TUC protest at initial signing of EU-Colombia trade agreement

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TUC Statement following initialling of EU - Colombia Free Trade Agreement, April 2011

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is deeply disappointed that the European Commission has chosen to initial a draft free trade agreement between the EU and Colombia. The TUC and British trade unions, alongside unions from across Europe and Latin America have called for negotiations on the agreement to be halted until there is clear evidence that the endemic violence against trade unionists and other human rights defenders in Colombia is being effectively addressed.

It is clear to any independent observer that the situation in Colombia remains unacceptably dangerous for trade unionists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable groups. In addition Colombian workers face enormous and indefensible legal and practical barriers to exercising their most basic rights to organise and engage in collective bargaining. 52 trade unionists were murdered in 2010 alone and at least 6 have died this year. The latest killing was of two agricultural worker trade unionists, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia on 30th March in Tolima Department, following threats made against them by an army officer. Just five days earlier, the Colombian Judicial Workers' Union held mass protests, sparked by the March 22nd murder of Judge Gloria Constanza Gaona in Arauca Department, who was in charge of investigating the suspected army murder of 3 young children, including a 14 year old girl who was sexually assaulted before she and her two younger brothers were killed and dumped in a grave metres from where the army was stationed at the time. These latest incidents are just a few examples of many which demonstrate how far Colombia still has to go before it can be treated as a legitimate partner.

The problems facing our Colombian sisters and brothers are longstanding and deeply ingrained and will not be solved with the addition of some aspirational, but entirely unenforceable text, in the margins of a trade agreement. We need to see concrete progress at ground level in regard to ending the violence, dealing with the culture of impunity surrounding attacks on trade unionists and securing labour law reform and enforcement so that trade unionists are able to organise freely.

Whilst the European Commission has chosen to ignore all of these concerns the campaign to stop the FTA until the situation improves is not over. We call on members of the European Parliament to exercise their right to block the ratification of the treaty when it comes before them later this year. They must uphold the values of the European Union and demonstrate that they will not allow basic human rights to be sidelined in the pursuit of increased profit.

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