Cablegate: Rangoon Ilo Wary of Reactivating Countermeasures

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

C. STATE 223852

1. (SBU) Summary: Two weeks before the ILO Governing Body's
consideration of Burma, ILO's Rangoon liaison had more bad
news about forced labor in Burma. Despite some progress in a
year-old treason case against three men who contacted the
ILO, there were increasing incidents of forced labor, poor
GOB cooperation in investigating allegations, and cases of
retaliation against those who reported forced labor. Even
though the picture is bleak overall, the ILO liaison urged
caution on supporting ILO sanctions against Burma, predicting
"swift retaliation" by the GOB and a likely end to the ILO's
good work here. End summary.

Good News and (Mostly) Bad News

2. (SBU) In preparation for the mid-November discussion of
Burma by the ILO Governing Body, on November 3rd ILO's
Rangoon liaison briefed the Chief of Mission (COM) and other
local diplomats on the forced labor situation. Two issues
currently dominate ILO's attention here: (1) an ongoing court
case against three individuals convicted and sentenced to
death in part for contact with the ILO; and, (2) the GOB's
cooperation (or lack thereof) in pursuing allegations of
forced labor (ref B and D). The representative indicated
that there'd been some good news recently on the first topic,
with the Supreme Court Appellate Branch announcing on October
14th that, contrary to the wording of the initial conviction,
it was not a crime to have contact with the ILO. This
element of the initial conviction was ordered removed.
However, the Court did not release the three from prison as
requested by the ILO, instead reducing their sentences to
five years (for one individual also convicted of attempting
to kill SPDC leaders) and three years (for two who were also
convicted for their contacts with the outlawed, Thai-based
Burmese trade union group the Federation of Trade Unions of

3. (SBU) Despite this small improvement on the treason case,
there were several negative trends that tarnished the period
since the most recent ILO assessment in June. Specifically,
the ILO liaison noted the GOB's continued lack of progress
investigating forced labor cases referred by the ILO. Of the
38 cases referred in 2004, the GOB has responded to only 18
of them -- in each case rejecting the forced labor
allegations. One of the GOB's denials was of an allegation
made directly by the ILO liaison based on his own eyewitness
account of massive forced labor in Chin State (ref D).

Punishing the Victims

4. (SBU) Perhaps even more alarming to the ILO liaison are
the increasing incidents of local GOB officials taking action
against those who complain to the ILO about forced labor.
The liaison noted in his November 4th report to ILO HQ that
local police officials arrested, interrogated, and then
released two individuals in Rangoon Division and three in
Rakhine State after they had made reports to the ILO about
forced labor in their communities. The GOB has taken no
action in these cases despite urgent requests by the ILO's
Rangoon office.

5. (SBU) In the same vein, the ILO liaison told diplomats of
an incident where a judge rejected two plaintiffs'
allegations of forced labor then turned around and convicted
the two of "defaming" the local official accused of requiring
the labor. The two were sentenced to six-months imprisonment.

ILO: Sanctions Won't Work

6. (SBU) Despite what the ILO liaison admits is a "serious"
situation in Burma, he made clear to the diplomats attending
that requesting a reactivation of the 2000 Article 33
measures (ref C) would be counterproductive. He said that
this should be the last resort and would almost certainly
lead to a stern and immediate retaliation by the GOB --
particularly, he thought, with the new "less internationally
minded" Prime Minister in place. COM noted that in an
October 25th meeting with Labor Minister U Tin Winn (ref A),
the minister had stated explicitly that reactivating Article
33 measures would lead the GOB to eject the local ILO office.
The liaison agreed that this was a probable outcome, and
said he was seeking a way forward that would show the ILO's
concern with the situation without jeopardizing the ILO's
tenuous position here. None at the table had any specific
ideas for how to accomplish this.

Comment: The ILO's Good Work
7. (SBU) We think the liaison's comments have merit. ILO is
doing important work here as the focal point for credible
complaints about forced labor and other human rights abuses.
We find the ILO liaison here a reliable and helpful monitor
of labor abuses in a country where verifiable information on
human rights abuses is hard to find. In addition, the
liaison's regular reports to his headquarters are quite frank
and critical (compared to other UN agency reporting here).
Enhanced ILO countermeasures would have an important symbolic
impact but are unlikely to alter the regime's behavior other
than to give those in the SPDC who find the ILO's presence
irritating additional ammunition to lobby for the
organization's removal. End comment.

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