- Commentary: Forced Labour Continues
- Contents:Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue
- The use of forced labour in maintaining and building infrastructure and military facilities, and other activities
- Routine forced labour in maintaining state property, in Murng-Nai
- Mass forced labour used in renovating military base, in Murng-Kerng
- Villagers forced to fix and build fences at a military base in Lai-Kha
- Villagers forced to make bricks, transport lumber wood, do other routine work, in Kae-See
- Villagers forced to build road, in Murng-Paeng
- Routine forced labour and extortion continue in Murng-Nai
- Villagers forced to clear the sides of a road, in Lai-Kha
- Villagers forced to clear the sides of roads in Nam-Zarng
- Routine forced labour of civilian vehicles in Murng-Ton
- The use of forced labour by Burmese army troops related to government projects
- Forced labour and extortion in pipeline area, in Maan-Tong (Nam-Tu)
- Forced labour in prospecting activities, in Murng-Kerng
Burma has become a full member of the ILO again since June this year after being put under several restrictions for more than 10 years for failing to stop rampant forced labour in the country, after promising to do so time and again.
This time, it managed to regain its full membership by again promising the ILO to eliminate forced labour by 2015 and, furthermore, to put the Burmese military under civilian laws concerning forced labour, both of which seem rather unrealistic.
The prospect of prosecuting members of the military in civilian criminal courts is even more unrealistic because, as stated in the May 2012 issue of this newsletter, they are already protected by the Constitution and by the denial that there is forced labour.
As the current situation looks, the Burmese military is still so powerful that no other state institutions can do anything to it without its consent, the nominally civilian government notwithstanding. Therefore, the military itself should take the responsibility of preventing its members from using forced labour, if this long-standing practice is to be really eliminated.
Although the ILO may have some indications of forced labour being somewhat reduced in some quarters, so as to lift several restrictions on Burma, there has still been rampant use of forced labour, especially by the military, in many places including Shan State up to the present.
In Shan State, the use of unpaid civilian forced labour by members of the Burmese military is still widespread, and has even become worse in some places in recent months, and remains one of the major causes that have been making people destitute, unable to survive and flee to other places.
Themes: All the reports in this month’s issue are about various types of Forced Labour, and a few incidents of Extortion, committed by members of the Burmese army and their cronies during the first half of 2012.
Places: Murng-Nai, Murng-Kerng, Lai-Kha, Kae-See, Murng-Paeng, Nam-Zarng, Murng-Ton and Maan-Tong (Nam-Tu)
LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)
IB = Infantry Battalion
In maintaining and building infrastructure and military facilities, such as roads, rail roads, military strongholds, camps and bases, etc., unpaid civilian forced labour has been routinely used by the Burmese military authorities in Shan State up to the present.
At many military establishments, routine forced labour of the people has also been used by the Burmese troops and their cronies in various other activities. The types of forced labour included serving as guides and porters with military patrols, gathering firewood and fetching water, etc., for the military camps.
Civilian vehicles have also been forced to provide free labour by the Burmese troops in many of their activities, more or less regularly.
The following reports are about some such instances:
Up until the present, unpaid mass forced labour of the people has been routinely used in maintaining infrastructure, government buildings and military related structures by the military authorities in Murng-Nai township.
According to the villagers of Mai Hai and Haai Kur village tracts, since the beginning of 2012 up to the present, every household in their village tracts has been required to provide force labour at least once a month in the said maintaining work.
Each time, 30 to 50 households were required to provide forced labourers, one person from each household, several times a month. By taking turns and working in rotation, every household in the area has to work at least once a month, and sometimes more.
There are several kinds of routine work, including clearing the sides of a section of the rail road of trees, brush and bushes; clearing and maintaining the compound of a military base and the compound of a police station in their area.
The villagers were also required to occasionally go and work in Murng-Nai town where they had to clear the compounds of many government department buildings. They received no pay for their labour and had to provide their own food.
Furthermore, the villagers were told by the military authorities that they had to do all these things simply because it was their inherent responsibility as civilian citizens. They were also often warned, especially by the military authorities of IB248, not to say “unpaid forced labour’ because they were only performing their own duty.
In early 2012, villagers of several villages in the municipality area of Murng-Kerng town in Murng-Kerng township were forced to provide forced labour in maintaining and renovating the military base of LIB514, at Loi Leng hill northwest of the town.
On 2 February 2012, the Burmese military authorities of LIB514 conscripted 50 villagers from surrounding villages to work in maintaining and renovating their military base. The villagers were required to work from morning to dusk, providing their own food and using their own tools.
The work included fixing bamboo fences and building new ones to replace the old fences that could not be fixed; fixing and rebuilding barracks and office buildings; fixing and digging trenches; clearing and leveling the ground of the base; and clearing bushes around the outside of the base, etc..
