Human Rights Watch Letter Criticises Lack of Progress in Dealing with Trade Union Killings

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 5 October 2011

In a recent letter to the Colombian Attorney General, Viviane Morales, Human Rights Watch has criticised “severe shortcomings” in how the Attorney General’s Office deals with the issue of trade union assassinations.

In 2006, under heavy international pressure, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office established a special unit of prosecutors to look at crimes against trade unionists. However, the letter notes that while this unit has secured some convictions for killings, these are unsustainable, and overall the work of the unit demonstrates severe shortcomings in both the scope of investigations and their methodology.

The letter states that Human Rights Watch has conducted a comprehensive evaluation of this sub-unit’s work, which found that convictions had been achieved only in a small fraction of cases dating back to before 2006, and that there had been “virtually no progress in obtaining convictions for killings in the past four-and-a-half years.” Furthermore, according to the letter, there has been no progress in prosecuting the instigators of these attacks, and there has been a failure to investigate the motives with each crime treated as a separate event.

According to the letter, since the sub-unit began its work in 2007 there have been 195 killings of trade unionists, and only 6 convictions. There have been no convictions in the 60 assassination attempts, 1500 threats and 420 forced displacements that trade unionists have been victims of in that time. The letter accuses the Attorney General’s Office of focusing almost exclusively on paramilitary commanders or ‘triggermen’ and not extending investigations into the instigators or facilitators of these crimes, despite the fact that there is “compelling evidence” to prove that paramilitaries have not acted alone.

As the letter notes, “historically [paramilitary groups] have operated with the toleration or even active support of members of public security forces as well as in collaboration with politicians, and allies in the private sector.” In nearly half of the cases under consideration by Human Rights Watch, evidence points to involvement of security forces or intelligence services, politicians, landowners, bosses and even co-workers. None of these has been brought to justice.

The letter concludes that “As long as some people believe they can get away with ordering, paying or instigating armed groups to kill trade unionists, they will continue to find armed groups and gunmen for hire to do their dirty work.” Finally the letter includes a set of recommendations, including that the Attorney General’s office ought to consider crimes against trade unionists in a systematic and contextualised manner.



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