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NASUWT continues to campaign for justice for Colombian trade unionists

NASUWT votes for TUC emergency motion to free jailed activist Huber Ballesteros

The NASUWT voted for an emergency motion, at the TUC Congress on Monday 2 September 2013, to free Huber Ballesteros, Vice-President of FENSUAGRO, an agricultural workers’ union.

Huber was invited to speak at the 2013 Congress but was arrested and jailed on 25 August for false charges of rebellion and financing terrorism. This arrest followed a wave of strikes and protests within Colombia during August organised by the Patriotic March, an organisation of which Huber was a leading figure.

The TUC Congress was reminded of the appalling situation in Colombia in which over 3,000 trade unionists have been assassinated, with several being killed in recent weeks.

The emergency motion called for support for Justice for Colombia’s campaigns against this violence and after the motion delegates held pictures of Huber, calling for his release, to demonstrate solidarity with the jailed trade unionists.

For information in support of this campaign please go to http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/news/article/1477/tuc-calls-for-release-of-imprisoned-colombian-trade-unionist

The NASUWT has long supported the work of Justice for Colombia, highlighting in particular the case of Omar Alfonso Combita, the teacher trade unionist imprisoned in 2011 for carrying out trade union activists, who has been denied medical treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. This support has included writing and meeting with UK officials both in the UK and in Colombia.

To sign the petition please go to: http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/campaigns/omar-combita/

Campaign to free Omar Alfonso Combita – Colombian teacher trade unionist

Sign petition to free Omar Combita

Omar Alfonso Combita, a member of the Colombian teacher’s trade union FECODE, was arrested and detained on 2 October 2011 for ‘rebellion’. 

These so-called acts of rebellion were little more than active protests against government reforms to education, being in short, the work that many trade unionists would carry out within the UK. Justice for Colombia has stated that the case against Omar is ‘based on an intercepted phone call with a supposed guerrilla and on a police intelligence report, the content of which has changed twice, making it highly dubious’. It is clear that he has been arrested in order to silence government opposition. 

On 23rd February, Omar was transferred to la Modelo prison, Bogota. Omar suffers from Parkinson’s and had been denied treatment throughout his imprisonment. He had just started to receive medical treatment in Florencia Prison, following a request by Congresswoman Gloria Ramirez and Congressman Ivan Cepeda, however his treatment has been stopped again since his transfer to Bogota, and there are concerns his condition will now deteriorate further.

There is also concern that the Colombian prison service, INPEC, will not transfer Omar back to Caquetá, where the legal process is taking place, and will then postpone the next hearing on the grounds he is unable to attend, denying his right to due process (this happened in June 2012, just before we started work on the campaign, when the affected prisoners, including Omar, were forced to go on hunger strike in response).

Omar has now had legal hearings postponed on 6 occasions.

Omar’s lawyer’s have asked for urgent international support to ensure his legal process goes ahead without further delays, and that his medical treatment continues, particularly, they asked if we could write to the judge and to INPEC the Colombian prison service.

He has been diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and has been denied treatment for the condition whilst being held in appalling conditions within prison.

The NASUWT is supporting the Justice for Colombia campaign in calling on the Colombian government to free the political prisoners arrested for membership of the trade union movement.  

What you can do

Send an e-postcard to the British Foreign Secretary calling on him to condemn the Colombian government for its actions, and encourage your friends and colleagues to do so also. Please go to http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/campaigns/prisoners/ for further details.

Write to your MP on this issue by clicking on www.nasuwt.org.uk/ContactYourMP


Extreme concern over missing Columbian activist

The NASUWT is extremely concerned for the safety of FENSUAGRO trade unionist Herman Henry Diaz, who may have been forcibly disappeared on April 18.

NASUWT Ex-President John Rimmer has signed a letter addressed to the Columbian Ambassador along with the other members of the UK delegation of senior trade unionists and MPs that visited Columbia in February.

The delegation travelled to Puerto Asis, Putumayo, in the country and met Mr Diaz, who helped the delegation meet victims of human rights abuses. At the time of his disappearance he had been organising a delegation of 200 activists to take part in a mass demonstration in the capital Bogota.

The delegation are calling on the Ambassador to make representations ot the Columbian Government calling of Mr Diaz to be found and safely returned to his home.


'Life changing' visit for NASUWT President

NASUWT President John Rimmer was part of a group taken to the country by Justice for Columbia (JFC), a British Non-Governmental Organisation that campaigns for human rights, workers' rights and the search for peace.


He has told of his “life-changing experience” as he joined the delegation of senior trade unionists and MPs on the trip. Columbia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists with 49 trade union leaders assassinated in 2010, many of them teacher trade unionists.

Mr Rimmer described as “harrowing” the stories of the Mothers of Soacha, a group of desperately poor women whose sons have been tortured and executed. But among a visit dominated by often sad and upsetting experiences, the delegation were able to play a part in the release from prison of Liliany Obando, a Colombian trade unionist and academic. 

President tells of "harrowing" experience of visiting the country

Read Mr Rimmer's own account of his trip

World Teachers Day

Colombia is one of four countries officially approved by the NASUWT National Executive to receive support for its trade union movement. The Union has strong links with Justice For Colombia, and sent a delegation to the South American country in 2007. They visited teachers sentenced to imprisonment but later released, thanks in part to international pressure from organisations such as NASUWT.

Colombia Resources to mark World Teachers' Day

TUC attacks proposals for EU free trade agreement

Moves towards a free trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and Columbia closer have been criticised as “deeply disappointing” by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The TUC and British trade unions, alongside unions across Europe and Latin America, have called for negotiations on the agreement to be halted while violence against trade unionists and human rights workers in Columbia continues.

Last year 52 trade unionists were murdered in the country and six have been killed so far this year. The latest killing was of two agricultural workers, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia, both active trade unionists who had been threatened by a Columbian army officer.

In a statement the TUC said: “The problems facing our Colombian sisters and brothers are longstanding and deeply ingrained and will not be solved with the addition of some aspirational, but entirely unenforceable text, in the margins of a trade agreement.

“We need to see concrete progress at ground level in regard to ending the violence, dealing with the culture of impunity surrounding attacks on trade unionists and securing labour law reform and enforcement so that trade unionists are able to organise freely."