Forced labour continues to be widely and systematically practiced in northern Arakan State in Burma and little has changed for the Rohingya population, said a report by the Arakan Project titled "Forced Labour Still Prevails: Overview of forced labour practices in North Arakan" released on Friday.
Despite the democratic reform agenda pursued by the central government and a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Labour Organization signed in March calling for the elimination of forced labour by 2015, there has been little progress in northern Rakhine State, the report said.
A decrease in forced labour has been observed in certain areas where Garrison Engineers took control of some infrastructure projects and employs paid labour, but villagers in other areas continue to receive regular orders to work on road construction by the NaSaKa (border security forces). The work also involves serving as sentries and porters without remuneration and with penalties if they do not comply, the report said.
"We have never received any wages, not even a cup of tea, from the Army or the NaSaKa for all the work we do for them year after year. Instead, we are insulted and harassed if we do not work properly," said a 21-year-old Rohingya farm labourer from Buthidaung Township.
In Mid-May 2012, the NaSaKa requisitioned up to 250 villagers from four village tracts in South Maungdaw on a daily basis to excavate a diversion canal on the Myin Hlut River, said the report.
It said the presence of children among forced labourers, some as young as 9 or 10, is pervasive. Children are sometimes beaten on a worksite if they do not perform their work satisfactorily. The Arakan Project interviewed a 10-year old boy who was struck with a stick by a NaSaKa man who had caught him playing in the camp.
The report said the district administration has instructed village authorities not to supply forced labour to the Army, the NaSaKa or the police. But these directives have been ignored by the security agencies and the civilian administration is not in a position to challenge them, it said.
While an ILO Governing Body evaluation mission in early May reported that "there had been a substantial reduction in, or in some cases a cessation of forced labour, particularly in the last few months," the Arakan Project's investigations have shown a very different reality in that state.
"In Northern Rakhine State at least, Myanmar has yet to take concrete steps to effectively implement two key recommendations of the 1998 ILO Commission of Inquiry- eradicate the practice and prosecute perpetrators- and to translate formal commitments into action on the ground in all regions of the country. It would therefore be premature for the ILO to lift the measures adopted in 2000," said Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project.
The Arakan Project report can be accessed at: http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs13/AP-Forced_Labour_prevails.pdf
For more information, please contact Chris Lewa at email@example.com