Justice for Colombia statement on threats against trade unions in Colombia

Justice for Colombia condemns threats against trade unions in Colombia

Justice for Colombia (JFC) condemns in the strongest terms the latest death threats against trade unionists in Colombia.

On Monday 26 October, threats were sent to Diogenes Orjuela, president of Colombia’s largest trade union confederation, the CUT, and Executive Committee members of the FECODE teachers union. Those targeted have received previous threats over their trade union activity and human rights activism.

JFC works closely with the CUT and FECODE, as well as other Colombian trade unions whose members have faced threats, harassment and murder. In September 2019, Mr Orjuela attended the annual congress of Britain’s Trades Union Congress where he met with senior officials in ASLEF, NEU, NASUWT, POA, UCU, Unite, UNISON and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), among others. He also met with British MPs in Parliament.

A number of British and Irish parliamentarians and trade unionists, including representatives from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, have met with Diogenes Orjuela, as well as other CUT representatives, and FECODE executive members on JFC delegations to Colombia, most recently in February 2020. JFC also organised a virtual meeting between FECODE and the NEU in July of this year.

Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for labour organising. The ITUC documented fourteen trade unionists murdered in Colombia between January 2019 and April 2020. Since then, further murders of trade unionists have been committed, including those of a retired member of the USO oil workers union, Ovidio Baena, on 26 June and 18-year-old Jayder Quintana of the FENSUAGRO agricultural union on 3 October.

The latest threats come days after trade unions led a new round of ‘National Strike’ protests over economic reforms and human rights violations in Colombia. It is vital that union members and civil society in general are able to exercise constitutional rights around peaceful protest, freedom of assembly and political participation without the threat of intimidation or violence.

The threats are also particularly alarming given the government’s incapacity to contain the spiralling human rights crisis enveloping Colombia, in which human rights defenders, community leaders and former guerrillas in the FARC-EP face horrific levels of violence. According to the INDEPAZ human rights organisation, 237 human rights defenders and 51 former guerrillas in the peace process were killed between 1 January and 21 October 2020. In addition, 69 massacres have been committed in the country this year, more than double the documented figure for the whole of 2019.

JFC calls on the Colombian government to ensure thorough and transparent investigations into the threats and sends its warmest solidarity to both Mr Orjuela and members of the FECODE executive committee.

Justice for Colombia

London, 27 October 2020