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- information regarding the international solidarity work carried out by trade unions from the North of England

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Friday, 3 September 2010

Young members delegation to Cuba appeal for funding

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Northern Region


3 September 2010

Dear Colleague


As part of our agreed regional international work programme it is planned to take a group of active young members to help re-activate our twinning arrangements with the Santiago de Cuba region and Northern Region of UNISON. Cuba provides one of the most impressive models of health care, literacy and international solidarity providing medical missions and free public health to over 90 countries throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. While the rest of the world has so far only transferred 10% of the money and resources promised after the earthquake disaster in Haiti, Cuba continues to provide substantial and long term help and has a remarkable programme in training young Haitians as Doctors free of charge on the basis they return and spend at least 10 years practicing medicine in the country and poor areas they come from.

We had a very positive and important twinning arrangement in the past which provided mutually beneficial links between UNISON and our sister union in Cuba the SNTS. The Regional Council are very keen to see these re-established. The aims of our visit are to introduce young activists to some key people; to provide an insight into the Cuban models of education and health care and international solidarity; to forge some lasting links and to hopefully provide an opportunity for a short work brigade with young Cubans on a socially useful health project to experience working alongside ordinary young Cubans.

Hopefully our young members will have a life changing experience. I am sure it will be a tremendous opportunity to increase their political understanding, whilst also devolving some key practical solidarity, and understanding of the importance of international solidarity work.

Each young member on the delegation has committed to organise some fundraising, and their Branches are all making a financial contribution towards the cost which is around £1,500. It would be of considerable help if Branches could provide some financial donation towards this important project. Young members are also very willing to visit branches and explain the purpose of the delegation and will be provide a comprehensive report back to a future regional council meeting. If you would like a speaker please contact us. Please send all cheques payable to “Northern Region” and marked on the back for Cuba.

Could I encourage you to please provide some financial support towards this delegation visit, as it will not only provide support in the development of young activists, but also will strengthen the Region's links with Cuba.

Yours sincerely
Regional Convenor

Burma account of humanitarian work on Thai - Burma border

Burma Week Seven August 22nd 2010
When you think it can’t get much worse than Yangon we arrive in Pathein, the Delta area and the third largest city in Burma and as the guide book states, “Famous for its parasols”. This is the second time we have been here and even though it is difficult to get too I promised I would come back. A big military base around 10,000 military based here. You can feel the oppression with soldiers everywhere.
This is the worst affected area of Cyclone Nargis. ‘Heavy rain expected’ was all the regime’s state owned media reported on 2nd May 2008 as Cyclone Nargis sped towards Burma with wind speeds of 190km an hour and a three metre tidal surge, bringing death and devastation to the Irrawaddy Delta. But the regime did know what was coming, the cyclone had formed offshore days before, monitored by weather agencies, and the Indian government was so concerned at the regime’s lack of preparation that they directly informed them about the cyclone.
To ignore warnings and fail to warn the population of the coming cyclone, or give any advice on how to prepare for when it hit is bad enough, but what followed was even more shocking, though sadly not surprising. As news began to trickle out about the scale of the disaster, the United Nations and aid agencies began to mobilize help, only to be told by the regime that they were not welcome.
In the days after the cyclone, as usual, the regime was blocking news from getting out of the country, and Burma Campaign UK mobilized its underground network in the country to find out the scale of the disaster. They told us that there was barely a house in Yangon that hadn’t been damaged. That people had no electricity and no clean water, and that there was no sign of any government officials or the army to help clear up the damage.
The news from Rangoon was bad, but what worried us more was the lack of any news from the delta region, near Pathein. Most people live in bamboo houses held together by dried grass. The area is low lying, so very vulnerable to flooding, and many people live by the sea or rivers which would have been badly hit by the tidal surge. Using UN satellite imagery we were able see the scale of the flooding, and estimated that 2,000 villages had been flooded.
As the regime continued to refuse shipments of aid, Burmese people in Yangon packed cars and vans with supplies and drove to the delta to help people. They returned with horrific stories of death and devastation, of whole villages empty, or where all the children were gone, having been swept from their parents’ arms by the force of the wind. Bodies were everywhere, rotting in fields and villages. People had little or no food or clean water. No shelter and no medicine. There regime’s response was to send the army to the delta, not to help people, but to set up road blocks to stop people going in to deliver aid, and to stop survivors escaping.
The British, French and American governments were asked to use their Navy ships in the area to go in directly and save lives, but France and the USA refused, and the UK didn’t have the capacity to act.
Two weeks after the cyclone had struck; most survivors still hadn’t received any assistance. At last, UN Secretary General Ban Kid-moon, who had repeatedly refused to go to Burma to try to persuade the generals to allow in aid, left for Burma. He appeared to have negotiated a deal to allow aid workers in, but once again the regime had lied to the UN. They granted more visas, but not nearly enough to deal with a crisis on this scale. In the week after the much-hailed agreement, the regime was still turning down visas for aid workers, access to the delta region was still restricted. Even those aid workers that did get visas arrived in Rangoon only to find there were not allowed to leave the city. 350.000 men women and children died, because aid couldn’t get to them. Back pack medics from Dr Cynthia’s were one of the first on the scene with the religious organizations, but when the junta realized they were getting through they put more complicated road blocks in place. There is a Burmese phrase about how much aid was getting in, “it is like tossing a sesame seed into the mouth of an elephant”.
The effects are still visible and we see hundreds, thousands of orphaned children in Pathein, being housed in big boarding houses without parents and a poor uncertain future.

The children of Pathein play football in the safety of the cathedral compound in the tropical monsoon rain laughing and joking playing in bare feet, with the football shirts we have donated from Newcastle. They play in the relative safety of the compound.
Outside the compound the streets are dirt tracks with very few cars and trishaws. Streets have open sewers and as I sit and rest I watch a rat scurry up the wall. A man comes out of his house, hits the rat and throws it into the middle of the street. It looks like turn-of-the-century London nothing changed in 100 years. It is densely populated and has had no development for years. Everywhere there is filth and rubbish with noisy people throwing dirty buckets of water out of windows and lots of street traders selling crickets and other suspicious creatures. The people are so friendly and shout out "Minglaba" hello as they don't see any westerners. On an evening while walking home in the dark we are serenaded by young lads singing in perfect harmony with their battered old guitars. Electricity goes off at regular occasions, the hospital has no medicines and children left on the dirty floor on stretchers dying of Dengue fever which is a preventable disease.
During a lunch of Fish paste and Rice the priest asks Declan about young voluntary teachers teaching English in this part of the world. In Mae Sot they often get volunteer unqualified teachers teaching English and practicing western concepts on these vulnerable children. I think it is important to remind ourselves that we don’t want Burmese children to think like westerners, we want them to have a balanced cultural appropriate education. I am aware after spending time just being with these communities that western development workers should not blindly impose modern improvements on ancient cultures but that industrialized countries have lessons to learn from Burmese people, about educating and building sustainable societies.
Fr H an old friend asked Declan if he would come back and teach English. He took a long time to reply, he said slowly. Teaching is a highly specialized skill, teachers in the UK take many years to train, then practice to become proficient. He said I would not want to practice on these communities as they are so vulnerable. He said he would stick to immersing the children in the English language through a vocational subject eg sport, something they enjoy, in addition to learning Burmese.
The priests know how difficult it is for us to stay down here. I have been working from the Cathedral compound with the satellite health workers. I deliver health education to the satellite nurses before they leave Pathein. These nurses are the real heroes. They have been working voluntary for the last six months as there are no funds to pay them. They leave this week to go back to the villages to join the rest of the team including doctors and psychological counselors. They make the very difficult journeys in the monsoon season into the areas most affected by Cyclone Nargis. They travel into this area on the boats delivering aid, medicines and health education. They live and sleep on the boats going from clinic to clinic in the Delta region often seeing 100 patients in one day. They tell me the situation is getting worse in this area. They ask if I can go with them! I reply, I don't think your government will let me! They ask me please let the people of your country know what is happening to us. Please watch VJ Burma a very brave journalist account of post Nargis. I have got copies.
They see very few foreigners in this town and so we stand out,and watvh the spies watching us they are everywhere. Our priest friends live in fear that their underground projects could be closed down at any time on the whim of the SPDC, everything is controlled. Tonight we leave the compound, we are not allowed to stay at anyone's house must be in the guest house and passports numbers handed to local SPDC, our friends said, “it is so difficult for people outside of Burma to understand our needs we are suffering so much because of the psychological oppression”. They say thank you so much for just being with our people and spending the time with us we know it is not easy.
Tonight we visited a tea shop in Pathein. Two sergeants high ranking SPDC decided to pull up chairs and join us. They were practicing their English and were so very polite to us. It was so hard just to sit with them, knowing what they are doing to our friends. As another person in the restaurant decided to join in the conversation the sergeant spoke very harshly and aggressively to this person in Burmese, the look on this persons face was pure fear, he quickly left the tea shop. The owner had a look of fear on her face, I was so scared trying not to say anything too sensitive and worried as to how we were to leave politely as they strongly encouraged us to stay and chat. They asked where we stayed, then our room number!. These soldiers are also a victim of this regime, I was trying so hard to feel sorry for them but just wanted to go back to the room and barricade myself in. Eventually after keeping the conversation safe to football and family we politely said goodbye and left, they shouted “now ma tway may” see you later. We all stayed close together in one room and didn’t sleep. We haven't dared venture far since, after we finish our work and dinner we go straight to our guest house.
Today …… spoke quietly to us and mentioned that someone had come to the Cathedral compound and inquired as to who the foreigners are? And what are they doing in Pathein?. He said ,don’t worry we live with this oppresion all the time it is no problems , but just be careful outside the compound and watch out for the trishaw driver as he is the spy. We notice every morning he sits outside the guest house. As we left this morning for mass at 6 am, we smiled, as we passed him he slept soundly. The mass is in the girls orphanage housing 80 young girls aged 2 years to 15 years old. They are all Cyclone Nargis victims who face a poor and uncertain future. They sing the rosary beautiful in English for our benefit, one of many moving occasions. After mass one young child aged ten speaks holding back her tears, she speaks in perfect English saying thank you for visiting us. My father and mother were washed away in the Cyclone I was left on my own for 3 days holding on to the tree until passing monks rescued me. When you have visited us and seeing you as a family reminds me of my parents this makes me so happy and grateful. Please come back and I will pray for you and your family.
Declan says quietly I Know what mother Teresa felt when she said "love till it hurts".
One of the reasons we have travelled so far into the Delta region is that we wanted to see a project Burma link has been funding. We tried to get to it last year but had an accident along the way and had to keep a low profile. At the beginning of the week we spoke to Fr…. on the phone and he asked permission for us to come and stay overnight in his village, but unfortunately because of the forthcoming elections and extra security problems we are not allowed. So we have to do the journey to his village in one day from Pathein. We met this priest ten years ago in Mae Sot and lost contact and only found him again last year. He was asked to leave Mae Sot quickly or he would be deported .Tony, Declan and I were anxious to meet up with him again especially as last year's visit was so difficult, he had the responsibility of sorting out all the security following the accident, not easy when he had to keep a low profile from the authorities…
Monsignior… spoke quietly to me, he expressed his concern about us visiting the village. He said it would be best to set off early to avoid immigration. Even the evening before we were due to leave the trip was still uncertain, in case we would be stopped by the authorities along the way.

