Colombia is seeing a resurgence of violence and death threats against trade unionists, according to labor rights organization Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS).
So far in 2018, 14 trade unionists have been murdered in the country and 134 have received threats among other counts of violence. More than half of those instances have been documented in the past three months, according to the report.
Over the course of 2017, ENS documented 14 murders of trade unionists and 125 threats over the course of 2017. The data also showed that acts against unions overall have nearly quadrupled since 2017.
Counts of homicides and death threat against those groups have declined since former President Alvaro Uribe left office in 2010. But now, with Uribe’s hard-right Democratic Center (CD) party back in power, reports of violence against trade unionists are once again picking up.
Violence against labor unionists
“Unfortunately,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of advocacy group UNI Global Union, “These findings confirm what Colombian trade unionists and other champions of democracy and peace in the country already know to their cost: the Duque government and the Colombian authorities are failing to protect working people and safeguard the peace process.”
The report comes as Colombian Congress works to address what activists call an “extermination” of social leaders and human right advocates in the country.
This newest report said the majority of the victims of “anti-union violence were leaders and steering committee members who had been defending human and labor rights.”
At least 337 social leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered since 2016, the year former President Juan Manuel Santos signed a shaky peace with the former guerrilla group FARC. Hundreds more activists, journalists and social leaders have received death threats, often signed by far-right groups.
And those murders have only ticked up since the June election of President Ivan Duque, despite the president’s vow to “search for the perpetrators of the crimes and to bring them to justice.” The promise came after Duque spent months ignoring the mass killings.
As of July, 90 human rights leaders have been murdered this year, according to one report.
The violence is not a new phenomenon in Colombia.
During the Uribe presidency homicides over the past 18 years reached their peak at 199 unionists in 2002. Threats against those groups jumped up in 2008 at 500. Counts of “forced displacements” and “arbitrary detentions” also ran high, ENS data showed.
Over the the past 45 years, ENS has documented 14,771 “violations to life, liberty and integrity against trade unionists.”
But those numbers have plummeted in recent years, only ticking up in 2016 when the FARC laid down their weapons in 2016, leaving a power vacuum in rural areas the guerrillas no longer dwelled.
“The figures bear witness to the stark reality that since the Peace Agreement was signed with FARC in 2016, the number of murders has increased, with the biggest upswing in 2018,” said a release by UNI Global Union.