Shocking new findings by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) show that almost two-thirds of global murders of trade unionists in 2018 occurred in Colombia. Of 53 cases worldwide, 34 murders were committed in Colombia, more than doubling the previous year’s figure for trade unionist murders in the country, when 15 were killed. The massive rise reflects the chronic human rights insecurity that has impacted Colombia since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.
In its annual Global Rights Index, published this week, the ITUC again ranks Colombia among the ten worst countries in the world for overall labour rights, alongside Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Zimbabwe. The ITUC has consistently found Colombia to have some of the worst labour abuses in the world.
The findings come amid a general worsening of labour rights on a global level. Among the issues facing Colombian workers are union busting, dismissals and restrictions on the right to strike.
In addition to the 34 murders in Colombia, the ITUC found ten cases of attempted murder and 172 cases of threats to life in the country. It cited the murders of Efren Zúñiga Dorado and Edilberto Niño Cristancho as emblematic of the terrible violence inflicted on labour organisers. Efren was found dead in Piendamó, department of Cauca, on 14 April 2018 with marks of torture and after apparently having been forced to dig his own grave. He was a teacher and member of the ASOINCA trade union.
Edilberto, an organiser in the SINTRAIMAGRA trade union for workers in the palm oil industry, was attacked in Villvicencio, department of Meta, on 4 November. According to the ITUC, ‘[t]he situation in Colombia … was compounded by the total lack of action by the authorities to investigate and prosecute these crimes’.
Ten of the 34 trade unionists murdered in Colombia belonged to the FENSUGARO agricultural trade union, which works closely with Justice for Colombia and has a partnership with Unite the Union, one of the two largest trade unions in Britain and Ireland. Another 13 victims were teachers.
‘Most of these crimes remained unresolved, as the government still failed to allocate the necessary means for the timely investigation and prosecution of the cases. Without any adequate protection provided to them, trade unionists and their families remained under constant threat to their lives’, said the ITUC.
In the Global Index, Colombia was given a number five ranking, which the ITUC defines as ‘the worst countries in the world to work in. While the legislation may spell out certain rights, workers have effectively no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labor practices’. The only countries with a worse rating are those affected by internal conflict or military occupation where the state or its institutions have broken down.