Bethany Mercy Centre
After a difficult 2 hours journey along roads washed away by the Cyclone we arrived into the very poor village the roads are being rebuilt by thousands of people.. As we passed through immigration the priest waved to the soldiers and we were asked to pull the curtains across the window and keep our heads low.
We were here to visit the orphanage (70 children) that BLUK has been supporting but I didn’t expect it to be so poor. This is a step down from Pathein and Yangon!. It is really hard to describe how poor it is. As I looked around the compound I realized it doesn’t get much darker than this. The children slept on dirty floors and had very little to eat. The kitchen was dark small and damp with charcoal fires. I realized very quickly I was seeing some of the poorest village communities in the world. Most of the children are orphans who lost their parents Cyclone Nargis. The children looked clean and dressed in white Karen tops they greeted us with beautiful singing and every child presented us with a single rose. As the children introduced themselves they talked about their ambitions for the future and what they would like to do with their lives and sent thanks that we had made the journey to see them. They had nothing, but yet they had so much love to give. It was a very emotional occasion and whilst the children sang their hearts out, it was too much for Declan who put his head down and broke down, at the same time some of the children looked at him and also started crying.
Over a small lunch of rice and fish paste Fr G told us that that this year had been the most difficult yet, he worries so much for the children. They sometimes only have enough food for two meals a day and go to bed hungry. He has to go to the local farmers and ask to borrow a bag of rice until he gets money from us then he pays them back. He thanked all the people who had sent donations as this had definitely kept the children from starving. He said in Mae Sot if he could not feed the children he would get them into the refugee camp where they got rice and an education here he could not send them back to the Delta area they would starve to death. As we handed out football shirts my heart was breaking at the look of sheer joy on their faces. I looked into the eyes of one 13 year girl, Fr G had found her alone 6 years old wandering in the market left there by her mother. I was saddened to think these children do not deserve this, they are human beings and deserve to be treated like any young person with freedom and opportunities.
The previous evening Fr G had spoken to them about us and said do not be frightened of the foreigner do not run away, stand proud and speak English to them. These children have not seen a foreigner in this village. He said that in Mae Sot we see lots of NGOs but here due to our government we do not get any help.
It dosnt get much darker than down here, but you know in the bleakest area where there is no light, that’s when the stars shine the brightest, and here, the hope, the smiles, the courage and strength of all these children are something that will stay with all of us. As we prepared to leave he asked us, please do not forget about us, change must come soon. On the way back to Pathein, no one spoke, a very emotional day.

