Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. According to United Nations figures close to 3,000 trade unionists have been killed since 1986. Human rights defenders are also regularly attacked. 37 human rights defenders were killed in the first six months of 2013. State authorities are directly involved in many of these killings.
In addition to physical attacks trade unionists and human rights defenders are regularly imprisoned. On Sunday 25 August 2013, the trade union leader Huber Ballesteros was arrested and sent to prison. Huber is a one of the leaders of the Colombian trade union movement. For many years he has actively defended the rights of Colombia's peasant farmers and promoted increased equality in Colombia. At the time of his arrest he was involved in organising strikes and protest action across the country. His arrest is a clear and unashamed attempt by Colombian authorities to punish him for his activism in defence of workers, peasant farmers and for social justice. His release must be secured to send a clear message to the Colombian authorities that using courts and prison cells to punish political opponents will not be accepted.
Since November 2012 a peace process has been taking place to bring an end to the 50-year civil war. For the success of the peace process it is essential that Colombia demonstrates it is a mature and functioning democracy which respects social activists, trade unionists and human rights defenders. The immediate release of Huber Ballesteros would be a step in the right direction.
We, the undersigned, are writing to call for the immediate release from prison of Colombian trade union leader, Huber Ballesteros. Mr Ballesteros was arrested on Sunday 25 August, and accused of ‘rebellion’ and ‘financing terrorism’.
We believe that Mr Ballesteros has been jailed for his political beliefs and his trade union activism rather than for any crime. Mr Ballesteros is an elected member of the CUT National Executive, a leader of the FENSUAGRO agricultural workers’ trade union, a leader of the Patriotic March social and political movement, as well as a spokesperson and negotiator in the current wave of strikes affecting Colombia.
We believe that Mr Ballesteros is innocent and that his detention is a severe violation of human rights. That a senior and internationally respected trade unionist such as Mr Ballesteros can be arrested in the midst of large scale strikes and social protest which have been brutally repressed by state forces shows that your government does not truly respect the right to protest, and does not respect the legitimate right of trade unionists to struggle for improvements to workers’ lives.
Furthermore, within the framework of the peace talks currently being held in Havana, violations such as these, which demonstrate persecution of the political opposition, cast doubt on your administration’s commitment to democracy and human rights.
We therefore urge you to take the necessary steps to release Mr Ballesteros immediately and cease the criminalisation of social and political protest.