Colombia was the deadliest country for trade union leaders in 2021.
Trade unionists are being murdered as they represent workers’ and their collective rights. Too often there is no justice for workers and their families as government and employers act with impunity. In 2021, trade unionists were murdered in six countries: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Myanmar, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Workers were murdered in Myanmar and the Philippines.
On 7 February 2021, Leonardo Escala, president of the union for dock workers at ICTSI’s Manila terminal, NMPI-ICTSI, and his four-year-old niece were shot multiple times by assassins outside his home in Tondo, Manila. His murderers escaped on scooters. Escala died an hour later at a hospital, where his niece remained for treatment after being shot at in the back.
On 17 August 2020, 39-year-old Zara Alvarez was shot dead. Alvarez was coordinator in Bacolod City for Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). She was among the 600 individuals tagged as “terrorists” in the proscription case filed in Manila Regional Trial Court in 2018. Her name and photo appeared in posters in the streets of Negros as one of the alleged ranking officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Alvarez and many others were stricken off the list in 2019. However, those on the list were still threatened or vilified by alleged state forces. To this day, no arrest has been made in relation to the murder.
State violence against trade unionists is endemic in the Philippines as President Duterte condones and even orders targeted attacks to arrest and kill them. In early March 2021, he pronounced in a public speech his “desire to kill all communists”. On 7 March 2021, state forces launched coordinated raids against trade union leaders and activists in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal (Southern Tagalog). Five trade unionists were killed by the police, including Manny Asuncion and Michael Dasigao.
Since the military coup of 1 February 2021 in Myanmar, crowds turned out in force to call for the return to democracy and the restoration of the rule of law. Despite being faced with extreme brutality by the state forces who resorted to lethal force and mass arrests, their determination did not abate.
In early March, a coalition of labour unions called a strike with the goal of a “full, extended shutdown of the Myanmar economy.” Workers in several industries joined the protest movement, most notably from the state railway and the banking sector. Police intimidated railway workers in Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city, by roaming through their housing area one night, shouting and randomly firing guns.
In Yangon and elsewhere, raids are carried out nightly after the 8 p.m. curfew by police and soldiers firing guns and stun grenades and staging selective raids to arrest people. The arrests are often carried out at gunpoint, without warrants.
The total number of people killed in weeks of unrest has risen to at least 550 (at the time of writing), while hundreds more have been wounded and over 2,700 have been arrested, charged or already sentenced.
Workers were murdered in Nigeria.
On 5 April 2020, Chibuisi Chikezie Okameme, a member of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum Workers (NUPENG), was shot dead while at work by a police officer on COVID-19 enforcement patrol in Abia State. Okameme was a petrol attendant employed by Greenmac Energy in Aba City. NUPENG has long denounced the heavy-handedness of the police in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic lockdown regulations and the use of disproportionate force by security forces during the lockdown. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) declared that the police and other security forces killed eleven people during the enforcement of the COVID-19 lockdown and violated human rights, including through unlawful arrests and torture.
Workers were murdered in Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala.
Hamilton Gasca Ortega, a member of the Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Campesinos de Piamonte Cauca (Asintracampic), affiliated to Fensuagro, was murdered, along with two of his children, in the early hours of 4 April 2020 in the village of La Consolata in the municipality of Piamonte (Cauca). At least four people, heavily armed, arrived at Hamilton's home and shot him dead. Two of his minor children were also killed. His wife, María Josefa Arroyo, survived the attack.
Nelson Ramos Barrera, peasant leader of the Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Campesinos de Piamonte Cauca (Asintracampic), affiliated to Fensuagro, was assassinated on 13 October 2020 in the village of Yapurá in the municipality of Piamonte (Cauca). Members of an armed group intended to kidnap the peasant leader, but his family put up resistance, so the thugs killed him in front of his wife, children and parents. Nelson Ramos was one of the most representative leaders and was known for working with the youth in the village of Yapura.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, twenty-two trade unionists were murdered in Colombia: John Fredy Alvarez Quinaya; Yordan Tovar; Sandra Mayerly Baquero; Albeiro Silva Mosquera; Luis Hugo Silva Mosquera; Mario Talaga; Arley Hernan Chala Renteria; Alexis Vergara; Hamilton Gasca Ortega; Jairo de Jesus Jimenez Isaza; Candelaria Acendra; Edgar Erney Guejia Dizu; Rubilio Papelito Limon; Jose Gustavo Arcila; Carlos Mario Congo Alvarez; Erminso Trochez Ilamo; Jaider Esteban Quintana Salinas; Nelson Ramos Barrera; Douglas Cortes Mosquera; Bayron Alirio Ravelo; Omar Moreno Ibague; and Carlos Vidal.
Jorge Palacios Reyes was killed on his way to work on 7 May 2020. He was a union leader Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Salud de Guatemala (SNTSG) and leader of the Frente Nacional de Lucha por la Defensa de los Servicios Públicos y los Recursos Naturales (FNL). He worked at the Cuilapa Hospital, Department of Santa Rosa. Jorge was one of seven union leaders assassinated in Guatemala.
José Guadalupe Hernández y Hernández was shot dead on 2 June 2020.He was a member of the Sindicato de Trabajadores del Órgano Legislativo (STOL). Unknown men on a motorcycle followed him, approached the vehicle he was driving and shot him a few blocks from the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala, where he had gone to try to get reinstated to his post after being demoted in March. José was one of seven union leaders assassinated in Guatemala.
Julio César Zamora Álvarez was killed on 19 April 2020. He was the general secretary of the Sindicato Unido de Trabajadores Portuarios de Puerto Quetzal and member of the Federación Nacional de Sindicatos de Trabajadores del Transporte de Guatemala (FETRANSGUA). Two unknown individuals who were riding on a motorcycle approached him and shot him repeatedly in the El Peñate neighborhood of Puerto de San José (province of Escuintla). Julio was one of seven union leaders assassinated in Guatemala.
José Miguel Florián Alay was killed on his way to work in Guatemala City in the morning of 4 March 2020. He was a member and activist for over thirty years of Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (STUSC). José was one of seven union leaders assassinated in Guatemala.
Héctor David Xoy Ajualip was assassinated on 6 April 2020 near the highway to Los Ocotes in Guatemala City. He was a member of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Servicios GFLG y Sociedad Anónima (SITRAGFLG), and worked for the transnational company Pepsico. Héctor was one of seven union leaders assassinated in Guatemala.
Gerson Hedelman Ortiz Amaya, was killed in early February 2020. He was a member of Sindicato de Trabajadores del Instituto de Desarrollo Municipal (SITRAINFOM). Gerson was one of seven union leaders assassinated in Guatemala.
Pedro Rogelio Morales Gramajo was killed on 2 February 2020 in the province of Retalhuleu. He was a member of Consejo Consultivo de la Unión General de Empleados del Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social (SIGEMITRAB). Pedro was one of seven union leaders assassinated in Guatemala.
In Brazil, trade unionist João Inácio da Silva was shot dead by two motorcyclists while he was sitting in front of his house in Parauapebas, Pará, on 6 November 2020. He was president of the Montes Belos Workers' Cooperative. Da Silva had recently received death threats. To date, no arrest has been made.
On 23 July 2020, Hamilton Dias de Moura, president of the Union of Drivers and Employees in Companies of Freight Transportation, Logistics in Transportation and Differentiated of Belo Horizonte and Region (SIMECLODIF), was murdered. Moura's body was found with several bullet holes in the passenger seat of his own car in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais.