The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) should focus a key session
in March on 10 countries where labor activists are being targeted for harassment,
repression, and, in some cases, even assassination, for trying to improve the
lives and labor conditions of common workers, according to the world's largest
In a report submitted this week to the European Union (EU), the Brussels-based
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) listed Colombia, where
163 labor activists were killed last year, as the world's most dangerous country
for union organizers.
The ICFTU, which includes 225 affiliated unions in 148 countries, said Burma--which
last year was the target of unprecedented sanctions imposed by the International
Labour Organization (ILO) for its use of forced labor--should also get special
attention from the UN's top human rights body, which will meet from March 18 to
April 28 in Geneva.
Others countries accused of targeting trade unionists include Belarus, Brazil,
China, Colombia, Djibouti, Guatemala, Haiti, South Korea, and Swaziland, according
to the report submitted to the EU's Human Rights Contact Group Tuesday.
The UNCHR, which consists of 53 countries, meets each year for six weeks during
which it takes up submissions by governments and non-governmental organizations,
like the ICFTU, about a variety of human rights concerns.
It may also consider issuing statements or resolutions to draw world attention
to or condemn particularly troubling situations on which at least a majority of
commission members agree. In some cases, it may even nominate a "special rapporteur"
with a mandate to investigate the situation and report back to the commission.
The ICFTU has long tried to persuade the commission to adopt a special resolution
on Colombia and nominate a special rapporteur to investigate the plight of labor
Colombia--whose civil war has steadily escalated over the last five years--accounts
for about 75 percent of all killings of union activists worldwide, according to
the latest annual survey released by the ICFTU last October.
Most of the victims were assassinated by hired killers or right-wing paramilitary
groups that are backed by wealthy businessmen, ranchers, and elements of Colombia's
armed forces, according to independent human rights groups. In addition to the
killings, hundreds of union organizers have received death threats, and many have
been forced to flee their homes to save themselves and their families.
The Colombian government has successfully resisted the ICFTU's efforts at
the commission in the past, but the umbrella union group said it was encouraged
by talks last week with EU diplomats who reportedly expressed increasing frustration
with Bogota's failure to stop the killings or, in many cases, to identify and
prosecute the killers.
"No improvements could be expected from the Colombian authorities unless the
pressure on them was stepped up considerably," the ICFTU said in its statement
to the commission.
The ICFTU is also asking for a resolution in support of last year's ILO condemnation
of Burmese forced labor, as well as a "clear message" to multinationals that are
taking advantage of repressive policies in Myanmar to review their investments
Parts of Brazil, according to the ICFTU, suffer from similar problems as Colombia,
with organizers of landless and indigenous workers being murdered and virtual
impunity for gunmen hired by ranchers and wealthy landowners.
Latin America as a whole is considered the most perilous region by far for
trade unionists, according to the ICFTU's general secretary, Bill Jordan. In the
year 2000, it accounted for the some 90 percent of the world's total number of
trade unionists who were killed or disappeared for their union work.
China is also a major concern, according to the ICFTU, both because of its
refusal to guarantee the right of workers to organize independently of the state
and because of the potential impact of its recent entry into the World Trade Organisation
in increasing unemployment and aggravating social and economic tensions.
As a result, a new legal framework guaranteeing core labor rights in China
is urgently needed, according to the confederation.
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