Funding or should I say lack of it, is a big issue inside Burma as the government refuses to allow NGOs work visas’ and only allows them to work inside if they pay money to the government. The government, monitors their own CBOs very carefully, making it very difficult for them to do anything without government restrictions, often allowing them to work only when they have given the government their cut. Caritas Thailand is helping to fund the small clinic's and satellite health teams or mobile clinics, but this is not enough.
We thank our kind friends for their hospitality and pray that they will not get the knock on the door from the authorities because of us visiting.! We leave Pathein and travel back to Yangon then to the UK on our slow journey physically and psychologically back to our rich free existence, a complete opposite to this country. I would like to say thank you to all the teams of health workers I have worked with and everyone who is contributed to my safety during the trip even sometimes at great personal risk. I am so grateful to their courage dignity and patience in their 65 years struggle for peace,also thanks to everyone who has sent emails of support from the UK.
During our time in Burma we take our own holidays pay all our own expenses accommodation and travel. We live, sleep and eat with the local Burmese. We travel on foot bike or on local transport. This is so important, not only that all donations go directly to the projects intended without any hidden costs, but also that we show solidarity and respect by being uncomfortable with the Burmese. Because of this we gain credibility and trust.
A lot of people have asked what they can do to help. There are so many more things we can all do. It is so important that we actively campaign for change, ask the question why is this still happening, ? And also speak out about this desperate inhumanity. As Ellie Wiesel states “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. I see so many NGO’s, driving into refugee camps in Thailand in new four wheeled trucks earning decent salaries making money out of the refugees, this just maintains the status quo and the situation remains the same. We need to help the Burmese become liberated they can't do it themselves.
As a small organization we fund projects most in need and were they are not getting any funds. One project is a fish and pig farm in Karen liberated area inside Burma. This is a small local project that will hopefully be sustainable and develop within one year. This culturally appropriate project is giving local children sustainable food, education and a hand up not a handout.
Other things we can all do;
. Contact the Burma campaign UK or local group Burmalink UK to get information on campaigns and share it with family and friends.
. Contact your local MP’s asking what the government is doing to help release all political prisoners including ASSK. Write letters asking for their release.
. In response to calls from Burma’s democracy movement, the Burma Campaign UK and other campaign groups around the world have been pressuring companies to sever business ties with Burma.
Please contact one or more of the companies on the Dirty List, see Burma Campaign ask them to cut their ties with Burma’s military government. If appropriate, tell them you will not purchase their products as long as they continue to support the regime in Burma.
. Before we left Fr G orphanage he mentioned that Barclays Bank had been investing with Burmese general’s money for 20 years. We have got very little info on this as all websites are blocked here. Please boycott Barclays Bank, if you have accounts or investments write to them and close accounts.
. Total oil continues to be one of the main investors inside Burma. “Total has become one of the main supporters of the military regime” Aung San Suu Kyi. Boycott Total oil.
. Get your Union link going or get involved with existing international union links.
. I have attached a flyer with regard to the Orphans of Cyclone Nargis from Pathein who are by far the most in need of funds. All Cheques made payable to: Burmalink UK. 51 Woodbine Road Gosforth Newcastle NE3 1DE England. 01912859820
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

“Martin Luther King”

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Families remember victims of brutal paramilitary massacres

People from varied social sectors gathered on Sunday 29th August to commemorate the victims of a series of massacres committed against inhabitants of rural afro-Colombian communities by right-wing paramilitaries allied to the state in Southwest Colombia. Over just a few months in the year 2000, hundreds of heavily-armed paramilitaries terrorised the defenceless afro-Colombian communities which live in Buenaventura municipality, close to the main road between the port city of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, and the regional capital, Cali. The paramilitaries, working in collaboration with state forces and funded by businesses and landowners, sought to force the local communities to flee for their lives, thus taking away the ‘social base’ of left-wing guerrilla groups, whilst at the same time leaving the path open for mega-projects such as a major widening of the main road. Their brutal methods included cutting their victims up with chainsaws, slitting throats, and forcing families to watch the murder of their loved ones. Locals tell how the army disappeared the day before each massacre, and returned the day after, allowing the paramilitaries to carry out their work undisturbed. The true number of victims of the massacres is still unknown, but is thought to be hundreds.

