Unions challenge Colombian president

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) General Secretary Guy Ryder, on Feb. 7, asked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to take action to protect human and trade union rights and to bring those who violate them to justice. With the spiraling of murders and death threats against them, Colombian trade unions are critical of the purely security-oriented policy of their government.

Human rights activists say most of the killings in the past decade have been committed by paramilitary groups associated with right-wing business interests.

During 2002 around 180 trade unionists were assassinated, making Colombia by far the most dangerous country to be a trade unionist. But no one has been tried or convicted.

“Unless and until the authorities make a real effort to investigate these crimes and bring them to an end, the suspicion must remain that the gunmen are not acting alone,” says Fred Higgs, general secretary of the 20-million member International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Union (ICEM).

The militarization of civilian institutions and the declaration of a state of emergency have done nothing to improve matters. Over 70 Colombian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including many trade unions, have therefore expressed their concern over the worsening human rights situation following measures adopted by the new government in a joint statement. These measures range from the declaration of a state of emergency last August to the exclusively security-oriented public policies that are undermining humanitarian law and human rights.

In view of this exceptional violence and the numerous trade union rights violations reported to it, the ICFTU asked President Uribe to give serious consideration to the human rights situation, to amend his policies and to respect the rule of law.

The ICFTU represents 158 million workers in 231 affiliated organizations in 150 countries and territories.

In Jan., as many as 100 U.S. Army Special Forces arrived in Colombia to provide more “security-oriented” training to Colombian troops. The U.S. soldiers are being dispatched as part of a $94 million counterterrorism aid package intended to protect an oil pipeline used by Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum.

The September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States have allowed the administration of George W. Bush to escalate the U.S. military role in Colombia under the guise of the war against terrorism.