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Colombia: Continuing Progress that is Making all Colombians Safer

February 09, 2011

Colombia has made dramatic and sustained strides in restoring the rule of law and improving safety and quality of life for all Colombians – and, in particular, union members:  

  • The murder of any Colombian is a tragedy to be avoided. Homicides against union members continue to decline dramatically – from 196 cases in 2002 to 33 in 2010, a decline of 83%.
  • Colombia has made similar progress in reducing the level of violence faced by the general population. The overall homicide rate fell by 45% between 2002 and 2009 and is now down to 31 for every 100,000 people. Kidnappings are down to 5.6 per 100,000 people.

These dramatic improvements testify to Colombia’s much-expanded investment in protecting union members:

  • Colombia has established a special program that provides security for over 10,000 people. In 2010, over $13 million – about 25 percent of the program’s budget – was allocated to protecting union members. Thanks in part to this investment, the homicide rate for union members is now lower than for the general population.
  • Colombia has also significantly increased funding for its Prosecutor General’s office, which has a 2011 budget of over $836 million, and added 2,166 professional positions in 2008.
  • In 2006, Colombia established a dedicated team within the Prosecutor General’s office to deal exclusively with cases of violence against labor leaders, with 114 legal professionals.
  • Convictions for crimes against union members quintupled in three years, increasing from 16 in 2006 to 84 in 2009 – and, by May, had already reached 98 convictions in 2010.

Colombia has raised its labor standards and is making it easier for union members to exercise all their rights:

  • Colombia has now implemented all eight of the core ILO conventions – six more than the United States.
  • The statute of limitation for murder of union members was raised in 2009 from 20 years to 30, the minimum prison sentence was increased from 13 years to 25, and the maximum was raised from 25 years to 40.
  • The authority to declare the legality of strikes is now the purview of the judiciary, not the executive branch, which depoliticizes decisions, and employers no longer have a unilateral right to force a strike to arbitration.
  • Constitutional reform has shortened by 75 percent since 2004 the time it takes to prosecute a homicide case.

The labor community has recognized Colombia for its dramatic improvements in protecting union members:

  • The ILO removed Colombia from its labor watch list in 2010, called Colombia’s expanded collective bargaining rules “satisfactory,” recognized “all the measures … adopt[ed] recently to combat … violence against the trade union movement,” and noted that such violence fell between 2008 and 2009.
  • The UN cited Colombia’s commitment to achieving human rights goals that the UN had recommended and took note of contributions of the Constitutional Court, Prosecutor General, and the Ombudsman.
  • Fourteen Colombian labor union leaders, representing 79,000 Colombian workers, have publicly recognized Colombia’s progress in combating labor violence and have expressed public support for the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.
  • In response to labor violence improvements, the President of the United Workers Confederation in Colombia has stated, “Never in the history of Colombia have we achieved something so important.”