Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Monday her nation yearns for justice and progress, and the international community must help lift its workers' grim conditions.
"Burma must not be allowed to fail and the world must not be allowed to fail Burma," the 65-year-old Nobel laureate told a U.N. labor conference by videolink, using the Southeast Asian country's former name.
The pro-democracy icon, freed last November after spending much of the past 20 years under house arrest, said her nation once seemed the most likely success story in southeast Asia but "has fallen behind almost all the other nations in the region."
Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace prize for her nonviolent struggle for democracy. She led her National League for Democracy to victory in 1990 elections, but the military junta that led the government refused to recognize the results.
The former junta changed the nation's name to Myanmar, but many democracy supporters and Suu Kyi still call it Burma.
After elections in November that were swept by a party close to the ruling junta, military leaders turned over control to a nominally civilian government in March.
In recent months Suu Kyi has been turning to videolinks and other means to get her message out, fearing _ as she has for years _ that if she were to leave the country she might not get back in.
Suu Kyi, seeking to revive her party, said its members and other groups and people struggling for political change created a "people's network" six months ago to focus on social and humanitarian projects that spread democracy and human rights.
"The growth, rapid beyond our expectations, of this network is evidence of the indivisibility of social, economic and political concerns, and of the hunger of our people for a society secured by acceptable norms of social justice joined to political and economic progress," she said.
Suu Kyi also addressed the International Labor Organization's involvement in Myanmar.
In February, the military government extended an agreement allowing the ILO to investigate complaints from inside the country of forced labor.
A 2007 agreement with the country's labor ministry allows the ILO maintain an office in Myanmar enabling victims of forced labor to seek redress. The government says it is trying to eliminate the practice.
At the time of the original agreement, Myanmar faced international sanctions because the ILO _ the U.N.'s labor agency _ had accused Myanmar since 1998 of using forced labor to aid the military and build roads and other projects. In a November 2009 report, it said it was "deeply concerned" that the country continues to imprison people who have complained of forced labor.
"We look to the ILO to expand its activities in Burma to help usher in an era of broad-based social justice in our country," Suu Kyi said. "We are particularly concerned that our workers should be enabled to form trade unions, concerned with the highest international standards as soon as possible. Labor rights are integral to the triumphant development of a nation."