One of the massacres took place in the small hamlet of Triana. As in other communities, all of Triana’s inhabitants fled the community in the aftermath of the killings, leaving a ghost town in their wake. It was only in 2005 that the community was able to return to the area. In 2007 a small group of women from the community who had lost sons, daughters, husbands and fathers began to organise themselves and became part of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE). Gradually, more and more women have felt able to defy the fear that still grips many of them, and the group is now made up of around 40 women. It is particularly terrifying for the women to speak out because there are still active paramilitaries in the area, despite keeping a lower profile these days. “We know that they’re here, and that they’re keeping an eye on us, but they need to know that we don’t care- they can’t take anything else from me now, they already took my beloved son”, said one of the women. Unison Northern has developed links with the Triana Women’s group over the past 3 years, and was proud to be able to provide the funding for such an important and symbolic event.

Around 100 people from around the Valle del Cauca region attended the event, representing 17 different communities and organisations including trade unions, human rights organisations, and student groups. The day began with a symbolic ‘convoy’ along the route taken by the paramilitaries when they committed the massacre: stopping at the scenes of 14 massacres along the way to plant a tree at each. The tree symbolized the sowing of life in the place where paramilitaries had sown death and destruction.

The National Movement for the Victims of State Crimes campaigns for truth, justice and comprehensive reparation for the crimes which robbed them of their loved ones. However, as in the overwhelming majority of cases of human rights violations in Colombia, there is little sign of justice being done for the victims’ families. The only person who is facing trial for the massacres is former paramilitary leader Ever Veloza Garcia, aka ‘HH’. ‘HH’ confessed to the crimes under the highly controversial ‘Justice and Peace’ law, which allows paramilitary chiefs who are responsible for some of the worst atrocities in recent human histories to be given maximum sentences of eight years in return for confessing their crimes. “Its a joke,” says Viviana, one of the group’s leaders, “that’s why paramilitaries are still killing today- because they got away with it. And they will keep getting away with it unless we do something about it. But the most important thing about today is that we know we can see that we’re not alone. That helps us in our search for justice- we’re not going to stop until we see justice done.”

Unison Northern regional convenor Clare Williams said, “Showing solidarity with groups such as the women in Triana is crucial, as many victims in Colombia continue to be in grave danger, particularly those who are organising. This is what trade union solidarity is about: supporting those who have suffered injustice, and to provide practical support to their struggle. It’s important to understand that these paramilitary massacres were not just violence for the sake of it- they had clear political motives, and were funded and supported by big business, politicians and the state. Helping the victims’ search for justice and truth can also help us to further understand the true nature of the capitalist system in which we live.”

Unison Northern has developed links with South-West Colombia over the past 3 years, supporting trade unions, women’s groups, indigenous and afro-Colombian communities and human rights defending organisations, and will continue this work with a particular focus to develop links between branches and women’s groups.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Uribe's appointment to flotilla probe guarantees its failure

Taken from The Electronic Intifada website http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11449.shtml

At the beginning of this month the Israeli government announced it would cooperate with one out of two international UN-sponsored investigation commissions into the 31 May Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre, a move which UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon claimed was "unprecedented." However, the details of this commission and who will take part in it -- particularly the notorious outgoing president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez -- cast doubt over its impartiality.

The commission is composed of four persons, one chosen by Turkey, one chosen by Israel and two chosen from a list provided by Israel. The latter two are former Prime Minister of New Zealand Geoffrey Palmer, who will be the chair, and Uribe, who will serve as vice-chair. While Palmer, an expert in international law, is an uncontroversial choice, the appointment of Uribe is as perplexing as it is shocking. It appears that "balance" in this commission involves balance between someone versed in international and human rights law and someone who is adamantly opposed to it. This notion of balance fatally weakens this commission even before it has started, and tarnishes the process of international law.

Uribe is a controversial president whose regime has engaged in severe human rights abuses; illegal surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders by the intelligence service (DAS); international law violations (such as the bombing of Ecuadorian territory); corruption; crimes against humanity and excesses by the army in their US-sponsored counterinsurgency warfare.

