The brutal cycle of violence against teacher trade unionists in Colombia continues.
Particularly shocking was the killing of two teacher trade unionists within a five-day period last November. Education International expressed outrage at the brutal murders of Leonidas Silva Castro and Mercedes Consuelo Restrepo Campo, who were assassinated on 2 and 7 November 2007 respectively. Silva Castro was murdered in his home in the Barrio Prados del Norte neighbourhood in the town of Villacaro. Silva Castro, an active member of ASINORT, an affiliate of FECODE, had just come home from a trade union event. Only five days later, Restrepo Campo was shot dead outside San Juan Bosco school in the town of Cartago. She was the victim of a drive-by shooting by two armed men on a motorcycle. Restrepo Campo, a teacher for 30 years, served on the executive board of SUTEV, a regional affiliate of EI member FECODE, in the department of Valle de Cauca. Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. A shocking 310 teachers were murdered in Colombia between 2000 and 2006, according to Education Under Attack, a UNESCO report published in 2007. At least 33 teacher trade unionists were killed in 2006 alone, according to the Colombian Human Rights Commission. The EI Barometer of Human and Trade Union Rights found that violence against Colombian trade unionists is endemic. Union leaders are targets of attacks by armed groups for political reasons. Teachers, who make up almost one-third of the organised work force, are especially targeted. They are often killed because their education makes them stand out from the population. Many become civic leaders and this also puts them at risk. Targeting of teachers is becoming a matter of national concern because it is more and more difficult to find teachers willing to work in parts of the country where there is active conflict. Those who do take up posts in unstable areas often end up fleeing. "It is a vicious circle," said Julio Roberto Meier, the representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Colombia. "Teachers are forced to displace because of the internal armed conflict, but the absence of a teacher makes the children even more vulnerable and perpetuates the cycle of underdevelopment and violence." EI strongly condemns these assassinations and calls on the government of Colombia to bring those responsible to justice.
This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 25, February/March 2008.