Despite promises made in the Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights, Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place to be a union member.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the main international trade union organization, just released its annual survey of violations of trade union rights. The report, which comes shortly after the Colombia Free Trade Agreement went into effect, summarizes violations of trade union rights around the world—and its findings on Colombia are grim.
The ITUC reported that 29 of the 76 trade unionists murdered worldwide in 2011 were in Colombia. And that’s just the reported number—the actual number may be even higher. In addition to the 29 tragic murders, reported intimidation of unionists in Colombia last year included three forced disappearances, 10 attempted murders, two cases of torture, a kidnapping, 16 arbitrary detentions and 342 reported instances of unionists being threatened for their association with a union. Colombia is still the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, despite the alleged “success” of the Action Plan and entry of the Colombia FTA into force.
Although some progress has been made, Colombia is simply not holding up its end of the bargain. The ITUC reports that the Colombian government is implicated in these violations beyond its failure to uphold its own worker protection laws. Brutal police repression is used to silence workers who exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to strike.
The ITUC reported 480 specific violations of trade unionists’ rights to life, freedom and physical integrity. Although the authors of these violations remain unknown in about 70 percent of cases, where a perpetrator could be identified, it was a paramilitary group nearly 73 percent of the time—a clear sign that the demilitarization of the paramilitary groups remains a work in progress (to put it generously).
Ominously, some 1,500 former paramilitary fighters may be released from Colombian prisons next year without meeting their legal obligations to confess the truth of their crimes and pay restitution to their victims. So there is grave reason to believe that violence and intimidation of trade unionists will get worse, not better, in years to come.
For many years, Colombia has been notorious for workers' rights violations of all types. Unfortunately, there has been a string of new threats in recent weeks, including threats against unionists who came to the United States in 2011 to speak out against moving the Colombia FTA before workers’ rights were secure.
The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement went into effect on May 15, 2012. The AFL-CIO stands with the global labor movement in support of labor and human rights activists and calls on the Colombian government to fully investigate these cases. Read more about Colombia here.