Trade unionists unfairly imprisoned for their union activities in Colombia will get vital legal support through a joint project launched today by the Transport and General Workers Union and Thompsons Solicitors.

The project will establish a legal unit for the Colombian agricultural workers’ union FENSUAGRO.

Members of FENSUAGRO, the second largest trade union in the country, have been the victims of hundreds of human rights abuses since the union was founded in 1986.

Around 600 members, including the General Secretary, have been assassinated and many others forcibly disappeared, tortured or imprisoned for long periods without trial.

Legal unit to defend Union members

The new legal unit, developed by the T&G and Thompsons in conjunction with Justice for Colombia, will provide legal defence to members of the union who have been unfairly imprisoned for their union activities.

It will also strengthen the capacity of the union to document and then disseminate information about human rights violations being committed against FENSUAGRO members.

It will become part of the already existing FENSUAGRO human rights department which is managed by Aidee Moreno – who spoke at the T&G conference in 2005.

T&G general secretary Tony Woodley said:

“Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, and the T&G, as Britain’s trade union in the countryside, is proud to be helping our brothers and sisters among Colombian agricultural workers get the representation they need.”

Karen Mitchell, a partner with Thompsons, recently returned from a lawyers’ fact finding mission to Colombia and met with FENSUAGRO members, other trade unionists and human rights lawyers.

Karen commented:

“I saw at first hand the life-threatening conditions in which trade unionists and human rights lawyers work. This initiative to establish a legal unit is urgently needed to protect trade unionists in Colombia.”

Liam Craig-Best, Director of Justice for Colombia” added:

“FENSUAGRO is one of the most persecuted trade unions in the world and this project will really benefit trade unionists on the ground in Colombia. Not only will the new legal team be able to provide concrete assistance to those who have been unjustly imprisoned but it will also make it more difficult for the Colombian regime to continue jailing innocent men and women simply because they are active trade unionists.”