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Colombian Trade Unions Report to the 91st International Labour Conference - Executive summary
Colombian Trade Unions 1 Report to the 91 st International Labour Conference English Version Executive Summary 21. Colombia continues to be a country where being affiliated to a trade union, holding an official position in an workers organisation or simply defending better and fairer labour conditions can be dangerous activities, entailing risks for the life and physical integrity of those involved. The escalation of the internal armed conflict and the recently enacted anti- terrorist laws (among them the declaration of the state of emergency) have increased the levels of tension facing trade unionists.2. The Colombian state has not modified those pieces of legislation and practices which were in clear contradiction with ratified ILO Conventions (most spec ially Conventions 87,98, 151 and 154). Furthermore, it has enacted new laws (Law 789 of 2002, Law 796 of 2003 ) which would stress the huge disparities between domestic regulations and international labour regulations, while aggravating the situation of social and economic crisis that is currently enduring the country3. Critical factors for the normal development of labour relations are being threatened. The right to collective bargaining, acknowledged in the Constitution of Colombia, is being violated by employers interference in the negotiation process and diverse forms of pressure such as presenting contrary offers or offering benefits to those workers that abandon the negotiating trade union while Colombian state authorities acquiescence in front of these irregular practices which seriously distort dialogue dynamics.4. The Colombian state does not allow public sector workers the right to collective bargaining, in clear breach of Conventions No. 151 and 154. Even if Convention 151 has been formally incorporated to the domestic legal framework, neither the Government or the judiciary have supported its implementation.5. The Government has argued that neither conventions can be implemented without accessory regulation. This is disputable as these are conventions that can be implemented directly, it should be noticed that in any case the responsibility to enact new and necessary legislation falls upon the state. The Colombian government is presenting its own inaction as a reason not to honour the con ventions which is contradictory to the general principles of law. This complaint had already been presented by the workers group in the previous session of the Conference but the government has not taken any measure to correct the situation.6. The workers group has repeatedly referred to the existing factual and legal obstacles for a free exercise of the right to strike in Colombia without the Colombian state having taken any effective measure to remove them. Numerous recommendations by ILO organs such as the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and the Committee on Freedom of Association on this sense. The Colombian Constitutional Court has required the government to enact new legislation in order to fill the legal vacuum1 This report has been produced by the Unified Workers Command (CUT), General Confederation of Democratic Workers (CGTD) andthe Colombian Workers Command (CTC) with the support of the Colombian Commission of Jurist (CCJ), organisation with consultativestatus before the United Nations Econ omic and Social Council. A full version with 4 attachments with cases and statistics on the right tolife and other attacks against workers rights is available in Spanish.2 Includes statistics on the right to life and other attacks against workers.
regarding what can be considered as an essential public service (where the right to strike would be limited by law) without any effect.7. Government officials have publicly accused trade unions activities to be responsible for the economic crisis affecting the Colombian state. Organised workers conventional achievements and acquired rights are presented to public opinion as unacceptable privileges in a country with so high unemployment rates as Colombia. Recently, some government officials have aggravated this climate of defamation by accusing some trade unionist to be linked with rebel armed groups, further endangering their safety and security.8. The human rights situation of trade unionists in Colombia has been gradually and seriously worsening between June 2002 and May 2003. The ILO Organs of Control have been informed about the events and repeatedly expressed concern while calling upon the Colombian Government to adopt measures and take steps in order to overcome the ongoing climate of fear and intimidation. st th9. Between June 1 2002 and May 5 2003, 293 trade unionist had been victims of violations to the right to life, physical integrity and personal freedom due to political violence. 121 were victims of homicide (in one case, the victim’s body was found showing signs of torture). 5 were forcibly disappeared. 11 were victims of excessive use of force by public order officials. 11 suffered attacks against their physical integrity, 6 of them resulting injured. 93 received death threats. 31 were arbitrarily detained and 21 were kidnapped. 31 (25.20%) of the deaths have been attributed to State agents either directly or indirectly due to their omission, tolerance, acquiescence or support to violations committed by paramilitary groups. Guerrilla groups were attributed 6 (4.44%) of the deaths. In 89 out of 126 reported violations to the right to life (68,99%), there is no information about the generic authors. Nevertheless, circumstances surrounding those cases lead to the conclusion that those deaths were related to socio-political violence.10. The Colombian government declares that human rights violations suffered by trade unionists in Colombia are a consequence of the general climate of violence that is affecting all sectors of the Colombian society. However, the fact the high number of reported cases and that in some cases violence is being specially focused against trade union leaders relatives and workers organisations members which are participating in processes of collective bargaining, might indicate that violations against trade unionists are directly linked to the 3 development of their institutional activities . Impunity remains to be a serious factor in the human rights crisis in Colombia. Most of the cases involving human rights violations against trade unionist remain unsolved and those responsible unpunished.11. Despite cooperation and assistance efforts deployed by the International Labour Office (through the missions of direct contacts, the designation of an special representative of the Director General and other measures not yet implemented) the situation has not only not shown any sign of improvement but has further deteriorated.12. Violations and breaches to Conventions Number 87 and 98 are serious and persistent. Conditions are met for the ILO’s administrative Council to take measures according to the3 The cases of the Union Sindical Obrera (USO), the trade union at the State oil company ECOPETROL and of the Sindicato deTrabajadores del Municipio de Cali (SINTRAEMCALI), the trade union at the municipality of Cali constitute clear examples of violencebein g intentionally focused on members of trade unions and workers organizations due to their activities.