For 8 consecutive days, the authorities continued to conscript about the same amount of forced labourers to work at the base on a daily basis until it was finished. The following 3 villages were among the several villages that had been affected: Paang Leng, Ya Taw and Kung Sa villages.
In May 2012, villagers of Wan Paang village tract in Lai-Kha township were forced to work at a military camp building fences for several days, by members of a Burmese-army-sponsored Shan people’s militia force based at Wan Paang village in Wan Paang village tract.
On 8 May 2012, authorities of the people’s militia base issued an order requiring villagers from surrounding villages to provide forced labour for fixing and rebuilding the bamboo fences that were built around their base.
At least 10 labourers had to go and work on a daily basis for several days until the fences were finished. The villagers had to go and cut bamboo in the forest and transport them to the military base, and use them to build the fences, all by themselves.
The villagers received nothing for their time and labour, and had to provide their own food and use their own tools to work with. It took several days to fix and build the fences, causing great trouble for those who also needed to tend their subsistence crops.
The most affected villages were Wan Paang, Ho Hung and Wan Hai in Wan Paang village tract. Although members of the people’s militia could be hired to do the work for them, at the rate of 4,500 kyat per person per day, most villagers were poor farmers who could not afford it.
In April 2012, villagers in Murng Nim village tract in Kae-See township were forced by the Burmese military authorities of IB131 to make bricks to renovate a Buddhist monastery at Murng Nim village.
Every day, from 3 to 10 April 2012, at least 28 villagers were required to go and work at a designated place to make bricks. At least 3,000 bricks had to be made each day and the villagers had to bring their own food to eat during the day.
In addition, the villagers also had to transport lumber wood from where they were produced to the site where the renovation work was underway. Mostly the villagers had to carry the lumber on their shoulders because there were not enough vehicles to help them.
The forced labour for transporting the lumber was said to have been requisitioned, with the help of the military, by the village tract leader who produced the lumber and sold them to the military to be used in renovating the monastery. The known villages that had been affected were: Wan Mai, Wan Kung, Wan Paang and Murng-Nim villages.
Furthermore, all the villages in Murng Nim village tract were still routinely required to provide forced labour in maintaining the military camp in the area, such as clearing brush and bushes, fixing and building fences, fixing and digging trenches, etc..
In early 2012, many villages situated on high land along the mountain ranges in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township were forced by the Burmese military authorities to dig and make a motor road through their areas.
A number of villagers were required to go and work at the road construction site digging and leveling the ground every day, providing their own food and using their own tools. Working in rotation, the villagers had to go so frequently that many of them could not tend their farms and had to abandon their subsistence crops.
Refugees from the area who were interviewed by SHRF field workers at the Shan-Thai border in March 2012 said that they had lost all their crops the previous year. Since the road had not yet finished, they did not think they would be able to work their farms during the coming season.
Furthermore, the Burmese military authorities had recently banned the villagers from going to remote places far away from their villages, and no one dared go out to tend their remote farms for fear of being shot on sight.
Up until mid 2012 when this report was received, Burmese army troops in Murng-Nai township had still been engaging in their long-standing practices of regularly using villagers’ forced labour to maintain their military bases, and extorting food and livestock from them.
For instance, the Burmese army troops based in Naa Khaan village tract in Murng-Nai township had been regularly using forced labour of villagers from all the villages in the village tract in the maintenance of their military base all year round.
The villages had to work in rotation to be able to regularly provide the demanded forced labour. The work included gathering bamboo, carrying logs, digging ground, fetching water, fixing fences, fixing bunkers and trenches, clearing the base’s compound and the sides of roads, etc..
In addition, all the villages in Naa Khaan village tract had to take turns and provide the Burmese troops at the base with at least 3 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of chickens and 1 bottle of cooking oil every 5 days without fail.
In January 2012, villagers in Wan Saang village tract in Lai-Kha township were forced en masse by the Burmese troops of LIB515 to clear the sides of a road for 3 consecutive days, during which they had to provide their own food and camp at the work site at night.
On 3 January 2012, more than 80 villagers in Wan Saang village tract in Lai-Kha township were conscripted as forced labourers by the military authorities of LIB515 to clear the sides of the road leading from Wan Saang up to near Wan Thi village in Wan Thi village tract, in the same township.
About 60 arm-spans of land area on each side of the road had to be cleared of all trees, brush and bushes. The villagers had to bring enough food for 3 days and work with their own tools, and find their own sleeping places near the work site during the night.
The military also assigned 58 troops, led by a one-star commander named Thein Maung, to go with the villagers and oversee the work. After working for 3 whole days and reaching the designated place near Wan Thi village, the villagers were released.
