Family of Efrain Guerrero, union leader affiliated with “SINAL TRAINAL”

Re: Family of Efrain Guerrero, union leader affiliated with “SINAL TRAINAL”

To: President Alvaro Uribe Vélez, President of the Republic of Colombia

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, member of LRWC

Date: 2004-04-21

LRWC has received an urgent communiqué regarding violence against family members of trade union leader Efrain Guerrero. Mr. Guerrero represents workers engaged in a labour dispute with Coca-Cola FEMSA.

The reports received by LRWC indicated that at approximately 7:00 am on April 20th, men armed with machine guns broke into the home of Gabriel Remolina, Mr. Guerrero’s wife’s brother. The invaders fired indiscriminately at the family, killing Mr. Remolina and his wife, Fanny. Three of the Remolina’s children were wounded. One of those children, Robinson Remolina, is in grave condition in hospital.

Several background factors cause LRWC to believe that the violence against the Remolinas may be related to Mr. Guerrero’s work in the labour rights movement:

1. SINALTRAINAL has been engaged in a tense dispute with Coca-Cola FEMSA since September 2003, when the company decided to shut down 11 of 16 bottling plants in Colombia. In March 2004, during a hunger strike related to the shut-downs, groups affiliated with the AUC paramilitary allegedly released a statement declaring war on trade unionists and threatening to “finish them all off”, if union leaders did not leave the country within three months.

2. SINALTRAINAL components and Coca-Cola are currently engaged in collective bargaining, involving considerable strain between the parties.

3. Shortly before the attack on the Remolina family, lawyers acting on behalf of SINALTRAINAL in the United States announced that they had applied to have Coca-Cola reinstated as a Defendant in a case regarding anti-union violence in Colombia. The case, which is ongoing in the Southern District Court in Florida, United States, was filed pursuant to the United States’ Alien Tort Claims Act.

Further, LRWC notes the deplorable level of violence and grave human rights abuses against Colombian trade unionists and their families in recent years. For example, LRWC was compelled to write to the Government of Colombia twice in 2003, on September 12th and November 21st, regarding serious violence against Colombian trade union activists.

The Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia (“CUT”) estimates that more than 35 trade unionists were killed in Colombia in 2003. It also estimates that at least 172 affiliated trade unionists were killed in extrajudicial executions in Colombia in 2002; a further 164 received death threats; 26 were kidnapped; and 17 were victims of attempted abductions.

LRWC respectfully reminds the Government fo Colombia that trade unionism is an internationally protected activity. Colombia is bound by a body of international law to protect labour organizers and trade unionists and to take effective steps to ensure their physical safety and ability to pursue their union activities. In particular, Colombia is bound by obligations arising from:

  • Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • Article 16 of the American Convention on Human Rights; and
  • Convention (No. 87) Concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, among other laws.

LRWC calls upon the Government of Colombia to order an immediate, full and impartial investigation into the attacks on the Remolina family, including any connection that may exist between the violence and paramilitary groups. We urge you to ensure that the results of this investigation are made public and that those responsible for promoting and carrying out the attacks are brought to justice. We further urge Colombia to provide appropriate protection to SINALTRAINAL members under threat and their families, in accordance with the wishes of those affected.

Please advise LRWC, by mail, e-mail or fax, of the actions that you are taking in relation to the matters discussed above. LRWC awaits your response.