Colombia: New death threats to trade unionists
Mauricio Alvarez, Victor Jaimes, Juvencio Serpa and Elkin Menco, all leaders of the USO in the city of Barrancabermeja, received the threat on 15 August. It came from an organisation called 'Death to USO Leaders', Muerte a Dirigentes de la USO (MDU), thought to be a paramilitary group.
The threat stated: 'MDU is launched. The MDU armed group…has given the order to kill the first ones to be executed by our MDU organisation, charged with finishing off the USO sons-of-bitches. We make public the first martyrs who will be gunned down by us. Mauricio Alvarez, Victor Jaimes, Juvencio Serpa and Elkin Menco.'
In May this year, the branch of the USO in Cartagena received a death threat via e-mail from the army-backed paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), United Self Defence Forces of Colombia, declaring members of the union to be military targets. On 14 July 2003 a former leader of the USO, Marco Tulio Diaz Fernandez, was reportedly shot and killed by unidentified men as he was leaving his relatives' home in the city of Cucuta, Norte del Santander Department.
James Savage, Amnesty International UK Trade Union Campaigner, said:
'Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. Every year we see those who stand up for their rights being intimidated, arrested, or threatened with their lives.
'The Colombian authorities must take urgent measures to guarantee the safety of these men and to investigate the threats to their lives.
'They must investigate links between the security forces and paramilitary groups, and honour their commitment to dismantle the paramilitary outfits. Those responsible for human rights abuses in Colombia must be brought to justice.'
At the meeting of donor governments hosted by the UK in July, the Colombian authorities pledged to protect civil society leaders and in particular trade union leaders, whose lives are frequently threatened.
More than 35 trade unionists have been killed in Colombia so far this year. USO trade unionists have been repeatedly threatened and have been the victims of extrajudicial executions and 'disappearances' committed by army-backed paramilitaries.
Security and armed forces, together with their paramilitary allies often accuse trade unionists of being guerrilla sympathisers or their auxiliaries. Guerrilla forces have also been responsible for killing and threatening those they accuse of collaborating with their enemies.
The Colombian Trade Union Congress, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia (CUT), estimates that in 2002, at least 172 affiliated trade unionists were victims of extrajudicial executions in Colombia. One hundred and sixty four received death threats, 26 were victims of kidnapping, 17 were victims of an attempted kidnapping, seven were forcibly displaced, 132 were arbitrarily detained and around 80 sought exile. According to the CUT, these violations are a direct consequence of their trade union activity.