UNISON urges Colombia to protect activists from paramilitaries

More than 500 Colombian trade unionists and human rights campaigners murdered in the past five years as threat increases

UNISON members are being urged to come to the defence of two Colombians – a trade unionist and a human rights activist – whose lives are under serious threat because of their activities.

Farmer and unionist Gustavo Rengifo was kidnapped and tortured by paramilitaries in May last year.

He was told by his abductors that he and his family would be killed if he refused to act as an informant. He has been in hiding ever since.

Deivin Hurtado is a leading human rights defender in the Cauca region, an area where some of the worst human rights abuses have occurred in recent years.

Hee was seriously wounded during a national strike in 2013, when police threw a grenade at him. He has continued to be the target of death threats.

Both men have just completed a high-profile visit to the UK to speak about the escalating threats facing political activists in Colombia – 534 have been murdered in the last five years, with hundreds more kidnapped and tortured – and about the failure of the Colombian government to protect them.

They spoke with MPs, trade union leaders, including UNISON’s international committee, the Colombian community in the UK and journalists.

And they met the UK Foreign Office to discuss the specific threats they face themselves, particularly Mr Rengifo.

UNISON was one of the sponsors of their visit, which was organised by campaign group Justice for Colombia.

“The cases of Gustavo and Deivin are not isolated,” warned UNISON head of international Nick Crook today. “Hundreds of trade unionists and human rights defenders are under threat as paramilitaries try to undermine the peace process.

“Pressure on the Colombian government from UNISON and our members could mean that these men are given protection.

“That’s why we’re working with Justice for Colombia to raise their cases.”

Mr Hurtado told UNISON that the responses they’ve had from trade unionists in the UK, including a standing ovation at the Scottish TUC annual conference, “makes us feel that we are not alone.”

UNISON is asking people to write to the Colombian Embassy, urging its government to provide Gustavo and Deivin with protection from the country’s National Protection Unit.

Write to:

Ambassador Nestor Osorio Londono

3 Hans Crescent

London SW1X 0LN