Thirty-four trade union leaders were murdered in Colombia last year, twice as many as in 2017, according to Fórsa General Secretary Eoin Ronayne.
Speaking at the ICTU biennial delegate conference last week, he said over 19 social leaders had been assassinated since the country’s new right wing president Iván Duque was elected last August, and almost 600 had been killed since a peace accord was reached in 2016.
Eoin was a member of the Justice For Colombia (JFC) ‘peace monitor mission’ to the South American country earlier this year, an initiative jointly funded by Irish and British trade unions. Fórsa’s incoming senior general secretary Kevin Callinan, who has been on previous missions, will lead a JFC delegation to the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee later this week.
Eoin said there were fears that President Duque would falter in the implementation of the 2016 peace deal, and explained that the monitor mission existed to observe the implementation of the agreement and the broader human rights situation in a country where land and wealth is held by a tiny number of people.
“In Colombia being a social leader or a trade union activist means your life is in real danger. While the former guerrilla group FARC has decommissioned its weapons, the smaller leftist ELN and the notorious right-wing paramilitary death squads continue to operate,” he said.
Fórsa contributes finances to JFC from its developing world fund, which is made up of 3% of all membership subscriptions.
Eoin compared the Colombian peace accord to the Good Friday Agreement. “It has the potential to bring about huge social, economic and political change. Land ownership, the expansion of mining operations at the expense of the rainforest and farming land, basic workers’ rights and reincorporation of 13,000 FARC fighters are some of the major issues at play,” he said.
Despite the country’s appalling human rights record, its government is sensitive to international pressure because the economy is heavily dependent on external investment.
The mission met with the Colombian equivalent of ICTU, senior officials of the two UN missions in the country, a wide range of social leaders, the FARC leadership, the ambassadors of the two peace deal guarantor countries, the British and Irish ambassadors, and opposition political representatives.
Find out more about Justice for Colombia HERE.