Colombia: Cheaper to shoot unionists than to negotiate

A new report by the London-based International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) concludes that in Colombia it’s quicker, cheaper and less risky for employers to kill trade unionists involved in an employment dispute than it is to use legal procedures to resolve their differences, reports Mary Engqvist of ANNCOL, a Colombian news service.

According to the ICLR, over three-quarters of the world’s trade unionists who have been murdered in recent years because of their union activity are of Colombian nationality. In 2002, the death toll was 184; in 2003 there were 90 murders. Alongside the murders came countless death threats, kidnappings, arrests, acts of torture and attempted assassinations.

Worse still, the ICLR noted, such crimes are committed by employers and their death squads with near-total impunity. Almost 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered since 1986, yet only five persons have been convicted of such crimes through 2002.

The report noted that the Colombian government headed by President Alvaro Uribe “fails to guarantee the full enjoyment and protection of fundamental rights” and that its inaction in the face of such murders “means that there is no real deterrent for the perpetrators of the killings.”

Welcoming the report, Gabriel Alvis, a leader of the USO oilworker’s union, said Colombia’s trade unionists would continue to risk their lives and liberty in defense of their jobs and democracy.

Mauritius: Stand-off with Britain on Diego Garcia

The former British colony of Mauritius, an island nation located 500 miles east of Madagascar, has been threatening to withdraw from the Commonwealth in the wake of Britain’s refusal to allow it to sue for the return of the strategically-located Chagos islands. An Indian Ocean archipelago, the Chagos islands include Diego Garcia, the site of a huge U.S. military base.

Tensions mounted still further July 7, according to London’s Independent newspaper, when Bill Rammell, Britain’s Foreign Office minister, ruled that even if Mauritius were to withdraw from the Commonwealth, it would nonetheless remain remain barred from bringing its case before the International Court of Justice.

Rammell defended a controversial order that prohibits Chagos islanders from returning to their homeland, saying it was necessitated by financial and legal considerations. He said that the 1,500 residents of the islands were paid the equivalent of $27 million after their removal in 1945, just prior to Mauritius’ independence.

Diplomats said that Britain’s “arrogant” handling of the issue had served only to poison the atmosphere, the Independent said.

Philippines: U.S. military training near separatist strongholds

U.S. forces will provide special combat training to help Filipino soldiers better fight Muslim and communist guerrillas as well as al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah militants, military officials said July 5.

According to Asia News, the military maneuvers from July 26 to Aug. 14 will bring U.S. Special Forces trainers to Carmen town in North Cotabato province, a new training ground in the south for the Americans where Muslim separatists and Marxist rebels are active.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, one of Washington’s closest Asian allies, allowed American troops to arm and train Filipino soldiers battling Abu Sayyaf Muslim guerrillas in southern Zamboanga city and nearby Basilan island two years ago.

Defense Undersecretary Edgardo Batenga said the new military training in Carmen, 560 miles south of Manila, would be attended by more than 150 Filipino soldiers and at least 20 of their U.S. counterparts. Filipino soldiers will be taught unconventional warfare tactics, night combat movement, sniping and surveillance techniques, military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero told Asia News.

Iraq: 107 children in detention centers

The Chilean newspaper Las Últimas Noticias reported July 5 that a spokesman for the International Red Cross, Florian Westphal, has said, “We registered 107 children between last January and May during 19 visits that we paid to detention centers” run by the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

Westphal said that U.S. occupation forces not only held children but also mistreated them. In Abu Ghraib, investigators met a young girl between 15 and 16 years old in her cell. On another occasion, water was poured on a 16-year-old and he was then brought out into the cold and smeared with mud.

The International Red Cross reported that some of the detained Iraqi children had been imprisoned for months, and that the children had no contact with their families and have been relegated to a kind of judicial limbo.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel ( Mark Almberg and Eric Mueller contributed to this week’s notes.