The Administrative Council of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which is a tripartite body consisting of governments, employers and workers representatives, met in Geneva for two weeks in June.
Despite abundant detailed evidence, despite personal testimonies from Colombian trade unionists, despite strong appeals from other national trade union delegations including Simon Steyne representing the TUC, the ILO refused to send an international Commission of Inquiry to Colombia.
The governments and employers blocked the move, because it would have been seen as too critical of Pastrana’s government. The international community had missed an opportunity to make a real difference, to do something effective. And it is not as though the employers and governments did not know, rather they chose to put their economic and political interests before human rights.
Just to underline the point, even while the ILO was debating, 6 workers from the Medellin Public Services Company were kidnapped. And two days after the Geneva meeting ended SAMUEL SEGUNDO PENA SANGUINO who worked for the US coal multinational Drummond Company and a member of the Mines and Energy Workers Union – SINTRAMIENEGETICA was disappeared. Samuel was found beheaded on the 19th June. A week later a member of CUT’s National Committee was assassinated. It is now up to the international workers and solidarity movement to step in and really make a difference.
The following article is compiled from the Urgent Actions bulletins published by the Colombian United Workers Federation – the CUT. Most of them were written by Jesús Antonio Gonzalez Luna, Director of the Human Rights Department.
Trade unionists are victims of a terrible genocide being carried out by the extreme right who wish to annihilate Colombian trade unionism through the assassination of our leaders, activists and workers.
Comrade MARIO DE JESÚS CASTAÑEDA, president of the CUT – Huila departmental executive found himself under death threat, on a list of trade unions in Neiva, the capital city of Huila. It is important to make known that up to this point the Colombian government has not established the necessary protection measures so that the comrade is not assassinated and to guarantee his trade union activity.
Comrade GERARDO RODRIGO GENOY GUERRERO, president of the National Bankworkers union of Bancolombia S.S. – SINTRABANCOL has in the last three years been the target of many telephone threats that clearly show his life is in danger. These calls have also been trying to extort money. To date, despite the history of danger in which the comrade and his family live, the Colombian government has still not adopted protection measures. Death threats against OTONIEL RAMÓREZ have been increasing throughout June 2001. This campaign was declared when Otoniel’s name appeared on a list put out by paramilitary groups announcing his execution. Otoniel has been followed; calls have been made to his family home and to the trade union; also they have intimidated his wife with all types of threats, including the announcement that a bomb had been place in their residence. Comrade Otoniel is the President of CUT-VALLE regional executive and a member of the Yumbo, Valle de Cauca branch of the United Building Materials Industrial Workers Union SUTIMAC.
The Executive Committee of the Cartago Municipality Workers Union, in Valle de Cauca Department, has obtained information concerning the presence of paramilitary groups in this town. The paramilitaries have unleashed multiple threats against social and trade union leaders and human rights defenders; as well as the harassment by persons unknown both of people’s homes as well as the trade union headquarters. On 7th July JOSÉ RODRIGO OROZCO received death threats. He is a member of the Regional Executive Committee of CUT – CAUCA, and has on repeated occasions been threatened with death by telephone calls to the union headquarters in the City of Popayán, Cauca Departament. On 9th July at 8:30 am a telephone call was received at the "Little Camp" Childrens Home located in the city of Barranquilla, Atlántico Departament; the callers knew all the details of the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Union of Childrens Home Workers of Colombia –SINTRAHOINCOL- and said that they would be entering the meeting to assassinate them.
On 13th June our comrade, MARIA EMMA GOMEZ DE PERDOMA, a nurse and member of the National Association of Hospital, and Clinic Workers and Employees Union – ANTHOC survived an attack.
At 6:00am on 6th July an oil workers demonstration took place, that was the culmination of a strike that had developed against contracting temporary personnel at the ECOPETROL [state oil] corporation. This activity took place at the main gate of the Refinery Industrial Complex located at Barrancabermeja, Santander Department.