Uribe's scorn for human right defenders is notorious. According to Human Rights First, "President Uribe and other administration officials have branded [human rights defenders] as terrorist sympathizers and have insinuated that illicit connections exist between human rights NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and illegal armed groups. Irresponsible comments by government officials in Colombia put the lives of human rights defenders at even greater risk and threaten to undermine the value and credibility of their work" ("Human Rights Defencers in Colombia").

In September 2009 Colombia was visited by Margaret Sekaggya, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders from the UN Human Rights Commission. Sekaggya found that constant problems faced by human rights defenders in Colombia include "Stigmatization [of human rights defenders] by public officials and non-State actors; their illegal surveillance by State intelligence services; their arbitrary arrest and detention, and their judicial harassment; and raids of nongovernmental organizations' (NGOs) premises and theft of information" ("Report of the Special Rapporteur ...," 4 March 2010, pp. 13-18 [PDF]).

Public officials in Colombia constantly attack human rights defenders and members of the political and social opposition as aides of "terrorists," that is, left-wing guerrillas.

Uribe has led these attacks, calling human rights defenders "rent-a-mobs at terrorism's service who cowardly wave the human rights flag," "human rights traffickers," "charlatans of human rights," "bandits' [ie. guerrillas] colleagues," "intellectual front of the FARC [the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia]" and he has stated that "Every time terrorists and their supporters feel they will be defeated, they resort to denouncing human rights violations."

Uribe has referred in particularly harsh terms both to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: "Amnesty International do not condemn international humanitarian law violations by the guerrillas and they give legitimacy to terrorism [...] they go around European bureaus like library rats, gossiping in low voices, undermining Colombian institutions." He said of the director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco: "Before Vivanco, a FARC defender [and] accomplice, came here to criticize our policy of democratic security, we were making serious efforts to put our country on its feet -- I don't have anything to learn from Mr. Vivanco when it comes to human rights" ("Defensores de derechos humanos: bajo el estigma del presidente Uribe," Agencia de prensa (IPC), 23 October 2009).

This is just a brief overview of Uribe's systematic attacks on human right defenders. In June 2010 an international human rights mission investigated the biggest mass grave in the western hemisphere -- containing some 2,000 execution victims who had been dumped there since 2004 -- which had just been discovered in the Colombian town of La Macarena. At the same time Uribe travelled to that very locality but not to pay his condolences to the victims' families, or guarantee that an investigation would determine what happened there. Instead, he went to visit the local military base -- exactly the same people that, according to victims' reports, filled that mass grave with its grisly contents -- to praise them for their work.

Uribe said on that occasion: "I want the country to know that now terrorists want to damn our partial victory by combining their means of struggle. Now the terrorists' spokespeople are talking of peace to have a break in order to recover, before we achieve our final victory. Terrorism combines means of struggle, so some of their spokespersons talk of peace; others come here to La Macarena to look for ways to discredit the Armed Forces and to implicate it in human rights violations. We will not fall into that trap, stay firm!" ("Voceros del terrorismo estan proponiendo la paz para poderse recuperar: Uribe," El Espectador, 25 June 2010).

It is hard to believe that, in spite of Uribe's appalling human rights record, he has been chosen to be part of a UN human rights commission. Going beyond Uribe himself, any representative of the Colombian state must be suspect when it comes to investigating human rights violations as official and "unofficial" state-sanctioned human rights abusers act with impunity; 98 percent of such cases remain unprosecuted ("Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia," February 2009).

It also strains credibility to believe that Colombia, the biggest recipient of US military "aid" after Israel and Egypt, a country that has agreed to host seven new US military bases on its territory last year, can be impartial in relation to Israel. Both the Israeli and Colombian governments share an ideological approach to their opponents, based on a belief that respecting human rights is a non-issue when it comes to pursuing their military goals against rebel groups. Unsurprisingly, there is also large-scale military cooperation between the two rogue states.

In recent years, according to news reports, Israel has become Colombia's number one weapon supplier, with arms worth tens of millions of dollars, "including Kfir aircraft, drones, weapons and intelligence systems" being used against opponents of the Colombian regime ("Report: Israelis fighting guerillas in Colombia," Ynet, 10 August 2007). According to a senior Israeli defense official, "Israel's methods of fighting terror have been duplicated in Colombia" ("Colombia's FM: We share your resilience," 30 April 2010).

There is a reason that Latin Americans often refer to Colombia as the "Israel of Latin America," and indeed why Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, ex-Minister of Defence and right hand of Uribe, expressed his pride at such a comparison ("Santos, orgulloso de que a Colombia lo comparen con Israel," El Espectador, 6 June 2010).

