Myanmar efforts to halt forced labor minimal: report

Myanmar is taking minimal steps to heed international calls to end forced labor, a report by the International Labor Organization ILO showed on Saturday.

The report by the ILO's liaison officer in Myanmar, Steve Marshall, said only 152 cases had been received under a complaints mechanism agreed in 2007 to allow people to protest against forced labor.

People making complaints and those helping them were subject to harassment, while there were virtually no cases of officials, especially in the military, being punished for forcing people to work against their will, he said in the report to a special session of the U.N. agency's committee on labor standards.

"The number of complaints cannot be seen as a reflection of the extent of forced labor practices in Myanmar," Marshall said. "There are continuing practical problems in the physical ability of victims of forced labor or their families to complain."

The ILO, which groups workers, employers and governments to promote good labor conditions, has been holding annual special sessions on the former Burma since 2000.

It has called on Myanmar to make a strong statement from the head of the military junta that forced labor is prohibited; adapt legislation to ban forced labor; end forced labor in practice, especially by the military; punish officials for imposing forced labor; publicize the prohibition of forced labor and budget to replaced forced or unpaid labor.

The military-ruled former British colony and the ILO set up the complaints mechanism in 2007. The trial period was extended for 12 months in February this year.

The government distributed 10,000 copies of an approved translation of the agreement in the country of 53 million people and has produced a further 20,000 copies, Marshall said.

"The production of a proposed brochure based on draft ILO text, in accessible language, has not been approved by the government and alternative methods of increasing awareness are under discussion," he said.

Marshall said harassment of volunteers helping people to use the complaints mechanism continued, with three facilitators -- U Min Aung, Ma Su Su Nway and U Zaw Htay -- and a lawyer for facilitators, Ko Po Phyu, all in jail.

He said he did not know of any prosecutions of officials responsible for forced labor, but said a small number of military personnel had been fined and in one case lost seniority for recruiting children into the army.

Marshall said he had raised two cases of forced labor in reconstruction work after last year's Cyclone Nargis, and the government had immediately stopped them.

The ILO and government set up a rebuilding project in the devastated area, funded by Britain, which showed how community projects could work without forced labor, he said.

Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Janet Lawrence

in Bulgaria. AP