World » Americas
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Colombia acknowledges the assassination of three labour leaders

The Army had claimed they were rebels killed in a shootout. However, independent prosecutors probed it was all a fake and the unionists were murdered

The Army and the Government had claimed they were rebels and had been killed in a gun battle one month ago. However, independent prosecutors probed that the three Colombian labour leaders were mercilessly assassinated by security forces trained by US commanders.

After Jorge Prieto, Leonel Goyeneche and Hector Alirio Martinez were shot dead in northeast Colombia's Arauca region Aug. 5, the acting commander of the army's U.S.-trained 18th Brigade said the three were Marxist guerrillas who had died in a shootout with the military. This week, the attorney general's office disputed Col. Jairo Roman Mejia's version and issued arrest warrants for three 18th Brigade soldiers for homicide.

Vice President Francisco Santos suggested after the killings that the three union leaders had been involved in rebel activity. On Tuesday, he acknowledged his “error”.

The issue raised more concerns in US top diplomats on the poor human rights record of Colombia, as well as the protests of social activists from all over the world that has been investigating for years the mysterious assassinations of trade unionist all over the country.

According to a study by the International Commission for Labour Rights (ICLR) –a London based NGO- in Colombia it's quicker, cheaper and less risky to kill trade unionists involved in an employment dispute than to use legal civil procedures to solve the disputes.

In 2002 the death toll was 184, in 2003 there were 90 murders. Alongside the murders came countless death threats, kidnappings, torture, arrests, and attempted assassinations.

Colombia’s justice has also played its part in this astonishing reality: “In respect of almost 4,000 murders of trade unionists since 1986, there has been almost 100 percent impunity. There were just five convictions for these murders between 1986 and 2002,” the ICLR report reads. 

In the last week of March 2004, the International Commission for Labour Rights sent a mission of legal experts to Colombia to investigate violations of the right to life and liberty of trade unionists, the crisis of impunity that surrounds these violations and systematic failures in the Colombian justice system that allows the violations to continue.

The ICLR blames the Colombian government of failing “to guarantee the full enjoyment and protection of fundamental rights, (as) the conditions required for the full exercise of Trade Union Freedom do not exist, and accordingly, there is a constant direct and indirect violation of Conventions 87, 98 and 154 by the Colombian Government.

The report also remarks that “the situation, in which trade unionists find themselves in, is extremely concerning as whilst the Colombian Government accepts that they are being targeted, the virtual total impunity, in which the cases of murder remain, means that there is no real deterrent for the perpetrators of the killings.