Colombia: stop the wave of violence and harassment targeting education unionists!

Education International supports its affiliate, the Federación Colombiana de Educadores, in denouncing and firmly condemning assassinations and threats targeting Colombian educators, trade unionists, and social leaders.

Several teachers have been assassinated, threatened and targeted by violent groups in Colombia.

Colombia's Human Rights Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, has deplored the fact that between 1st January 2016 and 30 June 2018, 311 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in the country.

In May alone, four teacher unionists in different regions have been killed – Holman Mamián Mamián, in Cauca; Evelia Atencia Pérez and Hernando Manjarrez Escudero, in La Guajira; and Delmayro Reyes González, in Valle del Cauca – while six others have been attacked, resulting in one being wounded, in a truck in Arauca.

Deyanira Ballesta, a teacher from Bolivar, also received a death threat which was recorded, shared online and become a topic of national news. The chilling manly voice tells her: “You have to leave this region, or I will murder you. You know that we have the power to kill whomever we want. Do you understand? I will alert those who are in charge of education that they will have to pick you up dead.” Ballesta has since been put under protection and is now in hiding.

On 3 July, six social leaders were killed during the World Cup game Colombia vs. England in Chocó, in Palmar de Varela.Among them were Ana María Cortés, murdered in Cáceres, Antioquia; Luis Barrios Machado, in Palmar de Varela, Atlántico; Felicinda Santamaría in the municipality of Quibdó, Chocó; and MargaritaEstupiñán in the El Recreo neighborhood, Vaquerío.

On 7 July, teacher Frank Darío Rincón was stabbed to death in the center of Pitalito, in Huila.

Deaths still under investigation

The Federación Colombiana de Educadores (FECODE) has denounced the violent events and crimes and called for the protection of all teachers and educators.

In a communiqué dated 26 June, the trade union demands “respect for the life of each and every educator in the country. We vehemently reject these crimes being deployed against teachers as political weapons.” Standing in solidarity with the teachers’ families and friends, the union categorically rejected the political use of these terrible events.

It also explains that “it is a known fact that situations such as trafficking, criminal organisations, regional violence and other actors represent a constant threat for the country’s teachers and education institutions.”

As educators, “we are under constant threat,” FECODE deplores. “We are exposed and defenceless.”

Stressing that in some cases, the Colombian authorities have already found the perpetrators but have not provided more information on the reasons for these crimes, FECODE further calls on the authorities to investigate these deaths and establish security measures to protect teachers who have been threatened and reminded everyone that “schools are territories of peace”.

FECODE’s video condemning the murders and demanding adequate investigations into them

On 5 July, the United Nations’ Office for Colombia also released a statement in which they “vehemently condemn the assassinations of human rights defenders and social leaders.”

The same day, the Colombian trade union confederation (CUT) released a statement rejecting “these abominable acts,” demanding “immediate action from the authorities,” and inviting Colombians to join the mobilisations “for peace and life” to be organised on 7 August nationwide “to stop and denounce these waves of violence”.

Background

Education International is distressed that the Colombian educators and trade unionists’ situation is once again worsening following decades of extreme human rights violations in the country.

In May 2017, EI sent out an urgent action appeal calling for international solidarity with Colombian educators after an explosive device detonated in front of a FECODE headquarters in Bogotá resulted in significant material damage, both to the headquarters and to neighbouring houses. At that time, Education International had urged the Colombian authorities to deepen the investigation in search of the perpetrators of the attack and propose real and lasting solutions in order to sustain and promote free quality public education. It also stressed that “the Colombian school community deserves that the authorities protect and respect the teaching and education work force as a whole and value their effective contributions to the construction of roads for peace, tolerance, respect and coexistence.”

You can also read the EI study published in 2009 on political violence against Colombian teacher unionists here

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