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Colombian Killings: 63 Trade Unionists Murdered Since January

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10 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 38/2001

The UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) should send a special Commission of Enquiry to Colombia without delay to investigate the widespread murder and abduction of trade unionists there.

That is the call today from global unions representing more than 160 million workers worldwide.

In an unusual move, the labour proposal was issued jointly by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and all of the global unions' sector-by-sector International Trade Secretariats, including the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

This underlines global labour's deep concern over the rising tide of violence in Colombia. Trade unionists there are among the most frequent targets for assassination - mainly by right-wing death squads, and sometimes also by guerrilla movements. At least 129 Colombian trade unionists were murdered in 2000, and up to now, at least 63 more have been assassinated this year. Others have "disappeared". Trade unionists and their families face constant threats and intimidation.

Within the ILO, the world's governments, unions and employers meet on equal terms. They adopt international standards on, amongst other things, the protection of trade union rights. The ILO's annual conference is currently in session in Geneva.

Addressing its plenary this afternoon, ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan will call on government and employer delegates to support the global unions' proposal for an enquiry on Colombia.

If a special Commission of Inquiry finds persistent abuse of labour rights in a country, the ILO can ultimately call for the international community to take measures against the government concerned. This has recently happened in the case of Burma, over its systematic use of forced labour.

The ILO commission should investigate all aspects of trade union rights in Colombia, the global unions say. It should establish who is to blame - both directly and indirectly - for the killings, abductions and threats against trade unionists. It should also gauge the overall social effects of these anti-union activities in a country where the trade unions are among the few remaining forces for peace and reconciliation.

And it should examine closely why the Colombian government has not been taking adequate measures to guarantee the security of trade unionists, in line with ILO standards and the recommendations repeatedly made by the United Nations. A report this March by the Office on Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that the State had not decisively assumed its responsibility to guarantee the safety of trade unions and other sectors particularly at risk.

Similarly, the unions say, employers in Colombia should be taking proper steps to ensure that trade unionists are safe from attack in the workplace and on the way to and from work.

The global unions' proposal will now be examined by the ILO Governing Body. Other organisations that have called for an ILO Commission of Inquiry on Colombia include Amnesty International and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Colombia.