BUT LITTLE REAL
PROGRESS IN ENDING FORCED LABOR


1. SUMMARY. The ILO Committee on the Application of Standards
considered the situation of forced labor in Burma in its special
sitting during the 96th International Labor Conference, June 4,
2007. The Burmese ambassador said nothing about real steps in
ending forced labor. He focused solely on the Supplementary
Understanding (SU) between Burma and the ILO, signed on February 26,
2007, which, he said, was effective in submitting forced labor
complaints to prompt legal action. Employers and workers considered
the SU a positive, but very limited step. They focused on Burma's
continuing failure to implement any of the recommendations of the
1998 ILO Commission of Inquiry. Workers' comments were particularly
caustic, not only on Burma but on multinationals doing business
there. Governments' statements, except the U.S. and Canada's, were
weak. END SUMMARY.

2. Burma's ambassador seemed to take the Supplementary
Understanding, in effect for a one-year trial period, as an end
rather than a means to address the forced labor problem. His
opening and closing remarks ignored all other relevant issues. The
regime, he said, was "considering staff increases" for the ILO's
Office in Rangoon, per the Supplementary Understanding. He labeled
the Free Trade Unions of Burma terrorists, implying that the
repression of opposition was a national security matter.

3. Representatives of both employers and workers emphasized that
the 1998 Commission of Inquiry's recommendations and those of the
2000 International Labor Conference's resolution should be the
proper focus of the special sitting. The employers held that
Burma's Village and Towns Act must be amended or repealed. In a
litany of accusations against named multinationals and governments,
workers implied that U.S. and EU multinationals operating in Burma
were, at best, creating conditions favorable to the practice of
forced labor and, at worst, conniving in the practice. They
provided various estimates of the number of forced labor abuses
since February (3,405), primarily in biofuel and rubber tree
plantations or perpetrated by the military.
The workers (the only ones to do so) mentioned the potential
referral of Burma's forced labor practices to the International
Court of Justice. A Singapore worker representative aptly warned
that the committee was diverting its attention to counting the
number of complaints since February's SU and losing sight of its
goal, eradication of forced labor.

4. For the most part, government statements focused on the SU.
Most governments praised short-term progress: positive signs in the
mechanism (Germany/EU); a "spirit of cooperation" as the beginning
of a whole process (Japan); "commendable cooperation" (India);
dialogue is the best approach (Belarus); "progress working" (China);
more prosecutions will lead to Burmese people's confidence in the
mechanism (Australia). The United States (see below) and Canada
took a firmer line, keeping the focus on the long-term goals, not
only an end to forced labor, but the enfranchisement of democracy
and freedom for detained civil society leaders, including Aung San
Suu Kyi. Canada opened remarks by noting the 17th anniversary of
the last democratic elections, overwhelmingly won by Aung San Suu
Kyi, and emphasized that forced labor, as well as actions against
labor unionists such as Su Su Nwe, must be seen in the wider context
of systemic abuse of human rights in Burma.

5. Committee conclusions cited profound concern about continuing
and pervasive forced labor, and the risk that those guilty of
perpetrating forced labor could get off with administrative, rather
than criminal, punishment. Again putting Burma on the November ILO
Governing Body's agenda, the organization asked for concrete and
verifiable progress to meet the recommendations of the 1998
Commission of Inquiry. The Committee thanked ILO Liaison Officer ad
interim, Richard Horsey, for five years of service, and welcomed
appointment of Steven Marshall as his successor, as of July 1, 2007.


6. U.S. Statement:

The United States thanks the Office for its summary of developments
since June 2006 and its update of developments since the Governing
Body last considered this issue in March.

We note with interest that the complaint mechanism, established
under the Supplementary Understanding, has been put into practice.
We are encouraged that, according to latest reports, the Liaison
Officer ad interim has received 25 complaints. At the same time,

GENEVA 00001478 002 OF 002


since relatively few cases have reached a conclusion that the
Liaison Officer has been able to confirm, it is obviously premature
to judge whether the mechanism is producing real and meaningful
results.

That process requires continuing effort. It requires continued,
unrestrained access by complainants to the Liaison Officer and proof
that complainants are not being subjected to harassment or
punishment for their complaints. It requires proof that those who
impose forced labor are punished and that the punishment is
appropriate to the seriousness of the act. It requires
strengthening of the staff of the Liaison Office to deal with the
obviously increased workload. In this regard, we note with concern
that, at the time the Office's report was finalized, the ILO's
request for suitable international staff to assist the Liaison
Officer had not been acted upon. We hope we are not seeing a return
to the practice of delay and deception we have seen too often in the
past. The authorities should act expeditiously to facilitate the
necessary staff expansion of the ILO Liaison Office, in keeping with
the commitment they made in the Supplementary Understanding.

As we review developments within the scope of the Supplementary
Understanding, we need to remind ourselves that these are still
small and preliminary steps, and that the goal that ILO members have
kept in our sights for years -- the complete elimination of forced
labor in the country -- is still distant. Nearly a decade ago, the
Commission of Inquiry specified the steps the authorities must take
to reach this goal. They must implement these steps. We also need
to recognize that the goal of the end of forced labor is
inextricably bound to progress in allowing the country's people
their democratic rights, which includes freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi
and other civil society leaders.

We members of the ILO also have responsibilities. The United
States, for its part, has taken action. Within the past week,
President Bush extended for another year stiff economic and travel
sanctions against the regime.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, we would like to acknowledge the dedication,
courage, and compassion that the Liaison Officer ad interim, Mr.
Richard Horsey, has devoted to the cause of eliminating forced labor
in Burma for the last five years. We hope that the mechanism he has
overseen will prove to be the real beginning of positive change. We
also welcome the appointment of Mr. Stephen Marshall to replace Mr.
Horsey. We know that he will apply the same measure of dedication
and skill to the task, and we offer him our full support as he works
to advance what Mr. Horsey has so ably begun. End statement.

7. Comment: Governments took the booby prize in this discussion. It
took the employers spokesman to put the focus where it belongs, on
real and demonstrable steps to end forced labor. The workers,
usually the most vehement party in these discussions, wasted some of
their capital on long-winded statements and ill-advised ventures
into naming corporations (which earned a reprimand from the chair)
and into ILO conventions that were not within the purview of this
special sitting. The Committee's conclusions, fortunately, focused
succinctly on the issue -- virtually no real progress has been made
against forced labor in Burma.
Tichenor

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