Colombian teachers face highest rates of political violence: Education International

published 29 September 2009 updated 29 September 2009

A study to be released today by Education International highlights the atrocious scale of human rights violations against Colombian teacher trade unionists.

EI, the global union federation representing 30 million educators around the world, has long been concerned about the shocking extent of political violence confronting its Colombian members. An in-depth report now has been prepared for EI by Dr. Mario Novelli of the University of Amsterdam. He will present the report at a UNESCO-sponsored seminar being held today in Paris.

Entitled Colombia’s Classroom Wars, it reveals a horrific litany of rights violations including murders, disappearances, torture, death threats, forced displacement, arbitrary detention, and more.

According to the Colombian National Trade Union School, in the period between 1999 and 2005, there were 1,174 trade unionists reported killed throughout the world. Of those, 816 were Colombian.

What is less well known is that more than half -- 416 of them – were teachers or education workers, Novelli reports. The vast majority of these assassinations are attributed to right-wing paramilitary organizations with links to the Colombian state. Virtually all of the perpetrators have committed their crimes with impunity.

“The report argues that the violation of the political and civil rights of educators in Colombia by state and state-supported paramilitary organisations is carried out precisely with the intention of silencing the very organisations and individuals that are actively defending the economic, social and cultural rights of their members and the broader Colombian society,” Novelli said.

“In this sense political violence against educators cannot, and should not, be separated from an understanding of the broader social struggles of Colombian trade unions and social movements against inequality, authoritarian rule and endemic political violence that continues to sustain a highly unequal development model favouring a small minority of wealthy elites at the expense of the vast majority of the population.”

Novelli and EI are urging the international community and worldwide labour movement to take action in solidarity with the teachers and trade unionists of Colombia; to call on governments everywhere to hold the Colombian government accountable for its crimes; to stop giving financial support to the Colombian military; and, most importantly, to prioritise improvements in the human rights situation in Colombia over the interests of foreign-based corporations seeking investment opportunities.

To download the full report in pdf, please click on the links below.