Unions Protection: CUT’s Proposal to the Minister of Interior

CUT’s [1] Proposal to the Minister of  Interior
(Translated by Emily Hansen, a CSN volunteer translator)
Bogotá, May 27th, 2009
Dr. Fabio Valencia Cossio
Ministry of the Interior and of Justice
Rafael Bustamante
Human Rights Director
Ministry of the Interior and of Justice
Bogotá D.C.
Cordial greetings,
The situation of violence against the unionist movement continues, and becomes more defined with its broad range of human rights violations that include homicides, arbitrary detentions, tortures, forced disappearances, and threats.  The registered human rights violations against the unionists in 2008 numbered 547, which constitutes a 20% increase over the 441 violations registered in 2007.  The number of homicides rose from 39 in 2007 to 49 in 2008.  
Colombia is currently the leading country in the world in terms of union members assassinations.  Since 1986, 2712 directors and affiliated unionists have been assassinated, with an impunity record of 95.6%.  There is a 100% impunity rate for the 193 disappearances.  
Concerning threats, regardless of the promises on the part of the Colombia government of better protection of the unionist movement, in 2008, the unionists received 251 death threats, which constitutes a 97.1% increase over the previous year.  
These quantitative references are a simple reflection of the dramatic and growing situation of human rights violations against the unionists that now demands that the State fulfill its constitutional obligation to guarantee fundamental rights, such as the right to unionists’ freedoms who are now being threatened and to enjoy a dignified and respected life.
The existence of systematic anti-union violence and the pressure by the unions forced the government to establish a Unions Protection Program in 1997 run by the State that protected the constitutional rights of the unions. This program made possible the existence of the following laws:
Article 6 of Law 199 of 1995, Order 372 of 1996, Law 418 of 1997, extended by Law 549 of 1999 and the judicial framework that establishes the mechanisms of protection of the population involved international and internal conflicts, specifically of the unions when they seek to prevent the physical elimination of their leaders and defend the rights of association, and the demands of the workers of the framework of implicit economic, social and cultural rights in the universal declaration of human rights, gave life to the unions protection program headed by the Ministry of the Interior and Justice and that facilitated the creation of CRER[2]  , a program that was previously extended to the most diverse victimized populations.  This protection program suggests an agreement between the victimized organizations and the national government through international compromises with the ONU[3]  , the CIDH[4] and the OIT[5]  .  As a result, any intervention that modifies the unions program should be in accordance with the previous discussion the CUT – the organization which has suffered 85% of the unions human rights violations in 2008, and is the most victimized union organization, should be consulted.
The government has unilaterally modified the conditions of protection for the social and union leaders.  Such is the case with the legal changes under which the DAS[6]  , which once operated the transportation and escort security program, would no longer be able to offer this service. These changes enacted by the government also caused the hiring of escort services to be marginalized and given over to the private vigilance company VISE[7]  , a process which is gradually being applied to other parts of the program.  We have publicly reiterated that we reject these changes because it presents the rupture of the constitutional responsibility that the Colombian government has in guaranteeing the protection of the unions and their leaders. Moreover, it begins a process of marginalization of the work and privatization of the functions of the State, and augments the level of risk in a country in which its internal conflict is maintained, and causes conditions of extreme vulnerability for the civil population.  Due to the above considerations, we propose that the government begins a process of negotiation and compromise that seeks to define alternatives that are in agreement with the conditions that gave rise to the unions program, and that acknowledges a range of definitions of victimized organizations, such as we have proposed in the past to the International Commission of Human Rights on March 23, 2009 in Washington.
We hereby make official our proposal and make explicit the fundamental criterion that, in our opinion, should include a mechanism that integrally responds to our protection needs.
1.    A government responsible for guaranteeing the protection of the unionist movement
2.    The implementation of the union protection program through the Ministry of Interior and of the CRER Union, and through an inter-institutional agreement with the National Police that would create an office that would administer the lending of security services.
3.    The hiring of escort personnel that are currently providing their services to those protected by the union program, with an indefinite contract with salary and benefit guarantees appropriate for the responsibility of the escort service.
4.    The new mechanism should make it possible for the union leaders and their organizations to suggest people they trust to be hired as escorts, assuming they fulfill the legal requirements.
5.    The agreement of the new mechanism and methods that the union protection program assumes should the approved by the following observers: la Procuraduria, the Public Defense and the following international organizations: ONU, CIDH and OIT
After working on and discussing our proposal, we solicit an audience with the Minister of the Interior and Justice, and Dr. Fabio Valencia Cossio, and we hereby put forward the definition of a concerted effort that gives solution to this delicate situation.  
LUIS ALBERTO VANEGAS, Director Human Rights
BORIS MONTES DE OCA, Director Labor Relations

[1]   CUT: Central Unitaria de Trabajadores: Central Workers Union

[2]   Comision de Reconciliacion y Reparacion: Reconciliation and Reparations Commision

[3]  Organizacion de las Naciones Unidas: The United Nations

[4]  Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos: The International Human Rights Commission.

[5]  Organization Internacional de Trabajo: International Labor Organization

[6]  DAS :Essentially the FBI equivalent in Colombia

[7] VISE : A private security company

Colombia Support Network
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phone:  (608) 257-8753
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e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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