Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) A delegation from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) arrived in Yangon last night to convince Myanmese authorities to uphold labour rights. In its four-day official visit, the three-member ILO team hopes to meet top government officials to discuss how to end forced labour and protect labour rights.
The delegation, led by Australia's former Governor General, Ninian Stephen, is scheduled to have its report ready by March in time for the next ILO meeting in Geneva (Switzerland).
Diplomatic sources in Yangon believe the visit can only succeed in the unlikely event of a meeting with the country's top leader, General Than Shwe. A meeting with the prime minister, Lieutenant-General Soe Win, is seen as more likely.
The situation is seen as urged given the fact that things have deteriorated badly last year according to ILO officials, with an increase in reported cases of forced labour.
Last week in fact, ILO representatives in Myanmar stated that although forced labour is illegal in the country, the practice continues with the government showing little interest in really eliminating it. In many cases, it is the army itself that forces civilians to build barracks and fortifications, and supply food to military units in remote areas.
More worrisome, the military junta that runs Myanmar has hitherto failed to respond to the organisation's complaints. Instead, it has convicted several workers on treason charges for having contacts with the ILO.
Apart from the issue of forced labour, the ILO delegation is expected to discuss the junta's failure to allow workers the freedom to associate. Trade unions are effectively banned and several workers have been in prison for more than three years for belonging to the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, whose leaders are currently in exile, living in border refugee camps in Thailand.
What is more, pressure within the ILO for sanctions is growing and may prove irresistible.
The European Union has already signalled its willingness to ban imports from Myanmar to show its displeasure over the country's poor track record in human rights.
But the EU is not alone. The international community has criticised Myanmar for numerous human rights violations such as drafting child soldiers and detaining hundreds of political prisoners, among them Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National league for Democracy, Myanmar's main opposition party.
Headquartered in Geneva, the ILO is a United Nations agency that promotes social justice and the rights of labour and workers.