Families criticize ILO over sentencing

Nov 23, 2009 (DVB), The International Labour Organisation should do more to protect those who complain about abuses in Burma, the families of men imprisoned recently after complaining to the UN body said.

Pleas for the release of 12 farmers who were last month sentenced to up to five years with hard labour after filing complaints to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) last week called for their release.

Along with the farmers, their lawyer, Pho Phyu, who had helped them file the complaints, was sentenced earlier this year to four years in prison. Labour activist, Zaw Htay, who had also assisted with the complaint, was handed a 10-year sentence in January.

"Everyone who contacted to the ILO is now in prison so we dare not complain to them anymore," said a family member speaking on condition of anonymity. "The ILO should do something with this."

The wave of sentencing stems from a case in which 5000 acres of farmland in Aunglan township, in central Burma's Magwe division, were confiscated last year by the Burmese army.

The farmers, with the help of Pho Phyu and Zaw Htay, had complained to the ILO, which is the only organisation in Burma with a mandate to tackle issues of land confiscation, as well as forced labour.

Although the Burmese government signed an agreement with the ILO not to retaliate against complainants, the organisation has repeatedly expressed concern about the government's commitment to the agreement.

A report released by the ILO last week said that the number of complaints received regarding forced labour in Burma had nearly doubled in the past five months, with more than half of these relating to under-age recruitment into the army.

It warned however against the assumption that an increase in complaints automatically corresponds to wider use of forced labour in Burma.

"[The increase] appears to result from heightened awareness generally of citizens' rights under the law, the maturing and expansion of the facilitators' network, and an increased readiness to present complaints," it said.

The organization, which began investigating forced labour in Burma in 1998, last week adopted a resolution calling for the release of imprisoned political activists in the country.

Meanwhile, nine people arrested in September after being found with images of detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi are facing multiple charges in a Mandalay courtroom, including sedition.

Family members told DVB last week that they have been barred from visiting the defendants, one of whom is reportedly in poor health.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew and Aye Nai

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