Before releasing the villagers, however, the military commander told the villagers that since the situation of the country had now become better the people and the soldiers needed to work together hand in hand to help make it clean and developed.
In early 2012, villagers of Wan Pung village in Naa Yai village tract in Nam-Zarng township were forced by the Burmese military authorities to clear the sides of the sections of the roads, on both sides of the village, leading towards Nam-Zarng and Loi-Lem towns respectively.
The villagers had to work for several days, providing their own food and using their own tools, to finish clearing the designated sections of the roads which were quite long, but received nothing in return for their time and labour.
Up until mid 2012 when this report was received, civilian vehicles in Murng-Ton township have still been routinely required to provide forced labour by the Burmese military authorities based in the township.
For instance, the Burmese army troops of IB65 based at Naa Kawng Mu village in Murng Haang village tract in Murng-Ton township have required all the civilian vehicles in Naa Kawng Mu village to provide forced labour at one time or another all year round.
In Naa Kawng Mu village, there were 4 large size 10-wheeler trucks, 5 medium size 6-wheeler trucks and 21 small size 4-wheeler trucks which their civilian owners used to transports goods to other townships as a way of making a living.
Of these vehicles, the large and medium size trucks were often conscripted by the Burmese troops to be used in logistics, transporting troops, equipment and food to many distant outposts in Murng-Ton township and other townships, which were not less than 2-3 times a month.
The small size trucks were often conscripted to transport the Burmese troops to and from different outposts, or to patrol distant areas in Murng-Ton and adjacent townships. Furthermore, 2-3 trucks had to stay on standby at the military base for one day and one night at a time.
There were many mini-tractors in Naa Kawng Mu village, and they were also forced to provide free labour more or less on a daily basis. The work they had to do included fetching and transporting water, and gathering and transporting firewood to the military base.
Burmese army troops engaging in activities related to government projects, e.g., taking security measure, have also frequently used unpaid forced labour of the people and civilian vehicles in their daily activities.
The following are some such incidents:
(Note: Maan Tong was formerly a village tract in Nam-Tu township which has been raised to township level some years ago)
Since 2011 up to early 2012 when this report was received, a combined force of Burmese army troops from several battalions that were deployed in Maan-Tong township to guard the gas and oil pipelines under construction in the area, have used civilian forced labour and extorted food stuff from the local people.
The Burmese troops that had set up camps along the route of the pipelines in Maan-Tong were said to be from LIB115, LIB130, LIB324, IB501 and IB502, based in surrounding townships. These troops have used forced labour of the local people in their daily activities.
They required civilian trucks, mostly 6-wheelers, in the area to be on standby at their camps, at least one truck at each camp, 24-hours a day, to be used as necessary in logistics. When patrolling the area on foot, the troops also conscripted civilian guides and porters among the local villagers.
Villagers’ ox-carts were also conscripted for fetching and transporting water from the sources to the military camps to be used for drinking, cooking and washing by the Burmese troops. Working in rotation, at least 2 ox-carts with 2 drivers had to work on a daily basis.
Each military camp also required 2 chickens and a gallon of rice whiskey to be sent to them by the local villagers on a daily basis. When buying food stuff in the villages, the Burmese troops offered very low prices, and if the shop keepers refused to sell, they threatened to take them away by force.
All this has caused a lot of trouble to the local people and has made many of them unable to earn enough to survive the situation and, at the time when this report was received, had already caused some of them to flee to the Chinese border to find better means of survival.
In early 2012, villagers in Murng Khun village tract in Murng-Kerng township were conscripted to serve as guides and porters, and their vehicles conscripted for transport, by one group of Burmese army troops after another that appeared to be looking for some kind of mineral deposits in the area.
Contingents of Burmese troops from adjacent townships, such as Lai-Kha and Kae-See, often came to Murng Khun village tract in Murng-Kerng township and searched many remote areas in the mountains and deep ravines.
In doing so, the Burmese troops always conscripted villagers’ tractors to take them from village to village in the area and, when they needed to walk through mountains and jungles, they always took several villagers with them to serve as guides and porters.
After searching remote areas not only in Murng Khun tract but also other adjacent village tracts for several days, a group of Burmese troops would return to their base. However, only about a week later, another group from a different unit would turn up and do the same again.
This went on again and again for several months, making it more and more difficult for many local villagers to find enough time to earn enough to survive, and had caused many villagers to flee to other places, including Thailand.
According to refugees from the area who came to the Thai border in April 2012, the Burmese troops seemed to be urgently searching for something. It could be either Shan soldiers or teak forests or mineral deposits, but the most probable was the last one.