Union Leader Jorge Ortega Murdered as Labor Action is Met by Repression

The following information is summarized from the urgent action appeal issued the night of Jorge Ortega's assassination by 26 human rights organizations in Colombia, and a letter on repression of the labor movement to Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, from OIDH-ACO, the Belgium-based coordinating office for Colombia human rights work in Europe:

On October 20, at 7:15 p.m., trade union leader and human rights activist Jorge Ortega was assassinated as he was about to enter the building in which he lived. He was a member of the National Committee for the strike of state workers, called for an indefinite period two weeks earlier in response to the first wave of neoliberal measures by the Pastrana government. The members of the strike committee had received threats from the outset of the strike; his murder was clearly in retaliation for the firm position the strike committee had maintained in response to the arbitrary repression by the government. This included the murders of MARCO PEREZ, a member of Sintraelecol Sincelejo (October 10), and ORFA LIGIA MEDIA, a teacher from Nariño (October 7). Also assassinated have been Hortensia Alfaro Banderas, a nurse with the hospital workers union in Guajira (October 24); schoolteacher Macario Barrera Villota in Huila (October 25); and Jairo Cruz, president of a union involved with the production of vegetable oil, on October 26, in Cesar.

Considering the antecedents of repressive acts by the state against Jorge Ortega, the human rights groups, in the urgent action appeal, place full blame for the crime on the Samper and Pastrana Administrations. These include his arrest and jailing for three months, under the faceless-judge criminal justice system (Fiscalía Regional) in 1994, in proceedings at the initiative of the 13th Army Brigade. He left the country on several occasions for his safety, but always returned. Most recently, several armed men had carried out an illegal search of his home, beating and gagging his wife, on September 22, 1998.

Jorge Ortega was the trade union representative to the National Assembly of Civil Society, as well as the director of the CUT's human rights department. He was also the representative of the unions and social organizations to the Committee on Risk Assessment of the Ministry of Interior's Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders. In the Committee on Risk Assessment he had persistently pointed out the unacceptably high risk to himself and other CUT leaders. He had sought protection for himself for five months, in view of threats received, yet none was forthcoming.

Please respond to the urgent action appeal on behalf of Colombian trade union leaders.