London protests at 84 trade unionists assassinated in Colombia during 2006

Justice For Colombia News | on: Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Original source: Justice for Colombia

New figures released today by campaign group Justice for Colombia show that 84 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia in 2006. This marks a 20% increase on the number assassinated in 2005.

The announcement of the deaths was marked by a commemoration by senior British trade unionists at the Colombian embassy, including Tony Woodley (T&G), Derek Simpson (Amicus), Keith Sonnet (Unison) and Kay Carberry (TUC), as well as MPs, including Tony Lloyd, Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. A gathering of over 100 people held placards with the names of the assassinated trade unionists.

The figures, which are sourced from Colombian unions, show that teachers and agricultural workers were hit particularly hard: 40 of the 84 people killed were teachers and 11 were agricultural workers.

Although most of the culprits have never been identified, figures from the Colombian Commission of Jurists show that the vast majority of political assassinations are committed by the state and right-wing paramilitaries, often acting in collusion.

Few of the perpetrators of these crimes are ever prosecuted as murderers of trade unionists enjoy a huge degree of impunity in Colombia.

Tony Lloyd MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party and former Latin America Minister said: "The human rights situation in Colombia is truly appalling and these figures show that trade unionists are still being targeted just for defending basic rights at work. I will be pressing our Government to put these human rights concerns at the very heart of our engagement with Colombia."

Carlos Rodriguez, President of the CUT Colombia's main union confederation said: "Since the CUT was founded in 1986, there has been a campaign against trade union activity and more than 3,000 trade unionists have been assassinated. There is no other country in the world where trade unionists suffer such violence."

Liam Craig-Best of Justice for Colombia said: "The British Government is providing military aid to the same army units that commit many of these murders. The High Mountain battalions, reported recipients of UK aid, have committed terrible human rights abuses including the murders of trade union activists. It's time for the UK Government to listen to the majority of Labour MPs and take human rights seriously and freeze the aid until the Colombian Government cleans up its act."

Kay Carberry, Assistant General Secretary of the TUC, said: "It is unacceptable that so many of our brothers and sisters in Colombia were killed last year and we stand in solidarity with them against terrorism, repression and neo-liberalism. The Government of Colombia needs to stop treating trade unionists as 'the enemy within' and allowing their murderers to carry on with impunity."

The announcement came as the Colombian Government is being heavily criticised for a paramilitary scandal that has seen eight government-supporting senators and the former head of the presidential intelligence service imprisoned for working with some of the country's most violent murderers. The foreign minister, Maria Consuelo Araujo, was forced to resign in February as her family were implicated in the scandal. Her brother is in prison awaiting trial and her father is on the run, presumed to have left the country.

ENDS

For more information or for photos of the event, contact Liam Craig-Best on 020 7435 7241.

Notes for Editors:

1. Justice for Colombia is an NGO campaigning for human and trade union rights in Colombia.

2. A detailed breakdown of the figures is available at www.justiceforcolombia.org

3. The report of the Colombian Commission of Jurists reads: "between July 2002 and June 2006, 75.15% of the deaths out of combat whose presumed generic author is known, were attributed to the responsibility of the State: either as a result of direct action by State agents in 14.17% of cases (908 victims); through tolerance or support of violations committed by paramilitary groups in 60.98% of cases (3,907 victims)." http://www.coljuristas.org/documentos/documentos_pag/SituacionDDHH2006Ingles.pdf

4. 224 MPs have now signed EDM 727, which calls for a freeze on military aid to Colombia. The aid includes intelligence sharing and "bespoke counter-narcotics" aid. However, the Government refuses to provide further detail. The High Mountain Battalions of the Colombian Army, are known as some of the worst abusers of human rights and have been cited by the UN for murdering trade unionists.

5. The recently released report of the Colombia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for 2006, found an increase in the number of reports of extrajudicial executions and passing off the bodies of murdered civilians as guerrilla combatants by the armed forces. The text is available here in Spanish: http://www.hchr.org.co/documentoseinformes/informes/ altocomisionado/Informe2006_esp.pdf



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