Juan Carlos Galvis, vice-president of SINALTRAINAL Other SINALTRAINAL members

Re: Juan Carlos Galvis, vice-president of SINALTRAINAL Other SINALTRAINAL members

To: Senor Presidente Alvaro Uribe Velez, President

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier of LRWC

Date: 2003-09-12

LRWC is gravely concerned about a recent attempt on the life of Juan Carlos Galvis and the high level of violence against trade unionists in Barrancabermeja, Santander Department, in general.

On August 22, 2003 at 12:10 pm, Mr. Galvis, vice-president of SINALTRAINAL, Barrancabermeja section, was travelling in a bullet-proof vehicle through the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Barrancabermeja. An unidentified man shot at his vehicle twice. Mr. Galvis’s body guards, who were in the vehicle with him, returned fire on the shooter. However, the gunman escaped on a motorbike.

The attack on Mr. Galvis follows a public statement in March by the possible paramilitary group Muerte a sindicalistas that it intends to kill trade union leaders and social activists in Barrancabermeja.

LRWC is aware that other members of SINALTRAINAL have faced grave human rights violations and death threats in recent years. For example, in February 2002, the SINALTRAINAL’s headquarters in Cali, Valle del Cauca Department, was fired upon. In April 2002, SINALTRAINAL leader Diofanol Sierra Vargas was reportedly shot at by paramilitaries in Barrancabermeja. In June 2002, the daughter of SINALTRAINAL president, William Mendoza Gómez, was the victim of an attempted abduction.

Further, the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia (“CUT”) has estimated that at least 172 affiliated trade unionists were killed in extrajudicial executions in Colombia in 2002. A further 164 trade unionists received death threats; 26 were kidnapped; and 17 were victims of attempted abductions. This year, more than 35 trade unionists have been killed in Colombia. The CUT believes that these violations of rights were a direct consequence of the victims’ trade union activities. LRWC believes that the CUT assessment of the motives for these crimes is accurate.

President Uribe, LRWC reminds you that 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 organizational activities. We remind the Government of Colombia, in particular, of its 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 also upon you, as President of Colombia, to order an immediate, fully and impartial investigation into:

  • the attempted killing of Mr. Galvis; and
  • the links between security forces and paramilitary groups in Santander Department that may be harassing and harming trade unionists.

We urge you to ensure that the results of these investigations are made public and that those responsible for promoting and carrying out the illegal attacks on labour leaders are brought to justice.

LRWC recognizes that the Ministry of the Interior has taken certain measures to improve the safety of labour organizers. However, the rate of killings, abductions and other violations of labour organizers’ rights makes it clear that these measures are not sufficient. Therefore, we call on the Government of Colombia to provide such further measures as may be requested or deemed appropriate by those under threat.

Finally, LRWC renews its call to your Government, expressed in earlier letters to you, to take immediate action to dismantle paramilitary groups, in line with stated government commitments and recommendations made by the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations.

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.