Statement by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney On Increase of Violence Against Colombian Trade Unionists
Date of publication: September 10, 2008
On August 26th, Alexander Blanco Rodriguez, a member of the Colombian oil workers’ union, USO, was brutally murdered in front of his co-workers by a group of armed men as he was finishing his shift at the state oil company, ECOPETROL, located in Canatgallo. This murder marked the 41st this year in Colombia. The total number of union murders for the first eight months of 2008 now surpasses the figure for the entire previous year. According to ENS, a well-respected Colombian NGO that tracks this information, 39 trade unionists were murdered in all of 2007.
Violence against union activists in Colombia continues to be a serious and worsening problem. The emergence of dangerous new armed groups and threats against human rights defenders by high-level government officials appear to have contributed to this deteriorating situation.
Nearly 2,700 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia since 1986, including over 450 during the administration of President Alvaro Uribe.
While the Uribe government reports that it has obtained 100 convictions in union murder cases through August 2008, roughly one-third of those convicted are not even in custody. The impunity rate for murdering a trade unionist in Colombia remains over 96 percent. Labor law reforms that would bring Colombian laws into compliance with International Labor Organization standards have not been completed, and Colombian workers continue to struggle with legal and bureaucratic obstacles to registering a union and bargaining collectively.
It is unconscionable that the Colombian government is continuing to expend significant resources here in Washington to lobby for passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement as the violence facing trade unionists in Colombia escalates, the problem of impunity for perpetrators of that violence persists, and labor law reform is stalled. These issues must be adequately addressed before Congress considers the Colombia FTA - not after the agreement is in place.
Our FTA partners must demonstrate a willingness and a capacity to enforce the rule of law - especially when it concerns protecting the most basic human rights: the right of personal safety and the right to live without fear of violence.