World Teachers’ Day is an opportunity to appreciate the tireless dedication and contribution of teachers to quality education. Unfortunately, in Colombia, teachers live in constant fear of being killed or maimed.
For more than two decades, there has been an almost historic elimination of trade unions. Various methods have been used to achieve this: selective assassinations, threats and forced exile, smear campaigns in the media, state sanctions, and legal blockades.
EI’s affiliate in Colombia, Federación Colombiana de Educadores (FECODE), has been the hardest hit. FECODE has documented the killing of 968 teacher unionists, highlighting a pattern of deadly violence targeting teachers and their union.
Since President Juan Manuel Santos came to power in June 2010, 32 teacher unionists have been killed and over 500 have received death threats.
Both EI and FECODE have continued to urge President Santos to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of trade unionists, to enable them to conduct their union activities freely and peacefully without risking their lives.
Climate of impunity
In 2011, relevant legislation was adopted to protect the lives of teacher unionists in Colombia. However, the lack of implementation and awareness by public officers is blatant.
Moreover, in June 2012, Decree 1628 deprived all threatened teachers of the protection extended to them by a 2010 ruling (Resolutions 1240 and 3900).
Additionally, new constitutional reforms introduced by the Santos administration give a greater role to military tribunals in the legal process, opening the door to possible amnesties for the perpetrators of these types of violations.
Together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), EI has repeatedly denounced the persistence of murders of unionists and the impunity in relation to crimes against trade unionists.
Defending the fundamental right to education
Most of the persecuted teachers are social activists and their role within the unions goes beyond simple labour demands. They have openly criticised the policy of deregularisation and commodification of public education, which has been in place in Colombia since the end of the 1990s.
Progressive cuts have damaged the quality of, and access to, education as well as decreasing the status of teachers. For instance, EI and its affiliate have firmly opposed the Education Law that increases the privatisation of public schools.
Under the ‘concession’ model, public funds have sustained multiple private schools, leading to the loss of 30,000 teaching jobs in the last 15 years and displacing over 40,000 children from public to private schools.
EI also denounces Law 715 of 2001, allowing professionals from any area of knowledge to work as teachers.
As we commemorate this year’s World Teachers’ Day, EI calls upon the educational community, trade unions, educators, human rights advocates and other partners to put pressure on Colombian authorities to guarantee the safety and security of all teachers.
The EI solidarity statement with Colombia can be read in its entirety here