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Colombia: The most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist

As International Labour Day is marked across the world, Amnesty International UK is today (Thursday 1 May 2003) launching a new initiative to further encourage UK trade unions to campaign for the human rights of trade unionists in Colombia. The organisation also calls on the Colombian government to take urgent steps to end impunity for human rights violations.

During 2002, there were also reports of 189 death threats, 27 abductions, 17 attacks, 9 forced disappearances, 139 arbitrary detentions and 80 trade unionists forced into exile.

Amnesty International is concerned that the Colombian authorities are using the State of Internal Commotion (state of emergency) declared on 11 August 2002 to threaten and harass trade unionists and other members of civil society.

The organisation continues to receive information which reveals widespread and systematic violations of human rights by the security forces and their paramilitary allies and abuses of international law by armed opposition groups.

Samuel Morales, a teacher from Arauca and President of the Arauca Regional Branch of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (the main Colombian trade union federation), currently in the UK with Amnesty International UK, said:

'They killed my colleague, and said the rest of us would have the same luck if we didn't leave. We had no social life. We were unable to go out with friends, or to the park with the family so that the kids could play, or go to the theatre or cinema, as this puts their lives at risk.

'We've had to move around with armed accompaniment, and can't travel freely as we might come across a paramilitary roadblock where we could be assassinated.'

Samuel Morales and his colleagues in the teachers' association have received numerous death threats and now wear bullet-proof vests and travel with armed escorts.

Amnesty International UK has launched a campaign to defend the human rights of trade unionists in Colombia, and to call on the Colombian government to take urgent steps to end impunity for human rights violations. Take Action Now ...


Amnesty International UK's Trade Unions was established in 1978 and will mark its 25th anniversary on 25 June 2003. 33 of the 36 largest trade unions in the UK are affiliated to Amnesty International UK. For more information on Amnesty International UK's Trade Unions contact James Savage on Tel: 020 7417 6373, or visit: /p>

On 4 April 2003, Amnesty International made a statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights which included calls for the Commission to:

  • Urge the Colombian government to draw up a national plan of action to implement the recommendations to end impunity, including investigation of allegations of human rights violations and bringing to justice those responsible in civilian courts in accordance with international standards for fair trial;
  • Urge the government to take effective and decisive action to combat and dismantle paramilitary groups and to sever the links between the security forces and the paramilitaries;
  • Urge the government to take all necessary measures to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders, internally displaced persons, and the civilian population.

Editors notes

Samuel Morales (Spanish speaker - translation can be arranged) is available for interviews by arrangement from 23-25 April, 29-30 April and 2-3 May.

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