Colombia: Violence against trade unionists

Colombia – Armed conflict – Trade unionist murders

In October 2012, ECCHR together with the Colombian human rights organisation CCAJAR as well as the Colombian trade union confederation CUT submitted a communication to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requesting action on violence against trade unionists as human rights defenders in Colombia.

The organizations conclude that the level of violence reaches the threshold of crimes against humanity and thus falls under the court’s jurisdiction. Thus the prosecutor must open formal investigations against the most responsible in government and military command since these crimes are not being sufficiently prosecuted by Colombia itself.


Almost 3,000 trade unionists have been killed, 775 since 2002 alone, and many more intimidated, threatened and harassed in Colombia in the past three decades. The International Trade Union Confederation found that more than half of worldwide reported assassinations of trade unionists occurred in Colombia, making it one of the most dangerous countries for trade unionists in the world.

The entering into force of the Rome Statute for Colombia in 2002 also did not bring about any real change. In the communication, ECCHR with its partners presented five individual cases to the ICC and carefully analyzed the widespread and systematic pattern of violence against Colombian trade unionists over the last decades.


ECCHR noted with great concern the stagnation in the preliminary examination by the OTP on the situation in Colombia, which has been ongoing since June 2004. In November 2012, the Office of the Prosecutor issued an interim report on the situation in Colombia that reached no conclusion on whether an investigation should be opened, finding only that the preliminary examination of the situation should continue.

With the follow-up communication of July 2013, ECCHR had two aims: on the one hand, it comments on the interim report, insisting that crimes against humanity have been committed against human rights defenders in Colombia, not only by non-state actors such as the paramilitary groups and the guerrillas, but also by state actors. It also criticizes the shortcomings in its analysis of the complementarity requirements, i.e. the question whether Colombia is willing and able to investigate these crimes itself, finding that the office fails to take into account the critical security situation of members of the judiciary and does not adequately evaluate the impact of the military justice reform.

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Glossary (4)


International Criminal Court (ICC)

The International Criminal Court deals with core international crimes such as war crimes.

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Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity – defined as a systematic attack on a civilian population – tend to be planned or at least condoned by state authorities: heads of government, senior officials or military leaders. In some cases, companies also play a direct or indirect role in their perpetration.

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