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EU Must Suspend Colombia Trade Deal Over Killings

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GMB Calls On European Commission To Suspend EU-Colombia Free Trade Agreement As Threats And Killings By Colombian Paramilitaries Persist

Before more of our trade union comrades are killed or maimed, the European Union must uphold obligations in the free trade agreement to respect human rights in Colombia

GMB is calling on the European Commission to suspend the Colombia Free Trade Agreement because of renewed death threats against leaders of our sister union, SINTRAINAGRO, by right-wing paramilitaries in the province of Magdalena.

Respect for human rights constitutes an essential element of the Agreement and a violation of the human right clause entitles the other party to adopt 'appropriate measures', in accordance with international law.

This GMB call comes as Gerardo Iglesias, Latin American Regional Secretary of the International Union of Foodworkers, writes to President Santos of Colombia, demanding that he take action to stem the violence.( See copy of the letter in notes to editors below).

The Colombian Government has failed take action against the right-wing paramilitary group ‘Comando Urbano Los Rastrojos’ which distributed pamphlets saying that it was necessary to “once more fight against those guerrillas who disguise themselves as trade unionists.”

This is the terrorist group which has been responsible for previous murders and this year 9 trade unionists have already been killed in Magdalena, making it the most dangerous region in Colombia for organised labour.

At least 750 members of SINTRAINAGRO, a union of 27,000 people working in bananas, palm oil, sugar, rice and flowers, have been assassinated in past decades, the last of those being Tomas Rodriguez, gunned down in May. 

Bert Schouwenburg, GMB International Officer, said “Across Colombia from January 2013 to May 2014, 26 union members were killed by death squads, according to figures collated by human rights organisations who also recorded 13 intended murders, 149 death threats, 28 kidnappings and 13 arbitrary detentions, all directed against trade unionists. 90% of the victims were union leaders. There have been no arrests and not a single prosecution has been brought by the authorities.

Before more of our trade union comrades are killed or maimed the European Union must insist that the Colombian authorities fulfill their obligations with regard to the respect of human rights in Colombia. The free trade agreement has legitimised a government who, at best, do nothing to curb paramilitary gangsters working hand in glove with anti-union employers or, at worst, actively collaborate with them.

The deal should never have been signed and claims that it would help to stem the violence in Colombia have been shown to have no substance whatsoever. The human rights clause in the agreement must be observed and if the Colombian government is unable or unwilling to do so, it should be suspended immediately.”


Contact:  Kathleen Walker Shaw 07841 181 549/ 00 32 2 2305675 or Bert Schouwenburg 07974 251 764 or GMB press office 07921 289880  

Notes to Editors:

1 The EU signed a free trade agreement with Colombia and Peru which came into force in August 2013.

2. The letter from the IUF is as follows:

Open letter from the International Union of Foodworkers to the President of Colombia

President of the Republic of Colombia,

Dr. Juan Manual Santos Calderón,

Palacio de Gobierno

Re threats to trade unionists in Magdalena

By dint of this letter, we express our indignation about the threats made by the terrorist group, The 'Rastrojos' Urban Commando' against leaders of the Ciénega-Magdalena section of SINTRAINAGRO who are affiliated to our organisation.

Thugs belonging to this organisation distributed pamphlets at the end of September in which they accuse our colleagues of being "guerrillas disguised as trade unionists" and it is well known what this means, especially in Magdalena.

It should be noted that at least 750 SINTRAINAGRO members have been assassinated in the last decades by paramilitary organisations. The last of these was Tomas Rodriguez, a leader who was gunned down in May, in Magdalena.

SINTRAINAGRO and the CUT trade union federation have on repeated occasions denounced the lack of protection for trade unionists who are the subject of these threats. The Union has supported the peace negotiations currently taking place between the government and guerrilla organisations to bring to an end more than 50 years of bloody armed conflict in Colombia but at the same time demands the ceasing of the systematic harassment of the labour movement and the defence of human rights and trade union freedoms.

Mr President, our International Body and its 394 affiliated unions in 126 countries energetically demand of your government that the necessary measures are taken to protect the lives of our members and that a meeting is convened with SINTRAINAGRO to deal with this situation and clear up who is killing trade unionists without fear of prosecution.

Respectfully yours,

Gerardo Iglesias

(Regional Secretary, IUF Latin America)

Montevideo, October 13th, 2014

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