Labour Party Conference Supports Campaign For Human Rights In Colombia And Qatar
This is an historic opportunity to ensure that the peace process is a fair and balanced one which paves the way for a democratic Colombia with social and economic justice GMB tells Conference
GMB moved the resolution on Global Human Rights which was carried at Labour Party Conference in Manchester on Monday 22nd September 2014.
Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, moving the motion, said, “On human rights I will concentrate on the situation in Colombia. My comrade from UCATT will address the scandals of exploitations of workers in Qatar.
All affiliates care about the treatment of people across the globe. Our movement doesn’t leave it’s conscience at the customs desk wherever in the world we go.
Conference justice for Colombia is the British union movement’s foremost international human rights campaign.
Colombia is a country which has had a war for more that 50 years between the state and the FARC guerrillas, which has claimed many victims.
The state has targeted opposition, accusing them of being terrorists, and paramilitaries have been employed to carry out the worst atrocities. This is a country where thousands of trade unionists have been murdered.
Last week I met Martha a trade union leader who defends local government workers. She had been kidnapped and shot. One of her leading activists was tortured and killed for exposing corruption. First they pulled his nails off, then gouged his eyes out and then burnt him alive.
This is what it can mean to be a political activist in Colombia - a country with 5 million people who have been forced to flee their homes at threat of gunpoint, their land stolen for multinationals: a country where thousands of activists are imprisoned on trumped up charges of rebellion, like union leader Huber Ballesteros: a country with natural wealth beyond our dreams yet it has the highest inequality in Latin America: - a country where tens of thousands of civilians have been murdered or disappeared, some dismembered and dumped in mass graves: a country where in just on region, full of gold and coal, over 4000 children died from hunger in the last 5 years whilst mining companies made huge profits.
Conference the persecution against those who stand up for basic rights has spanned over 50 years and include the torture and murder of not just trade unionists, but human rights activists, journalists, priests, women’s rights campaigners, indigenous activists and the mass genocide of nearly 5,000 members of the main opposition party in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We are honoured to have with us the leader of that party as a guest at conference, Aida Avella. She has survived numerous assassination attempts, the last one, when she had a bazooka fired at her car, forced her into exile for 17 years. This year she returned to Colombia and ran for the opposition in the recent presidential elections.
And in all the murders only 3 per cent have ever been properly investigated or anyone brought to trial.
Despite a PR exercise by the Colombian government saying the situation has improved, 78 human rights activists and 30 trade unionists were assassinated in Colombia last year.
The ray of hope is that peace talks are taking place between President Santos’ administration and the FARC. And our campaign is at the forefront of supporting these talks. But the people of Colombia need international support so that their needs are met as part of the peace talks. They are crying out for social justice, for education, for health, for decent work and for an end to the violent persecution they face for wanting these things.
Conference our movement has a proud tradition of international solidarity. We opposed fascism in Spain, we supported the struggle against apartheid and in Sri Lanka. Our party, the Labour Party, needs to be at the forefront of an international campaign against the violence, murder and injustices in Colombia. Sadly in the past we have not always been on the right side in Colombia, and this is a chance to be on the right side of history, to support the people of Colombia. This is an historic opportunity for our party to lead the international community to ensure that the peace process is a fair and balanced one which paves the way for a democratic Colombia with social and economic justice.
Colombia people need Britain’s support not military advisers.
Our principles are not left in storage when it comes to global human rights.
We know we want a better Britain but we have always, in this movement, wanted a better world as well.
Let the Colombia people know we are watching and speaking up against human right violations in Colombia.”
Contact: Bert Schouwenburg GMB International Officer 07974 251764 or Kathleen Walker Shaw 07841 181549 or GMB press office 07921 289880 or 07974 251 823
Notes to Editors
Copy of resolution on Global Human Rights carried at Labour Party Conference in Manchester
Composite 1 - Global Human Rights
Conference notes that respect for human rights are an essential element of democracy which countries should promote and defend. Conference is appalled by the abuse of worker’s rights and the persecution of those promoting labour rights, including trade unionists, around the world.
Conference notes with concern the arrest of two British human rights workers in Qatar on 1st September 2014, after interviewing migrant Nepalese construction workers about conditions in labour camps. Whilst they were subsequently released on 10th September, there are fears for others working to expose human rights abuses in the country.
Amnesty International has criticised Qatar for holding detainees for months without charge or trial. Despite being the richest country in the world per capita income, workers' rights abuses in Qatar are commonplace.
The 1.4 million migrant workers, building and supporting the infrastructure for FIFA's 2022 World Cup, live in overcrowded, insanitary camps, with construction workers earning £4.80 a day and cleaning staff £4.50. Salaries go unpaid; passports are routinely confiscated. Labour believes the abuses perpetuated against migrant workers in Qatar and the Kafala system of sponsored employment is abhorrent.
Over 1,000 construction workers have died so far in the extreme heat and unsafe conditions.
Conference calls for:
· Qatari authorities to adopt ILO conventions of Freedom of Association and ensure migrant workers are covered by the standards contained in Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Workers’ Charter.
· the Labour Party to expose those companies benefiting from labour exploitation in Qatar;
· DFID to start negotiations with the migrant workers' countries of origin, including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, who are all recipients of ODA money, to tackle the recruitment agencies that exploit by promising jobs and salaries that don't materialise and charge high fees for arranging employment and visas.
Conference welcomes the historic meetings of August 16th and September 10th between the Colombian Government, the FARC and victims of the conflict, and recognises this momentous move - giving victims an active role in the Colombian peace process.
Conference further welcomes the continued progress of the peace talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC and their continued commitment to the talks. Conference recognises the brave work of civil society organisations supporting the peace process, despite opposition to the talks from certain sectors of Colombian society.
Conference condemns, however, that members of civil society organisations continue to face death threats, imprisonment, such as trade union leader Huber Ballesteros, and assassinations, with impunity still dominating in the majority of cases.
Conference deplores the recent murder of union leader, Edith Santos, in Colombia and that members of civil society organisations continue to face death threats, imprisonment, such as trade union leader Huber Ballesteros, and assassinations, with impunity still dominating in the majority of cases.
Last year saw the highest number of human rights defenders killed for a decade whilst the Patriotic March, Colombia's largest civil society organisation, has had over fifty members killed since its founding.
Conference calls for:
· an immediate end to all persecution of trade unionists, activists and other human rights defenders in Colombia;
· Britain to urge the Colombian Government to ensure that crimes committed against civil society activists are investigated fully and imprisoned trade unionists and other civil society activists not responsible are freed;
· the Labour Party to support a non-partisan peace process with civil society involvement;
· the Labour Party to encourage the parties to the conflict to agree to a bilateral ceasefire.
· Conference believes Britain should be improving assistance to Colombia with support focused on human rights and a successful peace process.
Labour will continue to support the work of the trade unions' campaign: "Justice for Colombia".