The Colombian government's bias in Israel's favor was made clear during an April 2010 visit of Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez to Israel. The Jerusalem Post reported Bermudez's "desire to strengthen Colombia's military relationship with Israel" and of the "need to do more in terms of the fight against terrorism." He confidently predicted that "whoever wins [Colombia's] presidential election next month will be supportive of [Israel]. I admire your people. I admire your country and I admire you. You have many friends in Colombia" ("Colombia's FM: We share your resilience").

The admiration is mutual, and Uribe undertakes his role of impartial investigator weighed down with awards from various Zionist organizations. These include the American Jewish Committee's "Light unto the Nations Award" and descending further into Orwellian doublespeak, the "Presidential Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism" from B'nai Brith.

While the Colombian government and Uribe are entitled to their choice of friends, this -- to say the least -- indicates that there will be no objectivity whatsoever with regard to Uribe's role in the commission.

It appears that Israel only agreed to cooperate with this particular UN inquiry as there is very little chance this commission will take an independent stance and deliver an unbiased verdict on the brutal Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Indeed, Israel has declined to cooperate with the other UN commission into the attack appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. It can be reasonably argued that Colombian and Israeli cooperation in this matter is a further step towards jointly "doing more in terms of the fight against terrorism" (to paraphrase Bermudez' remarks in Israel).

In reality this means attacking human rights defenders and aid workers and further undermining international law and respect for human rights. Participating in a whitewash of the illegal and brutal murder of human rights activists and painting them as "terrorists in disguise" will serve the military objectives of both countries as they struggle to undermine human rights defenders and "enemy communities" in their respective countries.

This is a maverick commission lacking credibility, which will serve only to show the influence of the United States and Israel on Ban Ki-moon's office. Such a commission will disappoint anyone expecting a neutral, impartial investigation that reveals the truth about the massacre of 31 May. This commission further undermines the credibility of the UN and serves to turn international and human rights law into a game played between the violators of these laws.

José Antonio Gutiérrez and David Landy are activists based in Ireland, involved respectively with the Latin American Solidarity Centre and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. José Antonio Gutiérrez writes frequently on Colombia for www.anarkismo.net

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Huge mass grave uncovered in Colombia

• Believed to be one of the biggest in Latin American history, with around 2000 corpses
• Many bodies believed to belong to victims of army’s extrajudicial executions

Human rights NGOs, politicians and local communities used a public audience at the weekend to denounce the existence of a mass grave which is believed to contain as many as 2,000 corpses of victims of extrajudicial executions which date from 2005 onwards. The audience had the participation of an international delegation made up of MPs from the UK, the European parliament, Spain and the US, as well as trade unionists and several highly renowned human rights defenders from both Colombia and abroad.

On January 26th, Spanish newspaper Publico reported the discovery of the grave of up to 2000 bodies which date back to 2005. The newspaper says that the bodies were buried there by the Colombian army, who have a heavy presence in the area around the site in the town of La Macarena, in Meta department, about 200km south of Bogota. It is one of the biggest mass graves discovered in the history of conflicts in South American. Jairo Ramirez, from the Committee for the Permanent Defence of Human Rights, said, “The army commandant told us that they (the bodies) were guerrillas fallen in combat, but people in the region have told us about the large number of social leaders, campesinos and community defenders who disappeared without a trace” (http://www.publico.es/internacional/288773/aparece/colombia/fosa/comun/cadaveres). It is thought there could be more than 1000 mass graves in Colombia. The Prosecutor General’s office records show that there are around 25,000 ‘disappeared’ people in the country.

Since the discovery was announced, the government has strenuously denied its existence, thus the decision of victims’ families, local communities and human rights organisations to organise the high profile event last weekend. President Uribe responded by claiming that the event, which was attended by around 1000 people from local communities, was organised by “terrorists who are the enemies of the armed forces”, whilst exalting the “heroism” of the armed forces. Exhumations and investigations into the mass grave are continuing.

Monday, 28 June 2010


Yet more death threats against human rights organisations in South-West Colombia

by Asociacion Nomadesc
Santiago de Cali, 28th June 2010

At 10.22pm on Sunday June 27th 2010, a new death threat against a number of human rights organisations was sent via text message to human rights defender CRISTINA CASTRO GOMEZ(to the phone number 3177009645). Cristina works with the human rights NGO Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (Fundacion Comite Solidaridad con Presos Politicos- FCSPP). The threat was sent from the same phone number (3157319271) as the previous threat which was received on 14th June by Cristina Castro Gomez and Aida Quilcue ex-leader of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca). The same organisations are threatened in both cases: human rights NGO Nomadesc, FCSPP, Permanent Committee of Human Rights (CPDH), community organisation ECATE, and trade union central CUT Valle.

