It has been said a person should not be judged by what he himself says, rather
by his acts. This is even more applicable to governments, though -with respect
to the policy and administration of a country- when senior State officials
speak or remain silent, government positions are revealed with consequences
both within society and with the international community.
Specifically, this reflection relates to the Colombian government’s eloquent
silence on the recent conviction of the military members, who -on August 30,
2004- murdered three trade unionists from the department of Arauca and later
presented them as "guerrilla members killed in combat with the army."
Said combat has now been demonstrated to not having taken place. Furthermore,
it has also been shown the implicated parties -in the most reprehensible
manner- manipulated the evidence to try to justify their crime. Nonetheless,
we have yet to hear the President or his spokespersons recognise the State’s
responsibility or even less so apologise to the victims’ families -or to the
country- for having unjustly accused them of being members of the guerrilla.
Vice-president Francisco Santos and then minister of Defence Alberto Uribe
should now be called to explain why they rushed to accept the version of
combat having taken place, in spite of the fact the slain trade unionists
clearly carried out their work legally. (The Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights had even granted them precautionary measures of protection
specifically because of the grave risk they faced due to their work defending
and representing workers.) This behaviour displayed by the previously
mentioned dignitaries virtually becomes part of the cover-up. Furthermore, the
absence of any rectification or apology demonstrates a deliberate pattern of
conduct aiming to sponsor and tolerate the crimes against humanity committed
against unionised workers, grass-root leaders, and human rights defenders.
This does not concern yet another "isolated case" of a human rights violation
committed or tolerated by the State. This situation has also seen in the
unsubstantiated accusations made against delegates from the Central Unitaria
de Trabajadores, Colombia’s largest trade union confederation, and
Sintraemcali, the public service employees union in the city of Cali. In this
case, the very President of Colombia accused them of being part of so-called
"terrorism" for having participated in a Latin American conference recently
held in Ecuador, which issued a statement making reference to the armed
struggle in Colombia. However, after having proven the Colombian delegates did
not sign said statement and were not even at the event’s closure, the
government has continued to insist in its unjust and dangerous pronouncements,
which puts at even greater risk the lives and personal integrity of these
trade unionists, who now find themselves threatened by the intolerance and
violence of certain sectors of the State as well as illegal armed groups.
When said dignitaries do not employ the impartiality or composure required of
them, in addition to being a de facto conviction for those who are the object
of these accusations, words spoken by the President -or other senior
government officials- may also become the trigger that sets off criminal death
squads, who then regard their unlawful action as legitimised.
In the same way dialogue is now sought with unlawful persons and groups, the
combativeness against trade unionists and human rights defenders should be
changed for a behaviour displaying respect, due process, and tolerance in
order to contribute to finding democratic and legal solutions to the
humanitarian crisis in Colombia.
"No podrá haber paz mientras subsistan diferencias tan profundas,
desproporcionadas e irritantes en la suerte de las personas y de los pueblos."
– José Alvear Restrepo
"Peace is not possible as long as such profound, disproportionate, and
aggravating differences exist in the fate of persons and peoples." – José
José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective
Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR)