U.S. Cannot Certify a Country that Tolerates Murder
“persons historically discriminated or that have been subjected to vulnerable situations, such as women, human rights defenders and children.”In addition to the union activists slain last year, a record 49 human rights defenders were killed. And the United Nations recently reported that more than 250,000 Colombian children and teachers have been violently displaced over the past several years. This week, five members of Congress wrote the Colombian labor minister to ask specific questions about the progress the country has made in meeting its obligations under the Labor Action Plan. The group – U.S. Reps. George Miller, D-Calif.; Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine; Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn.; James P. McGovern, D-Mass., and Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, D-Ga. – asked about specific abuses and progress in prosecutions. For example, the letter says 450 workers in Turbo tried to form a labor union but at least 70 workers in the banana and plantain sector were fired. It asks if the government has investigated whether this violated the terms of the agreement. Similarly, the letter says a Union Sindical Obrero (USO) strike at Pacific Rubiales Energy was broken “after the labor encampment was raided, and armed government forces assisted the company in blockading roads.” It adds that more than 1,000 workers affiliated with the USO were fired and “many were reportedly driven out of the labor camps at gunpoint.” And, finally, the letter points out that under the terms of the Labor Action Plan, Colombia was to increase the number of officers investigating murders of trade unionists and the number of prosecutors, then states:
“Yet, there appears to be little in the way of progress in these cases, and trade unionists continue to be threatened and murdered.”And it asks the crucial question:
“How many union murder convictions have there been since this time last year?”The question of whether Trayvon Martin’s killer would be prosecuted was the subject of countless talk shows here in the United States, of innumerable water cooler discussions and of untold numbers of family discussions. That’s just one tragic killing. In Colombia, the unprosecuted backlog is hundreds. In Colombia, unionists and human rights activists remain at risk. In Colombia, paramilitary groups continue to murder activists at unconscionable rates, rates that would be front page news every day in the United States. We cannot certify as compliant with the Labor Action Plan a blacklisted country that continues to countenance murder. That would violate everything good and moral that we stand for as a people.
Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger