TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady recently joined 27 other British and Irish trade union leaders in an open letter strongly condemning state violence against trade unionists, workers, civil society activists, and human rights defenders. Despite the impunity with which violence is carried out by state and para-state organisations, Colombia remains an important trading partner and ally for the UK and Colombia is therefore one of the TUC’s priority countries for international solidarity work.
Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists.— Trades Union Congress (@The_TUC) November 24, 2020
Today marks 4 years since the signing of the Colombian Peace agreement. Yet hundreds of activists are still being murdered every year.
We stand with all those struggling for justice and peace. pic.twitter.com/l9eLNNIeTJ
Colombia has recently emerged from a protracted internal conflict. In 2016 a historic peace agreement was signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC). However, the Colombian government has not complied with its commitments in the peace agreement.
Crucially, the chapters in the agreement that deal with the causes of the conflict - on political participation and on rural reform – have been the least implemented. Progressive political opposition continues to be persecuted with violence and repression.
Since the agreement was signed, there has been a sharp rise in systematic political killings of social leaders, former FARC combatants, and trade unionists. Between March 2020 and April 2021, 22 trade unionists were murdered, up from 14 the previous year, making Colombia the most dangerous place on earth to be a trade unionist. This takes place in the context of a wider human rights crisis, with, according to the Indepaz human rights organisation over 1200 civil society activists murdered since 2016. 44 people were also reported killed by police during a wave of national demonstrations and strikes in April 2021. The UN has documented 296 former FARC combatants murdered since signing the peace agreement.
Trade unions in Colombia also face legal interference with their right to freedom of assembly and to engage in free collective bargaining. The government exploits laws exempting ‘essential services’ from trade union activity by extending them to sectors like oil and public transport. The state also allows employers to file for the legal dissolution of unions they are in dispute with, while also allowing employers to engage in fake collective bargaining with artificial unions (which usually act as employment agencies) bypassing official union structures.
Despite the deteriorating human rights situation, the UK maintains a strong trade and security relationship with Colombia and UK police officers in Colombia are involved with training and assisting police forces responsible for the large-scale murder of protestors. In light of the continuing human rights crisis, the TUC has also called for a suspension of the UK-Andean Trade Agreement and an end to arms sales to Colombia.
he TUC is a founder of Justice for Colombia, the British and Irish trade union campaign which raises awareness of human rights abuses and forges links with partners in Colombia to promote relationships of solidarity between British, Irish and Colombian workers.
The Last Line of Defence – Global Witness Report on the killings of environmental defenders
UK-Colombian trade union joint statement calling for suspension of the UK-Andean Trade Agreement
United Nations report into the situation of Human Rights in Colombia
Left Undefended - Human Rights Watch report into the killings of rights defenders in Colombia's remote communities
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