The Colombian government continues to ignore major human rights violations, raising serious doubts about Colombia’s readiness for free trade agreements, claimed Colombia’s largest trade union on Wednesday.
“We declare that in Colombia the rights of workers continue to be violated…in 2012, 18 unionists were assassinated, 220 disappeared and during the government of [President Juan Manuel] Santos we have received 953 threats. This worries us because violence against trade unions is growing, and yet the government still says Colombia is ready for free trade agreements, even though [the] human rights [of trade unionists] continue to be violated”, Alberto Vanegas Zuluaga, the Central Confederation of Workers’ (CUT) director of human rights, told Colombia Reports.
In June of 2012, the European Parliament approved a resolution stating that Colombia must improve its human and labor rights situation before it would pass the pending FTA. They ratified the agreement six months later. Vanegas’ condemnation comes amid strong indications that Colombia’s congress will soon implement an impending FTA with the European Union.
“We have raised a labor agenda with [the government of] Juan Manuel Santos but they have yet to either respond or pay attention to our proposals,” said Vanegas.
“The state has not done anything in relation to the [union] murders. More trade unionists are murdered in Colombia than anywhere else in the world — 60% of trade unionist assasinations occur in Colombia, and since 2006…[annual union] deaths [in Colombia] have only been reduced by 4%”, stated the human rights director.
Vanegas was particularly scornful of the Justice and Peace Law that governed the demobilization of the AUC, the right-wing paramilitary organization believed to be behind most human rights violations against unions.
“With the Justice and Peace law, paramilitaries have [in practice] been legalized, because the state has claimed [through this law that] paramilitaries no longer exists, but assassinations continue with the bacrim [emergent criminal groups], but we affirm that they are the same paramilitaries. The government’s claim that they are not paramilitaries has weakened [our] protection,” said the director.
The director’s main assertion is that neoparamilitary groups have continued intimidating and assassinating union members on behalf of the same business interests that the now defunct-AUC served. By claiming that the new criminal organizations are not linked to the paramilitaries, a blind eye can be turned on their history and financial interests.
Colombia Reports contacted the office of United States trade representative Ron Kirk regarding the deteriorating safety conditions for Colombian unionists and whether the US government would consider taking any sort of action. The spokesperson for ambassador Kirk stated that the Obama administration continues supporting “the Santos Administration’s efforts both to improve the security situation in Colombia and to advance social justice.”
The spokesperson for the European Union could not be reached for comment.