Colombia: Trade unionists face alarming resurgence in death threats and forced displacements

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions Online bulletin 154/041103

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

Online bulletin 154/041103

November 4, 2003

The ICFTU is gravely concerned at the recent and alarming resurgence in death threats against and forced displacement of trade unionists in Colombia. This climate of violence would appear to be related to the political context, which last week saw the failure of the referendum called by the head of state, as well as the rise of a new opposition force with the election of former trade unionist Luis Eduardo Garzon as mayor of Bogotá.

"You'll pay for the referendum's failure with your life," went the death threat made against Domingo Tovar Arrieta, a member of the National Executive Committee and Director of the Human Rights Department of the Colombian trade union confederation, CUT. Domingo received the death threat on his mobile phone on October 30. The threat is believed to be linked to a decision by the Cundinamarca administrative court in favour of Domingo and against the defence minister and the national army following Domingo's unlawful arrest on 12 February 1994.

On 22 October, the CUT office in the Department of Risaralda received death threats against 10 union leaders, defenders of human rights and members of political organisations. Accompanied by a hymn to the 'Bloque Cacique Calarca' paramilitary units, these death threats are linked directly to those sent 12 days earlier to union leaders in northern Valle who were exhorted to leave the area and give up their union activities or face death. These union leaders are now in hiding and are unable to pursue their union work.

In addition, according to the Colombian Commission of Legal Experts, early in the morning of 21 October - that is, 5 days before the elections 31 individuals were arbitrarily arrested in Arauca. Most of the victims of this mass arrest action were leaders of political organisations and political and social movements.

In a letter sent to the president of Colombia, ICFTU Secretary-General Guy Ryder expressed his concerns over the lack of security for many Colombians who are members of unions, social organisations and human rights groups in various parts of the country. Ryder's letter calls on the president of Colombia to take every possible step to "ensure the safety and physical integrity of all trade union and social leaders who have received death threats".

The ICFTU represents 158 million workers in 231 affiliated organisations in 150 countries and territories. ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions.