Trade unions in Europe and in Colombia are speaking out against a new free trade agreement charging that it provides political support to a regime in Colombia that is deeply implicated in gross violations of human rights and labour standards.
The EU’s deal with Colombia was announced last month, after nine rounds of negotiations.
The text of the agreement has not been publicly released, but EU negotiators say it includes a clause that provides for the possibility of taking action if there is a repeated violation of human rights or a “sudden interruption of democracy”.
Despite these provisions, in a meeting with the EC Trade Commissioner earlier this month, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) continued to express concerns that the Uribe regime has not done enough to stem human rights abuses and in particular the targeting of trade unions.
Trade unions in the EU and in Colombia say the country remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, as more than a thousand union leaders and members have been killed by paramilitaries and the Colombian army and police over the last decade.
A report prepared last year for Education International by Dr. Mario Novelli of the University of Amsterdam, reveals that teacher unionists have been the most frequent target of the paramilitary death squads.
Since 1991, 871 teachers have been killed in Colombia, more than 3,000 have been threatened, over 1,000 have been displaced internally, 70 have been forced to leave the country with their families, and 60 have disappeared.
In just the first three months of 2010, 10 teachers have been killed and 247 threatened.
“The violation of the political and civil rights of educators in Colombia by state and state-supported paramilitary organisations is carried out precisely with the intention of silencing the very organisations and individuals that are actively defending the economic, social and cultural rights of their members and the broader Colombian society,” Novelli concluded in his report for EI.
Monique Fouilhoux, EI's Deputy General Secretary, said it is “unconscionable that the EU would contemplate signing a deal with a regime that has continually turned a blind eye to the most serious violations of basic human rights”.
The Colombian trade union movement is appealing for solidarity to ensure that the proposed EU-Colombia free trade agreement is blocked by the European Parliament.
In March, the EI pan-European Committee requested EI and teacher organizations to campaign against the proposed free trade agreement with Colombia and to raise awareness of the struggle of the Colombian trade union movement.
Teacher organisations including the GEW in Germany and NASUWT in the United Kingdom have already alerted their Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Members of the European Parliament about the contradiction between the EU’s trade and foreign development policies.