Reasons behind assassinations of thousands of Colombian union leaders no murder mystery
For trade union leaders in Colombia, it´s clear that democracy kills.
For those who wish to get away with murder – like those who gunned down Ever Luis Marin Rolong last Saturday – there are fewer safer bets than killing a trade union leader in Colombia.
The South American nation has long been considered the most dangerous place on the planet to be a trade union leader. Only about five per cent of assassination result in convictions.
What prompts these murders and what needs to be done to prevent these murders really is not a mystery at all.
Political or social activism is the most common denominator in the deaths of thousands of assassinated union leaders, according to an exhaustive study by authors León Valencia and Juan Carlos Celis Ospina.
“The case studies and an overview of the numbers of murders and assaults allowed us to see that over the 25 years covered by the investigation, the unions that bore the brunt of victimization were the most active in the political struggle, Valencia and Celis Ospina wrote in Sindicalismo Asesinado, their investigation of 25 years of violence against Colombian labour leaders.
They found that union leaders whose work included organizing marches or protests for political and social change were the most likely to be threatened, attacked, forcibly disappeared and murdered.
Their grim investigation included 2,870 assassinations, 283 attacks, 210 disappearances, 658 forced detentions, 169 kidnappings and 89 cases of torture of Colombian union leaders from 1977 to 2011.
Even supposed peace agreements meant to end Colombia´s half century of conflict with FARC guerrillas have resulted in many deaths of trade union leaders. The 1984 agreement that created the political party the Unión Patriótica was meant to provide a political outlet for guerrillas so they might attempt social and political change through politics, rather than armed struggle also attracted many union leaders.
It resulted in a campaign of political genocide which claimed two presidential candidates and thousands of party members, including many trade union activists.
To halt the epidemic of violence against union leaders the government needs to go beyond simple protection, though that is obviously needed in the short-term.
“The main action must be in the field of democracy,” the authors wrote. They argued the officials who permit murders and other human rights abuses must face social and political sanctions if they do not do their duty and uphold the Colombian Constitution which purportedly guarantees rights to political participation and participation in union activities.
The authors concluded that the “Colombian state is responsible for the victimization of trade unionism” for three reasons.
They said the government has allowed public servants to take part in criminal conspiracies that led to thousands of deaths, they have contributed to the environment where it is considered acceptable to kill people who support trade union rights and left-of-centre policies and the state has allowed the near absolute impunity which exists for those who murder trade union leaders.
The murder of Marin last Saturday (Jan. 4) was the first murder of a trade union leader in Colombia this years.
Last year 28 labour leaders were assassinated in Colombia. That was an increase from 2012 when 23 were murdered.
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