UN labour group should do more in Myanmar, says Suu Kyi

13th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Myanmar's renowed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on the UN's labour rights organisation to expand its work in her country, where complaints about forced labour have risen dramatically.

Speaking by video conference to the International Labour Organisation's 100th General Assembly, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner urged the ILO "to help usher in an era of broad-based social justice", in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi applauded the ILO's "attempt to eliminate forced labour and the recruitment of child soldiers", and said she hoped for "progressively closer cooperation" between the organisation and those committed to change in Myanmar.

Last week, the ILO's branch in Yangon said it had received 506 complaints related to forced labour since the start of 2010 -- more than double the number seen during the previous three years.

The group's Myanmar-based liaison officer Steve Marshall told AFP the rise was due to "extensive awareness raising activity".

"The number of complaints cannot be used to reflect the size of the problem," he said. "Many people are still either unaware of their rights or are not in a position to attempt to exercise them."

The ILO has operated in Myanmar with a restricted mandate since 2007.

Their permission to continue working in the country -- specifically on issues related to forced labour and underage army recruitment -- was extended in February for 12 months.

Myanmar's military junta handed over power to a nominally civilian administration in March after nearly half a century of army rule.

Suu Kyi, who was in November freed from a seven-year house arrest imposed by the junta, said workers in Myanmar must be allowed to form trade unions.

"Labour rights are integral to the triumphant development of a nation," she said.

"Burma must not be allowed to fail and the world must not be allowed to fail Burma," she added.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are scheduled to address the conference on Wednesday.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to make an appearance on Thursday at the conference that wraps up on June 17.

© 2011 AFP

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