Colombia: Campaign Launched to Combat Death Threats Against Trade Unionists

published 2 November 2020 updated 16 July 2024

Renewed death threats against education union leaders in Colombia have prompted a global support and solidarity campaign in protest against the continued repression and deaths, which now number more than 6,000.

In a statement released today, 2 October, Education International (EI) called on its members and the global education community to express their outrage at the new death threats received by members of the Executive Committee of the Federación Colombiana de Educadores (FECODE).

New Threats

On 26 October, death threats were made against to all fifteen members of the Executive Committee of FECODE, as well as Diógenes Orjuela, president of the Confederación Sindical CUT and a former professor and leader of FECODE. The threats took the form of a funeral wreath with the words "Rest in Peace". Sixteen candles and obituaries with the name of each of the threatened union leaders were also delivered to the home of Carlos Rivas, Secretary of Legal Affairs for FECODE.

Repression of Union Activists and Defence of Education

The threats follow union-led nationwide efforts to address the country's social, health, educational and economic crisis. FECODE leads initiatives to defend public education and democracy and to promote schools as zones of peace by fostering inter-community dialogue. The teachers' union also remains firmly committed to the full implementation of the Peace Agreement.

Neoliberal Measures

Government measures to increase labour market flexibility, reduce the scope of collective bargaining and impose limits on the right to strike have been accompanied by a systematic campaign of defamation and hatred on social networks aimed at FECODE in an attempt to silence teachers and their unions.

Over 6,000 Deaths

According to a new report published by FECODE and the Escuela Nacional Sindical there were 6,119 violations of the right to life, physical integrity and freedom of education unionists in Colombia between 1986 and 2016. These include 990 murders, 78 forced disappearances and 49 attempted murders, in addition to over 3,000 threats and more than 1,500 forced displacements.

International Solidarity

A campaign to raise awareness and show solidarity has been set up on Labourstart and can be accessed here.

EI and its Regional Committee for Latin America have expressed serious concern over the chronic lack of safety measures for teachers and trade unionists in Colombia. They have submitted official letters to Colombian president Iván Duque demanding immediate protection for all members of the FECODE Executive Committee, noting that more than 1,000 teachers and trade unionists have been killed in Colombia in the last 25 years.

EI has also alerted UN agencies, including the ILO, UNESCO and the UN Commission on Human Rights, and has relayed detailed information on the situation to the wider trade union and human rights community.