gravity of the situation. A proposal for a Commission of Inquiry in Colombia has been presented by the Committee on Freedom of Association. The workers group has expressed its support for the constitution of a Commission of Enquiry and Conciliation on freedom of association.13. Within the framework of the technical assistance to Colombia two missions of direct contact were undertaken, issuing specific recommendations for the Colombian government. Due to the lack of acknowledgement by the Government to these recommendations (together with the lack of reaction to any other previous recommendations by ILO organs) it was designated an Special Representative of the Director General for Colombia who delivered three reports to the Administration Council during its mandate analysing the most important factors contributing to the human rights crisis in Colombia and its impact on trade unionists activities. As a conclusion a vast cooperation program consisting in six separate components was designed.14. The program has never been fully implemented. The six components were reduced to three, depending on a limited budget entirely provided by ILO which does not guarantee the realization of the other components of the program. Neither the Colombian government nor Colombian entrepreneurs have showed any real engagement with the program15. It should be noticed that some ILO documents refer to some projects such as US-DOL and COL/95 as being part of the Colombia Program when these are actually projects being developed autonomously. As regards the designation of a General Co-ordinator of the Colombia Program it should be a person located in Colombia and endorsed by the three ILO institutional components.RecommendationsFor what has been exposed above, we strongly recommend:1. To urge the Colombian state to apply, directly and immediately, ILO conventions ratified by Colombia in accordance with numerous recommendations issued by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. Especially to implement without delay Conventions 151 and 154 ratified by laws 411 of 1997 and 524 of 1999, respectively.2. To Demand from the Colombian state to fulfil of the numerous recommendations of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations to assign the competence to declare the legality of a given strike to the labour justice, putting to an end to the competence of the Social Protection Ministry (organ of the executive power) to do so.3. To Urge the Colombian state to abstain from advancing constitutional and legal reforms which would violate its international obligations and aggravate the social crisis which is directly affecting workers’ quality of life.4. To call upon the Colombian state to completely fulfil the recommendations of ILO organs, specially those contained in the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Association which 4 were endorsed by the Administration Council in its March 2003 , and other UN bodies such as those mentioned in report of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and those expressed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.4 session see report GB 286/11 (Part 1) Paragraph 506
5. To exhort the Colombian state to strengthen the protection programme for trade unionists under the responsibility of the Interior Ministry. In this sense, to require the Colombian government to develop effective policies of protection of Colombian trade unionists’ lives and physical integrity, following the recommendations issued by the Committee on Freedom of Association. The International Labour Conference had also exhorted the Colombian government to urgently take measures regarding the same issue.6. To require the Colombian state to strengthen the national Inter -institutional commission for the promotion and protection of workers’ human rights, providing the necessary resources for its functioning and showing political will to undertake effective measures in order to develop the working plan that the Commission approved for 2003.7. To require th e Colombian state to take measures in order to remove from their current positions those public officials and civil servants against which there is serious evidences of links with paramilitary groups. This recommendation has been repeatedly issued by several international bodies and institutions that have recommended to the Colombian state to take effective measures in order to obtain specific results in this domain.8. To urge the Colombian state to adopt effective measures to reduce the high impunity rates, ensuring sanction for those responsible, integral reparation of victims and their families and the establishment of mechanisms in order to avoid new acts of violence against Colombian trade unionists, as has been set out in international recommendatio ns.9. To recall to the Colombian government that international law does not accept the concession of amnesties and pardons which would prevent the victims from knowing the truth, obtain justice and receive due reparation for the violation they endured. In this sense, it is important to urge the Colombian government to derogate those measures that permit the granting of pardons and amnesties to those that lay down their weapons, without judicial intervention and ignoring the rights of those affected by acts of violence, intimidation and persecution.10. To urge the Colombian that all measures adopted to combat terrorism be framed within Resolution No. 57/219 “Protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering th terrorism” adopted on December 18 2002 by the United Nations General Assembly as well as by recommendations contained in the Inter-American Convention against terrorism approved on June 2002 by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States.