Colombia: the truth

Angelino Garzon, Colombian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, wrote to the Financial Times on 16 June to defend the Colombian Government’s record on violence against trade unionists (“Colombia protects trade unionists”). It was an astonishing attempt.

Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist.  Over the last two decades, 2,700 trade unionists have been killed there, and Ambassador Garzon’s claim that the number of indictments has risen from 12 to 190 just underlines how ineffective his employers’ attempts to deal with impunity have been. Many of the 281 convictions he boasts about were handed down on people who had fled or were already dead, and the 175 people in jail were already in prison before their conviction for murdering trade unionists.

His misrepresentation of the findings of the International Labour Organisation’s Committee on the Application of Standards is similarly shocking. The Committee noted the arguments made by the Colombian Government, and rather than endorsing them as he suggests, actually decided that Colombia should stay under investigation over the coming year.

Meanwhile, the killings continue. So far this year, 20 trade unionists have been killed – two of them, Pablo Rodriguez Garavito and Jorge Humberto Echeverri, in the last week. These murders are not just random echoes of a violent society, as the Ambassador and his Government often allege, they are closely related in each case to industrial activism and protests.

Until the Colombian Government stops trying to brush these deaths under the carpet, and starts tackling the culture of impunity, Colombia will remain a pariah state as far as the global trade union movement is concerned.

Brendan Barber

TUC General Secretary and President of Justice for Colombia

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