The Colombian Constitution recognizes the freedom of association as well as the right to strike for all workers–except for members of the armed forces, the national police, and workers providing essential services as determined by the law. Despite progressive legislation related to labor, Colombia has the worst record of threats and violence against unionists – more than the rest of the world combined. Over the past fifteen years, more than 2100 members of trade unions have been assassinated, with an alarming 72 murders in 2006 alone. It is estimated that about 400 unionists have been murdered since President Uribe’s August 2002 inauguration.
In many of these cases, the Colombian army has been implicated. But like several other crimes committed in the country, the majority of these cases have not been prosecuted. The U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project reports that of the 236 trade unionists that were murdered between 2004 and 2006, the government has only achieved convictions in 5 cases. In statements that only serve to further threaten trade unionists, Colombian government officials have accused union leaders of collaborating with the left-wing guerilla forces. More recently, union leaders have received numerous death threats from right-wing paramilitary and re-organized paramilitary groups.
Violence against trade unionists in Colombia, and the rate of impunity in these cases, has resulted in reduced levels of union membership, weakened bargaining efforts and a continual slash in workers benefits. Nonetheless, the union movement in some of Colombia’s labor sectors remains strong. Members of this movement call for international support as they promote protection for labor rights and the human rights of all trade unionists in Colombia.
Afro-Colombian children in the Urabá region gather around the gravesite of a fellow community member. The violence that forced communities to flee, left many dead. Upon return to their land, communities often clear brush from the cemeteries and build new grave markers to honor the dead.
The U.S. Office on Colombia is an independent non-profit organization, not affiliated with any political party, that seeks to educate U.S. policymakers, the media and the U.S. public about the impact of U.S. policy on Colombia.