Cablegate: Goc Announces Campaign to Highlight Labor Rights

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

id: 14491
date: 3/2/2004 22:05
refid: 04BOGOTA2692
origin: Embassy Bogota
destination: 03BOGOTA6597
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

----------------- header ends ----------------





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 03 BOGOTA 6597

B. 03 BOGOTA 6596
C. 03 GENEVA 1969

This report is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect


1. (U) To address the international community's concerns
about human rights violations against trade union members,
Vice-President Santos briefed ambassadors of member states of
the ILO's Governing Body on GOC advances in promoting
workers' human rights and tripartite dialogue. In addition
to citing numerous dialogue and training initiatives, Santos
highlighted progress in judicial proceedings related to human
rights violations against trade unionists and cited
government statistics indicating a decline in levels of
violence against them. Diplomats present asked the GOC to do
more to publicize its efforts in this field. End Summary.

VP Briefs Ambassadors on Labor Rights

2. (U) In advance of this month's scheduled review of the
International Labor Organization's (ILO) Special Technical
Cooperation Program with Colombia, Vice President Francisco
Santos briefed representatives of ILO Governing Body (GB)
members on March 8. Also in attendance were Foreign Minister
Carolina Barco; Minister of Social Protection Diego Palacio;
Ministry of Social Protection (MSP) Vice Minister for Labor
Relations Luz Stella Arango; Gabriel Mesa, Director of the
MSP's Office of International Cooperation; and Ana Maria
Sanchez, Director of the MSP's Office of Human Rights.


3. (U) In June 2003 the GB rejected a proposal by the ILO's
Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) to appoint a Fact
Finding and Conciliation Commission for Colombia to address
the many murders and other human rights violations against
trade union leaders and members that remain unresolved (ref
C). The GB did, however, urge the GOC to more effectively
address cases of violence against union members and take
appropriate steps to foster an environment in which unions
can operate without fear of intimidation or reprisal. In an
effort to demonstrate its political will to address these
issues and to highlight advances made under the Special
Technical Cooperation Program, GOC officials announced the
launch of an informal campaign to raise awareness of GOC
advances in promoting and protecting the human rights of
Colombian union leaders, members, and workers in general.

GOC Addressing ILO's Concerns

4. (U) The GOC presented a report charting progress to date
on the 357 sub-cases contained within CFA Case Number 1787.
Each of these sub-cases represents a case in which the GOC
has allegedly failed to take sufficient action to investigate
and/or prosecute a murder, kidnapping, or series of threats
against a trade union member. According to the MSP, the GOC
has formally responded with a status report in 345 of the 357
sub-cases, even though only 196 of the sub-cases actually
involved union members or leaders. According to the MSP, the
majority of sub-cases are still in the investigative stage
and have not been brought to trial, largely because of
complex legal procedures, an overburdened judicial system,
and the fact that witnesses and others with information are
reluctant to work with prosecutors out of fear for their own
safety. The report notes, however, that few cases have been
formally dismissed.

Advances Under Technical Cooperation Program
5. (U) In conjunction with the Technical Cooperation Program,
the GOC has worked to strengthen tripartite dialogue through
a series of seminars, training programs, and social dialogue
boards involving GOC authorities, labor organizations, and
employers. Since its reinstatement in January 2003, the
Inter-Institutional Commission for the Promotion and
Protection of Human Rights has conducted over 40 tripartite
activities designed to strengthen communication and
cooperation, including a series of dialogues chaired by
Santos and other high-ranking GOC officials. The Commission
has also worked closely with the Ministry of Interior and
Justice (MOI/J) to increase resources and decentralize the
GOC's protection program, which provided protection to 5,221
at-risk union members, politicians, journalists, political
figures, and human rights workers in 2003. The Commission
has also provided training to protection program
administrators, local police, and judicial authorities in
order to shift the focus of the program from merely reacting
to human rights violations toward taking concrete steps to
prevent them.

6. (U) The MSP, in cooperation with the Office of the
Prosecutor General (Fiscalia), has conducted seminars on
international labor law for prosecutors and judges,
instructing them on the fundamentals of international labor
law and the scope of activities protected under international
humanitarian law. These programs have also urged prosecutors
to speed up investigations of human rights violations of
trade unionists. The MSP has also conducted training
programs for labor inspectors and regional employees of the

Statistics Confirm Improvement

7. (U) Santos cited MSP statistics asserting that murders of
trade unionists dropped from 120 in 2002 to 51 in 2003, a
decline of 58 percent. Santos credited the decline to
improvements in the GOC's protection program and a change in
paramilitary strategy related to ongoing demobilization
negotiations with the Government. (Note: The percentage
decline in murders of trade unionists cited by the MSP is
slightly higher than the 51 percent decline reported by the
National Labor College ("Escuela Nacional Sindical," or ENS),
a respected labor rights NGO that reported that 90 trade
unionists were murdered in 2003, compared with 184 in 2002.
Although MSP's statisticians agree that more trade unionists
were murdered than the numbers they cite, they explain that
they only cite cases in which union leaders or members are
killed because of their trade union activities. MSP did not
include, for example, cases in which unions members died as a
result of land disputes, crimes of passion, automobile
accidents, and the transport of explosive materials. End

Santos: Information Campaign Long Overdue

8. (SBU) In response to questioning, Santos confirmed that
the GOC has not done a good job of "selling its successes."
He asserted that European NGOs and parliamentarians only hear
one side of the story from a small number of left-leaning
NGOs and unions whose "destructive syndicalism" (as opposed
to "constructive syndicalism," in which unions, employers,
and the government work together) is bent on damaging the
credibility of the GOC. Santos asked those present to
support GOC efforts to portray the "full picture."

--------------------------------------------- -----
GOC Looking Forward, Focusing on Europe and Geneva
--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (U) FM Barco announced her plans to travel to Europe in
the near future to meet with a key group of Colombian
ambassadors to develop a strategy to communicate the GOC's
advances in protecting and promoting workers' human rights.
This strategy will focus on changing perceptions of
Colombia's labor environment among key NGOs,
parliamentarians, opinion leaders, and foreign unions. In
order to highlight a "new sense of cooperation" between labor
unions and the GOC, MSP is working with Colombia's three
major labor federations -- the United Workers Central (CUT),
the General Federation of Democratic Workers (CGTD) and the
Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC) -- on a proposal to
deliver a joint report to the ILO's Freedom of Association
Committee in June. The report would attempt to present a
consensus perspective on the labor environment, but would
acknowledge points of disagreement as well.

Reaction: GOC Can Do More

10. (SBU) Although generally supportive of the GOC's plan,
many attendees noted that improved statistics and a status
report alone would not be enough to satisfy the concerns of
the international community. Noting that the majority of
union members are detained for reasons other than trade union
activities, the UK Ambassador asked the GOC to provide
regular, public updates on high-profile detentions to explain
what motivated them. Santos stated that the majority of
detainees are charged with rebellion and that arrest warrants
have been issued prior to all detentions. The attendees
agreed that similar updates on GOC responses to alleged human
rights violations committed against trade unionists and other
at-risk groups would be useful. The German CDA observed that
the fact that only four percent of the Colombian labor force
is unionized will limit the scope of what the GOC can
accomplish through traditional tripartite mechanisms.


11. (U) The GOC's democratic security policy and
GOC/paramilitary demobilization negotiations have led to a
significant reduction in violence, including against trade
union members. Vice-President Santos and the MSP's
commitment to improving the GOC's relationship with
Colombia's trade unions is evident in their efforts to
advance legal cases related to violence against trade union
leaders, improve tripartite dialogue, and protect and promote
trade union members' human rights.

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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