More than 2000 Columbian trade unionists were murdered between January 1991 and December 2006. Some 138 others were the victims of forced disappearance and countless more have been subject to death threats and other intimidation tactics. The security forces and paramilitaries supported by the army are reportedly responsible for the majority of these attacks, although guerilla groups are also implicated.
In most cases, those responsible are never prosecuted and it is estimated that more than 90% of crimes against trade unionists go unpunished. This inertia on the part of the Columbian authorities and judiciary perpetuates the climate of violence and insecurity.
Since the start of this year, no less than 22 trade unionists have been murdered ; this figure represents an increase compared with 2007 in spite of the measures taken by successive governments in an attempt to remedy the situation.
The most recent murder was that of Jesús Heberto Caballero Ariza, a member of the trade union of public employees SINDESENA, who was kidnapped and then found dead on 17 April after having received death threats in the preceding months. His corpse bore signs of torture.
Threats and attacks against trade unionists often coincide with periods of labour conflict. Thus, around the 1st of May, International Workers’ Day, traditionally a time of heightened trade union activity, the threats tend to increase. This year again, on the 22nd and 23rd April, dozens of trade unionists received death threats bearing the signature of two paramilitary groups.
TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER
I would like to inform you of my deep concern about the alarming number of trade union activists murdered in Colombia and the impunity which those responsible for these crimes continue to enjoy.
According to information I received from the human rights organisation ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) in Luxembourg, since the beginning of this year, 22 Columbian trade union activists have been murdered. The most recent murder was that of
Jesús Heberto Caballero Ariza,
member of the trade union SINDESENA, in the department of Atlántico. He had received death threats and after he was kidnapped, his lifeless body was found on the 17th of April bearing signs of torture.
On the 22nd and 23rd April, many other trade union activists received death threats from two paramilitary groups calling themselves Nueva Generación de Águilas Negras de Santander (The New Generation Santander Black Eagles) and Águilas Negras al Rearme (Black Eagles Rearming).
I therefore urge the Columbian authorities to take immediate and decisive action to guarantee the safety of all the threatened trade unionists and to end the de facto impunity which protects those responsible for violence and threats against trade union members and allows the murders and attacks against these indispensable players in civil society to continue.
I thank you for considering my appeal.
Yours sincerely and respectfully.