On Thursday 5 September in Bogotá, Colombia, member organisations of Education International Latin America (EILA) opened a regional meeting to share experiences and discuss rights violations in the education sector in Latin American countries. The meeting aims to establish a network for monitoring and reporting human and labour rights violations affecting education workers and education communities in Latin America.
The event began with a speech by Nelson Alarcón, President of the Federación Colombiana de Trabajadores de la Educación (FECODE), who welcomed all participants and thanked them for their international solidarity in light of the difficult situation in Colombia. Alarcón, who also sits on Education International's Executive Board, shared information about threats from paramilitary groups against members of FECODE's Board of Directors. The threats have come at a time when the country's Peace Agreement has been weakened by authorities of President Duque's government, with FECODE defending the agreement.
Threats Against Colombia's Social and Trade Union Leaders
FECODE suspended the Great Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice programme for 6, 7 and 8 September, when it was bound for Valle del Cauca. The decision was made in response to threats against the leadership of the union organisation and the risk of hosting the Caravan; instead, on 12 September, a 24-hour National Strike was called to demand life, peace, democracy and fulfilment of the agreements signed with FECODE. Alarcón reaffirmed FECODE's commitment to “defend schools as a peaceful territory”.
William Velandia, Prosecutor for FECODE and Vice-President of EILA, expressed his gratitude for the international solidarity with Colombia's education workers and social and trade union leaders. Velandia also remembered the EILA Regional Conference in La Plata, Argentina, where it was agreed to hold an event to monitor and denounce rights violations in the education sector.
Pedro Hernández, President of the Asociación Sindical de Profesores Universitarios de Colombia (ASPU), said threats to social and union leaders accompany a new wave of neoliberal reforms, with setbacks in labour rights. According to Hernández, this wave of reforms is taking place in every country in the region and aims to “break the backbone of trade unionism”.
Gloria Arboleda, General Secretary of ASPU and member of the EILA Regional Committee, reflected on the importance of invoking national laws and international conventions to defend the rights of education workers.
The event was held in collaboration with the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF) and the British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF). Daniel Martin of the CTF expressed his concerns about the future of work in view of setbacks in labour rights, expressing the need to defend public education as a fundamental human right. Andrée Gacoin of the BCTF expressed his organisation's solidarity against the conditions of violence affecting social and trade union leaders in Latin America and around the world.
Hugo Yasky, President of EILA and General Secretary of CTA in Argentina, greeted the meeting's participants and expressed EILA member organisations’ solidarity with FECODE and ASPU. Yasky stated that the struggle for the rights of workers places trade union leaders at risk of violence and threats of all kinds, and that international solidarity is key to overcoming these obstacles.
International Standards of the International Labour Organisation
The meeting's morning session began with a presentation by Dr. Jorge Humberto Valero on the international labour standards system of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Valero summarised the historical origins and antecedents of the ILO and delved into the scope of international labour standards and the tripartite nature of the organisation, which involves the participation of workers, employers and States.
Mr Eduardo Rodríguez, the ILO representative for the Andean countries, gave a presentation on the ILO's normative and monitoring system as a means of promoting social justice. Rodríguez detailed the procedures that govern the actions of the ILO and the actions that workers' organisations can initiate to demand respect for their rights before the international body.
Representatives of the different Latin American countries participating in the meeting posed questions to the speakers after their presentations.
Inter-American Human Rights System
Dr María Paula Lemus of the Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” gave a presentation on accessing international systems for the protection of rights, particularly the Universal System of Human Rights and the Inter-American Human Rights System. Lemus explained in depth the process for bringing cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and explained relevant rulings on trade union rights by this institution.
After Lemus' presentation there was time for questions, during which representatives of the organisations participating in the meeting shared their doubts about the Inter-American Human Rights System.
Network for Monitoring and Reporting Rights Violations in the Education Sector
Hugo Yasky concluded the day by inviting EILA member organisations to establish a network to monitor and report rights violations within the education sector in Latin American countries. “A network that will enable us to take collective action, a network that will enable us to take more effective action”, Yasky said.
At the close of the event, the President of EILA condemned the severe repression suffered by a member organisation, theColegio de Profesores de Chile, which took part in a protest on the streets of Santiago that same Thursday. (see note from the Colegio de Profesores de Chile)
José Olivera of the Federación Nacional de Profesores de Educación Secundaria de Uruguay (FENAPES) spoke about the offensive mounted by chambers of commerce in his country, which filed a complaint against Uruguay before the ILO aimed at limiting labour rights in the South American country.