Letter from Congress deplores the murders of hundreds of trade unionists in Colombia

27 Nov 2019

colombia letter

A letter from Congress General Secretary Patricia King, deploring the murders of social leaders and trade unionists in Colombia, has been given to the Columbian Ambassador to Ireland, Patricia Cortez Ortiz.  Patricia King said, "workers are kept in poverty by labour laws that favour the wealthiest families and foreign investors - 34 trade unionists were murdered last year". The letter (read it here) was handed to the Columbian Deputy Chief of Mission in Dublin, Andres Echeverri by the General Secretary of Forsa, Kevin Callinan and the General Secretary of Mandate John Douglas.

A report released by the ITUC recently has found that hundreds of community and trade union leaders have been murdered in Colombia since the November 2016 signing of the peace agreement in that country.  The report, “Peace at Risk” https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/colombia_peace_at_risk_en.pdf unveils the failure of the government of President Iván Duque to follow through on the commitments made under the agreement.  Less than one-quarter of the measures agreed have been properly implemented by the government, despite pledges made to the European Union and the US, as well as to the OECD and the ILO.

Nationwide protests against the government’s policies which began on 22 November have been met with violent repression by the authorities. 

 “Tragically, violence is on the rise again in Colombia, and President Duque and his conservative allies must accept responsibility.  An agreement of this importance can’t simply be set aside by the whim of a particular government, which seems to care little for the populace or for the future of the country. President Duque’s announcement of ‘national dialogue’ cannot be seen as credible while the state of repression continues,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Between 1 January 2016 (11 months before the agreement was signed) and 8 September 2019, 777 social leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered in Colombia.

The signing of the peace agreement was received with widespread hope. It signalled a strong commitment by both the then government and FARC forces to peace and to working towards addressing the underlying issues that were fuelling the conflict. The peace agreement committed the government to undertake comprehensive rural reform, ensure victims’ rights and political participation and guarantee a participatory approach to its implementation.

“There was hope that government efforts would stop fuelling violence and start taking on poverty and inequality. Yet today Colombia remains the most unequal country in terms of access to land in Latin America, while workers are kept in poverty by labour laws that favour the wealthiest families and foreign investors to the detriment of the people. The Duque government is driving Colombia down a pathway which poses a severe and imminent threat to peace,” said Burrow.

The report, a joint initiative by the ITUC, the national trade union centres CUT and CTC and the National Trade Union School of Colombia (ENS), highlights that violence continues to target human rights defenders. It reveals that the year 2018 saw more trade unionists murdered than any of the previous four years (including years prior to the signing of the peace agreement). A total of 34 trade unionists were murdered last year, primarily in the education, agriculture and mining sectors. Threats, violent attacks and even torture contributed to a total of 234 serious violations of trade unionists’ human rights.

The perpetrators are treated with impunity by authorities: 95% of crimes linked to serious violations of trade unionists’ human rights are unresolved, while lack of judicial follow-up means that in 60% of cases, alleged perpetrators are not even identified.

Many of the economic deals that are today buoying the country’s economy were signed as a result of the peace agreement. As part of these deals, Colombia pledged to implement a series of human rights, labour and environmental standards.  

“Trade unions are committed to building the social justice needed for lasting peace. We will continue to push for peace at the national and international levels. Colombia’s international partners cannot stand by while human rights defenders are murdered and the economic injustices that fuelled the conflict remain in place. The international trade union movement will continue to press the Duque government to live up to its responsibilities, and Colombia’s international partners to live up to theirs,” said Burrow.

Read the full report: