December 10, 2012—Nearly 3,000 trade union leaders have been murdered in Colombia over the past 20 years and the killing continues, with at least 15 unionists murdered so far this year. Yet behind each statistic is an individual, says Colombian lawyer and human rights activist, Yessica Hoyos Morales. Someone much like her father, Jorge Darío Hoyos Franco, a Colombian labor leader, who was assassinated in 2001 by two hired hitmen.
“We are a generation that saw these crimes perpetrated against our parents. The government of Colombia wants them to disappear,” with the killers unprosecuted,” says Hoyos. She recently founded Sons and Daughters Against Impunity and for the Memory of the Fallen, an organization whose members carry on the struggles of those killed or exiled. Hoyos spoke at the Solidarity Center Friday during a multi-city U.S. visit to describe to members of Congress and other decision-makers how the Colombian government has not kept its promise to find and prosecute the killers of trade unionists and other human rights activists.
Today, on the 64th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, actions worldwide are commemorating those like Hoyos’s father, a mine worker killed for trying to ensure decent working conditions.
International Human Rights Day is a day to recognize that human rights violations happen when job safety is ignored, as it was when 112 garment workers were killed at the Tazreen factory last month in Bangladesh. It offers a moment to remember how workers can put their lives at risk for walking out on strike, as did the 34 South African miners gunned down by the police earlier this fall.
The Declaration outlines the inalienable rights of all people—the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association. Nearly all nations have signed the nonbinding document.
Yet throughout the world, migrant workers who seek to support their families are routinely exploited and abused. Others struggle with no legal protections, such as the millions of workers whose sole livelihood is through the unregulated informal sector. Entire nations, like Bahrain, repress workers who even dare speak out for fair treatment on the job. Some nations, notably Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Sudan and Laos, bar workers from forming unions.
And in Colombia, where the government has not pursued 97 percent of the cases involving murdered trade unionists, Hoyos says she and human rights activists are not killed only because of the international support they receive. Hoyos has testified before Congress and in 2008, received the AFL-CIO George Meany-Lane Kirkland human rights award.
Through Sons and Daughters, Hoyos and others educate school children about the brutal history of their country, one that’s not in the textbooks. They speak out when candidates for public office are tied to human rights violations. And they do so because, as Hoyos says, the murders must be stopped, and they will only stop when the perpetrators—members of the military, government, police and international corporations—are held accountable.
On Human Rights Day, Hoyos’s message is especially resonant. “Multinationals will carry out these practices worldwide if they can get away with it in Colombia.”