June 14, 2006

Colombia leads the world in union murders: report

By Amanda Beck

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More trade union members are killed
in Colombia each year than in the rest of the world combined, a
U.S.-based global labor advocacy group said in a report to be
released on Thursday.

The report by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center chronicles a
number of obstacles faced by Colombian workers, including
workplace discrimination, child labor and forced labor, and is
being released just as the United States and Colombia prepare
to finalize a free trade agreement.

Some of the problems occur in other countries, but the
report concludes that the level of violence and assassination
is unique to Colombia: about 4,000 union leaders, members and
activists have been murdered in the country since the

Most of the murders can be directly linked to the victim's
participation in a labor dispute but are rarely investigated,
it adds. For example, of the thousands of union-related murders
committed between 1986 and 2002, police conducted only 376
criminal inquiries, and courts returned only five guilty

"These deadly threats represent attempts by employers ...
to stop dissent, silence workers and destroy the only mechanism
that gives workers some control over their economic lives,"
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney writes in the forward to the
report, titled "The Struggle for Worker Rights in Colombia."

More than 865,000 Colombians are members of 2,357
registered unions, which are strongest in the education, health
care, mining and petroleum industries and the public sector.

Historically, the United States has been Colombia's largest
trading partner. The two nations recorded $14.3 billion in
two-way trade in 2005, and Colombia was the second-largest U.S.
agricultural market in Latin America.

The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center is a Washington-based
nonprofit group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, an umbrella U.S.
labor organization.