Educators Bear the Brunt of “Shocking” Level of Political Violence in Colombia

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

PARIS, France – Education International, a global union federation, released a report today finding that Colombian teachers face the highest rates of political violence against teachers in the world. The detailed report, entitled Colombia’s Classroom Wars details incidences of murder, disappearances, torture, death threats, forced displacement, arbitrary detention, and other violations of human rights..

The Colombian National Trade Union School reported that 816 Colombian trade unionists were killed between 1999 and 2005. That represents more than half of the 1,175 trade unionists killed during that period worldwide. The Education International report points out that many violations go unreported because the environment is so politicized and dangerous. As a result, the estimates of human rights violations are thought to be conservative.

Over half of the trade unionists murdered in Colombia are teachers. Teachers working in rural areas are seen as community leaders, which can bring them into conflict with powerful local, national, and international interests. For example, teachers in Arauca, an oil-rich region, campaigned for multinational oil companies to finance social investment.

The report finds that political violence disproportionately affects teachers in Colombia because they represent the majority of unionization in the country. Findings of the report indicate that due to repression, and the massive growth in the informal sector, trade union representation is extremely low in Colombia. The majority of state employees are unionized and the biggest trade union in Colombia is the FECODE – the National Teacher’s Federation. FEDCODE has a strong presence and leadership in the Colombian Labor Federation.

Education International attributes the majority of the assassinations to right-wing paramilitary organizations with links to the Colombian state. People responsible for the assassinations “committed their crimes with impunity.” Dr. Mario Novelli, of the University of Amsterdam prepared the report and will present it at a UNESCO – sponsored seminar today in Paris. Dr. Novelli argues that “the violation of the political and civil rights of educators in Colombia by state and state-supported paramilitary organizations is carried out precisely with the intention of silencing the very organizations and individuals that are actively defending the economic, social, and cultural rights of their members and the broader Colombian society.”

Colombian labor union leaders spoke at the ALF-CIO meeting in Pittsburgh earlier this month. They expressly stated that the government and employers are responsible for violence against unionized workers. They argued that violence against unions rises to the level of governmental policy, saying that the government “uses its own agencies to murder trade unionists.”

Two U.S. corporations have been accused of being involved in anti-union “death squads.” The Organization of American States said that 3,000 automatic weapons and 2.5 million bullets were shipped through Chiquita Brands International’s private port and picked up by death squad operatives. Drummond Coal executives are currently being investigated for allegedly conspiring with paramilitaries to kill three union activists. Trade unionists in Colombia are hoping that violence against trade unions will be considered as the United States and Canada negotiate a Colombian Free Trade Agreement.

Dr. Novelli traces the violence to “a highly unequal development model favoring a small minority of wealthy elites at the expense of the vast majority of the population.” Novelli and Education International are urging the international community and labor movements around the world to call on governments to hold Colombia accountable for crimes; to stop giving financial support to the Colombian military; and to prioritize improvement of human rights in Colombia over the interests of foreign-based corporations.

For more information, please see:

Agencia Latinoamericana de Información – Colombian Teachers Face Highest Rate of Political Violence – 29 September 2009

Education International – Colombian Teachers Face Highest Rate of Political Violence – 29 September 2009

People’s Weekly World – Trade Unions to Colombia: Stop Murdering Labor Activists – 24 September 2009

Author: Impunity Watch Archive

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