Comrade HERNANDO HERNÁNDEZ PARDO, Vice-President of the Colombian Workers Federation "CUT" and President of the Oil Industry United Workers Union – USO – was present. As he was speaking to the demonstration, ECOPETROL’s chief of security informed him that his assassination was about to be carried out there and then. And so comrade Hernando suspended what he was doing and rapidly entered one of the buildings in the refinery complex. The assassination was to be perpetrated by a commando group of paramilitaries who had already been encountered in the area bearing long-arm weapons. This incident, which fortunately came out well due to the prompt action of our comrade, nonetheless makes clear that in one the country’s industrial cities, where there is a great concentration of the state’s armed forces, paramilitary groups move around without impediment to carry out criminal acts against social organisations and their leaders. It demonstrates that the mechanisms of political and military order to dismantle these paramilitary groups do not exist.
KIDNAPPINGS AND DISAPPEARANCES
On 22nd June four ECOPETROL workers: WILLIAM HERNANDEZ, RODRIGO APARICIO, EDUARDO FRANCO, JAIME SAMPAYO, and JULIO CABRALES were kidnapped at 1:30pm on their way home after finishing their work in the Ayacucho Station. This incident occurred in the area of La Mata in the Municipality of La Gloria in Cesar Department. They were approached by armed men who forced them to get into a blue Chevrolet Lux Truck, which then headed towards the Municipality of Ocana in the Cesar Department.
On 1st July teacher CRISTINA ECHEVERRI PÉREZ was kidnapped in the vicinity of the City of Manizales, Caldas Department. She works at Manizales University and at Santa Inés College; and is a member of United Educators of Caldas – EDUCAL – CUT. Up to now she is disappeared, and that is why a "White March" will take place in Manizales on 16th July to demand the release of our comrade and to make an URGENT call to save her life and personal integrity, and that she be returned safe and sound as quickly as possible to her family and comrades.
On 4th July teacher ALONSO MEJÓA URÚN was taken as he was leaving his home to go to work at the school in Río de Oro, Cesar Departament. Alonso is a member of the Cesar Educators Association ADUCESAR, an affiliate of FECODE – CUT. To this date the comrade is disappeared, and for that reason we make an URGENT CALL to save his life, that he be returned to his family and to his trade union comrades safe and sound as quickly as possible.
On 21st June OSCAR DARIO SOTO POLO was assassinated in the city of Monteria in the Department of Córdoba as he was walking with his eldest daughter towards his home. He was approached by two men on a motorbike and was shot. This criminal act took place at a time when negotiations with the multinational Coca Cola, in which OSCAR DARIO SOTO POLO was acting as a negotiator. The talks had broken down precisely over the issue of the necessity of Coca Cola providing security for trade union leaders within the company. Our colleague was a member of the Executive Committee of the CUT Córdoba region, President of the Colombian National Drink Industry Workers Union -SINALTRAINBEC and Vice President of the Council of Directors of the Family Compensation Bank of Cordoba – COMFACOR, and a member of CUT’s National Committee. In the night hours of 27th June comrade CRISTÚBAL URIBE BELTR¡N was kidnapped by unknown persons. He was a worker in the Health Secretariat in North Santander and a member of CUT affiliated union ANTHOC – the Association of Workers and Employees in Hospitals, Clinics and Organisations dedicating to Protecting the Health of the Community. This kidnapping took place in the Municipality of Tibú in North Santander and ended up with the assassination of comrade Cristóbal who was apparently killed by bullet wounds on 28th June.
On 6th July GERMAN CARVAJAL RUIZ, a teacher from the Municipality of Obando, in Valle del Cauca Department was assassinated as he was leaving work at the local College; he was attacked by unknown men, just as he was departing the premises. Comrade Carvajal was the president of the Obando branch of SUTEV, the Valle del Cauca United Teachers Union, which is affiliated to FECODE, the Federation Colombian Educators, a CUT affiliate. Because of his qualities as a union leader, German had been declared a military target in Florencia, Caquetá Departament and had been obliged to transfer to Valle del Cauca. German had continued teaching in Obando, where the criminals who carried out this execution found our comrade. On 8th July ISABEL PEREZ GUZMÓN the Registrar of Morroa Municipality in Sucre, Departament was assassinated, when two men entered her office and adminstered two shots to her head. The comrade had spent 28 years in the service of the National Civil State Registry, and she was a member of the Sucre section of the National Registry Workers Union, SINTRAREGINAL – CUT.
On 9th July HUGO CABEZAS, a teacher in Barbacoas Municipality, Nariño Departament, was assassinated. He was a member of SIMANA, the Nariño Teachers Union, affiliated to FECODE – CUT. It is important to note that Barbacoas is now totally overrun by paramilitary groups, who have forcibly displaced a majority of the population. On 10th July JAIRO DOMÍNGUEZ was found dead with three shots to his head in the vicinity of the El Cairo Cement Corporation, in an area known as “La Acequia”, in the Municipality of Montebello, Antioquia Departamento. The comrade had been abducted on 3rd July 2001, on the road from Santa Bárbara to the El Cairo cement factory. He was a member of the the Santa Bárbara branch of SUTIMAC-CUT, the United Building Materials Industrial Workers.
On 11th July MIGUEL IGNACIO LORA MENDEZ was assassinated. The act was committed by a group of assassins in the City of Montería, Córdoba Departament. The comrade was in the company of his wife CLEMENCIA DEL CARMEN BURGOS, who was seriously wounded. The couple worked in the Córdoba Prosecutors Office and are members of the National Association of Officers and Employees of the Justice Branch – ASONAL – CUT.
On 12th July JAMES URBANO was assassinated in the Municipality of Jamundí, Valle del Cauca Departamento. The comrade was a leader of the Valle Workers Union, an affiliate of the General Conferation of Democratic Workers – CGTD.
On 13th July SAUL ALBERTO COLPAS CASTRO was assassinated at 10:30pm by six bullets in the Puerto Giraldo district of Ponedera municipality, Atlántico Departament. The comrade was President of the Atlántico Department Farm Workers Union SINTRAGRICOLAS, affiliated to the United Agricultural Workers Federation FENSUAAGRO, and the former secretary for Peasant Affairs for the Atlántico section of the CUT.
Comrade JORGE NISPERUZA, president of the executive of CUT – Córdoba, was forcibly displaced from the city of Montería, in the Department of Córdoba as the consequence of an ultimatum obliging him to leave the region within 24 hours or be executed. Right now we do not know in what city or region our displace comrade might be found, he had to leave his activities and his family because of this serious threat on his life. Among the 2 million displaced people that we now have in Colombia, there are a significant number of trade union leaders, activists and workers. Those unions worst affected are: FECODE (Federation of Colombian Educators), ANTHOC (the National Association of Hospital, and Clinic Workers and Employees Union), SINTRAELECOL (Colombian National Electrical Energy Workers union), SINTRAUNICOL (National Union of Public University Workers and Employees), ASPU (Association of University Professors), and SINTRAEMSDES (Public Services, Autonomous and Decentralised workers and Employees Union).
The above incidents demonstrate the absence of guarantees for trade union work in Colombia, and clearly underline the lack of any real commitment by the government to value and respect human rights. The State does not want to stop the barbarity. The increasing dirty war against Trade Union and Social Leaders, and Defenders of Human Rights, has left 69 trade unionists assassinated so far in 2001.
According to a document by the National Human Rights Unit published on 5th June 2001, 95% of the cases brought to this organisation are in the preliminary investigation phase, which clearly highlights the impunity that exists for Human Rights Violators. To avoid assuming its political responsibility, the Colombian Government says, especially to the international community, that it is unable to guarantee lives in the situation of armed conflict in the country. This is an excuse that cannot be accepted because whether in times of peace or in times of war, the government is obliged to guarantee the right to life and to provide the means of us conducting free trade union activity.
In the face of this inexplicable behaviour by the Colombian State and its visible leaders, it is necessary for the international community to strongly demand that the Colombian government takes real and immediate actions to stop this criminal wave against Colombian trade unionism. The international community, through such organisations as the ILO, UN, OAS, European Parliament, and NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, is only listening to false speeches and intense lobbying by Colombian ministers and diplomats at international organisations, where they affirm that in Colombia mechanisms that guarantee our union activity exist. We deny these claims. As can be seen by the lack of funds for the Protection Programme for Human Rights Defenders and Trade Union Leaders. Beside which there is no policy to end impunity, which means that the intellectual and material authors of these murders of trade unionists are not captured nor tried. Note: The Colombian Solidarity Campaign is working with trade unionists and a range of other organisations and building up a response network to the CUT’s Urgent Action requests. You can join this network, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We think that humanitarian action is vital, but alone it will not stop the barbarity. We call on all who want to stop the assassinations in Colombia to mobilise politically here in Britain and internationally against the causes of the human rights violations.
Jesus Gonzalez, CUT