The text of the message sentences to death the members of the organisations, and is as follows.

"guerrilla sons of whores, you are just about crying with fear, you will never be in peace, the Ministry of Interior’s help is coming to an end and you’re at our mercy, demobilize now or you die, no more truce for you FARC ideologists, there are few hours left nobody will save you, death to cpdh, Nomadesc, ECATE, Comittee of Prisoners. Death to you guerrilla sons of whores...and your families. Sincerely New Generation...new extermination policy..xrt"(sic

We stress that we at Nomadesc have received 5 similar threats against the lives of our members during the past two months.

Two of the messages have been received by human rights defender Cristina Castro, one was made via a phone call to the police headquarters in the city of Tulua (all three also threaten the Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and ECATE). The other two were sent via text message to afro-Colombian leaders in Suarez municipality, and named as military objectives Nomadesc, CUT, Sintraunicol trade union, and several indigenous and Afro-Colombian organisations from the north of Cauca department including the Association of Indigenous Authoritis of Northern Cauca (Asociacion de Cabildos Indigenas del Norte del Cauca- ACIN), Black Communities Process(Proceso de Comunidades Negras- PCN), and the communal council of La Toma mining community.

Cristina Castro is a professor at the Valle university (Universidad del Valle) Tulua campus in the Social Work department, and was previously the coordinator of the Nomadesc investigation team. She is also a meber of the Red de Hermandad, a solidarity network which includes national and international human rights organisations.


We demand that all actions necessary to protect the lives of the threatened individuals and organisations are taken, and that a thorough investigation is carried out into the repeated threats.

We request that all of you to publicly denounce these threats and demand decisive action from the Colombian state to prevent any attack against the threatened organisations.

We also urge all of you to demand that the Colombian government takes measures to prevent new human rights violations against communities in South-West Colombia.
If you are in Britain, you can direct your correspondence to the Colombian embassy at elondres@cancilleria.gov.co.

More institutional emails (sometimes not delivered):
Presidente de la República
Carrera 8 No. 7 -26 Palacio de Nariño Bogotá
Fax. 5662071
Vicepresidente de la República
Carrera 8 No.7-57 Bogotá D.C.

Ministro de la Defensa (E)
Avenida El dorado con carrera 52 CAN Bogotá D.C.

Ministro del Interior y de Justicia
Avenida El dorado con carrera 52 CAN Bogotá D.C.
Fax. 2221874

Fiscal General de la Nación
Diagonal 22B No. 52-01 Bogotá D.C.
Fax. 570 20 00

Defensor del Pueblo
Calle 55 No. 10 – 32 Bogotá D.C.
Fax. 640 04 91

Procurador General de la Nación
Cra. 5 No.15 – 80F Bogotá D.C.

Please cc your emails to:

Monday, 21 June 2010

Yet another Trade Unionist murdered in Colombia

Takes toll to 31 already this year

On Thursday 17th June, Nelson Camacho Gonzalez was murdered whilst he waited for a bus to go to work at 5.30am in his home city of Barrancaburmeja. Gunmen on a motorbike shot him several times before making their getaway. Nelson worked for Ecopetrol oil company, and was a member of the USO oil sector workers union. The union currently is currently in dispute with Ecopetrol and BP over working conditions. In a statement the union said that it has been the victim of a systematic campaign of violence and harassment by the government’s paramilitary allies throughout the dispute.

Nelson is the 31st trade unionist to be murdered this year in Colombia, making a mockery of the International Labour Organisation’s decision last week to remove Colombia from a ‘black list’ of countries where labour rights are not respected. The decision by the ILO was met with disbelief by trade unions in Colombia. A report released by the International Trade Union Confederation the same week showed that of the 101 trade unionists that were murdered throughout the world in 2009, 48 were Colombians, almost 50%. The report also stated that 557 trade unionists have been murdered during President Uribe’s eight years in office. Colombia accounts for more than 60% of the trade unionists murdered over the last decade around the world.

We call on all of you to speak out as soon as possible, and demand a clear response from the Colombian state, to stop this violent extermination of activists. We also call on you to demand a full, thorough and timely investigation by the Colombian state to ensure that this case does not end in the same impunity which exists in almost all political murders in Colombia.

If you are in Britain, you can direct your correspondence to the Colombian embassy at elondres@cancilleria.gov.co.