Canadian unions write Colombian President Gustavo Petro about the killing of union members at the University del Valle

Published by Brent Patterson on

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The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) have written to Colombian President Gustavo Petro about the recent killing of two members of the National Union of Workers and University Employees of Colombia (SINTRAUNICOL) at the University del Valle in the city of Cali.

Their joint letter says:

On behalf of five Canadian labour organizations, representing over four million workers, we are writing to express our outrage following the recent violence and murder of two trade unionists at the University del Valle. Maria Elena Mendoza and Gloria Mendoza Puliche, were shot and killed on the morning of February 22, 2023, just before starting their workday. Both women, active members of SINTRAUNICOL, had previously reported to authorities that they had received death threats.

As members of the Canada Colombia Frontlines Initiative, we have visited Colombia on numerous occasions, and have developed long term relations with unions in Colombia, including the National Union of Workers and University Employees of Colombia (SINTRAUNICOL). Most recently, we were hosted by SINTRAUNICOL, at the University del Valle campus in Cali in July 2022.

The recent killings of Maria Elena Mendoza and Gloria Mendoza Puliche occurred on the heels of a “peoples’ hearing” on November 24, 2022, that highlighted previous acts of violence at the University del Valle since the National Strike in 2021. Nine incidents of homicide have been documented against members of the University community, four of whom were support workers affiliated to SINTRAUNICOL, killed within the last nine months.

We regret that no government, municipal, or national authority has responded to the invitation to participate in these public hearings. However, we support the requests of SINTRAUNICOL Cali, the student representatives at the University del Valle, NOMADESC, the Intercultural University of the People, the urban movement known as ‘Ciudad en Movimiento’, and the Indigenous Council of the University del Valle, among other social organizations and defenders of human rights in the city of Cali, who call on the government to respond to the findings.

According to leaders in the region, there is an escalation of violence and an ongoing armed conflict in the city that must be taken seriously. We are concerned that these systematic attacks are happening with total impunity and without the necessary prevention and protection measures being taken by all levels of government. Particularly concerning is the postponement of the January 25, 2023 court hearings against several members of the National Police and civilians who stand accused of perpetrating acts that threatened the university community and the citizens of Cali on May 28, 2022. Among the victims was a student at the University of del Valle.

We respectfully request the following actions be taken by your government to ensure the safety and security of union leaders and human rights defenders:

  • Provide guarantees for the life and physical integrity of members of the university community, guarantee their right to social protest, and prioritize the prevention of risks already identified and denounced by the university community;
  • take immediate action for the protection and accompaniment of leaders, and prevention of further violence;
  • provide guarantees for the exercise of labour rights by SINTRAUNICOL affiliates and the university community in general;
  • ensure that the offices of the Inspector General and Public Ministry provide immediate response to complaints; and
  • carry out an investigation of those responsible for these events and take prompt legal action.

    We continue to provide support and solidarity to our partners in Colombia and we trust you will take our concerns seriously.

    The letter is signed as follows:

    To read the Peace Brigades International-Colombia accompanied Association for Research and Social Action (Nomadesc) statement requesting urgent action on the murder María Elena Mendoza and Gloria Mendoza Puliche, click here.

    Nomadesc has posted on social media:

    “#We demand Justicia!! | The social organizations, trade unions and human rights defenders of Valle del Cauca REJECT the murder of Maria Elena Mendoza and Gloria Mendoza Puliche, workers of various services, who were murdered outside the University of Valle Melendez on 22 February 2023.”

    For more, please see: Mujeres asesinadas en Cali eran del sindicato de la Univalle; ya van cuatro crímenes contra esa organización en menos de un año (Semana, February 22, 2023).

    Peace Brigades International in Canada and Colombia is following this closely.

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