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Special ILO Representative for cooperation with Colombia to be appointed by Director-General

GENEVA (ILO News) - The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) today asked Director-General, Juan Somavia, to appoint a Special Representative for cooperation with Colombia to assist in and verify the actions taken by the Government, and employers' and workers' organizations to implement ILO Recommendations following widespread acts of violence against trade unionists over the past decade.

Press release | 16 June 2000

GENEVA (ILO News) - The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) today asked Director-General, Juan Somavia, to appoint a Special Representative for cooperation with Colombia to assist in and verify the actions taken by the Government, and employers' and workers' organizations to implement ILO Recommendations following widespread acts of violence against trade unionists over the past decade.

The move was taken following consideration of the report of a direct contacts mission carried out in Colombia from 7 to 16 February 2000.

The Special Representative will report regularly through the Director-General to the Governing Body "on the general situation in the country as it affects trade union rights and the security of trade unionists" and on progress achieved in the implementation of a series of recommendations made by the ILO's supervisory bodies.

In its report, the mission concluded that "the number of assassinations, abductions, death threats and other violent assaults on trade union leaders and unionized workers in Colombia is without historical precedent". According to the Colombian Government, during the period 1991-99 there were 593 assassinations of trade union leaders and unionized workers while the National Trade Union School holds that 1 336 union members were assassinated.

As regards the perpetrators of violence against trade union leaders, "the vast majority of such acts are committed by the paramilitaries, to a much lesser extent by the guerilla groups and, in some cases, by the members of the security forces", says the report. The number of proceedings against the perpetrators and instigators of the assassinations that "result in sentences are very few and only exceptionally is it possible to clarify the facts, identify those responsible and apply the appropriate legal sanctions".

The mission also established that the Government had earmarked "considerable human and financial resources for a programme for the protection of human rights' defenders which has extended to a certain number of trade union leaders". This programme includes security systems and bodyguard services for threatened trade union leaders and services to safeguard trade union premises. In 1998-99 there was a considerable reduction in the number of trade union leaders and unionized workers assassinated in comparison with 1996-97, but assassinations nevertheless continue to be a "regular feature", says the mission report.

The mission finally drew the attention to the importance of the "Plan Colombia", the peace process initiated by the Government with the insurgent forces, "supported without reservation by the country's employers' and workers' organizations and by the whole of society, which has reasonable chances of success and which deserves the full support of the international community and of the ILO".

In other matters, the Committee on Freedom of Association considered a complaint against the Government of China presented by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) concerning allegations of physical assaults and detention of labour activists; imprisonment for attempts to establish independent trade union organizations or to carry out activities for the defence of workers' interests. *

The Committee recalled that "several provisions of the (Chinese) Trade Union Act are contrary to the fundamental principles concerning the right of workers without distinction whatsoever to form and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization and the right of trade unions to establish their constitutions, organize their activities and formulate their programmes".

The Committee urged the Government to take the necessary measures to ensure the immediate release of a number of trade unionists. It also reminded the Government, that "workers should enjoy the right to peaceful demonstration to defend their occupational interests and that the authorities should resort to the use of force only in situations where law and order is seriously threatened".

The Committee requested the Government to examine the possibility of a direct contacts mission by the ILO.

The Governing Body elected Mr. Celso L. Nunes Amorim, Ambassador, representative of the Government of Brazil, as Chairman of its 2000-2001 Session. He replaces Mr. Jean-Jacques Elmiger, Ambassador, representative of the Government of Switzerland, who served as Chairman during the 1999-2000 Session.

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1942, Mr. Nunes Amorim is the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations and the World Trade Organization in Geneva, a post he has held since 1995. He was Minister of External Relations in 1993-1994 and President of the UN Security Council in January 1999.

Mr. Rolf Thüsing, member of the Executive Board of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations was re-elected as Employer Vice-chairman. Mr. William Brett, member of the General Council of the United Kingdom's Trade Union Council was re-elected as Worker Vice-chairman.

The three will serve as Officers of the Governing Body during its 2000-2001 Session. The Governing Body is the executive council of the ILO and meets three times annually in Geneva. It takes decisions on policy and establishes the programme and budget of the 175 member State Organization.

Ten of the government seats are permanently held by States of chief industrial importance (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States). Representatives of other member countries are elected by the government delegates at the International Labour Conference every three years, taking into account geographical distribution. The employers and workers elect their own representatives in separate electoral colleges.

* 322 nd Report of the Committee on Freedom of Association: Colombia (GB.278/3/2) and Report of the Officers of the Governing Body (GB.278/4), 278 th Session. International Labour Office, Geneva, June 2000.

Unit responsible: Department of Communication (DCOMM)

Reference: ILO/00/30

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