We write to express deep concern regarding the assassination of trade unionist Gilberto Soto.
Mr. Soto was a U.S. citizen, born in El Salvador, and a respected union organizer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in New Jersey. He worked to organize port container drivers in the northeastern United States and had hoped to extend these organizing efforts to Central America. Mr. Soto was scheduled to begin meeting with port workers and drivers hauling shipping containers in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua during the week of November 8.
Mr. Soto was reportedly shot at close range outside his mother’s home in Usulután, El Salvador, on November 5 and died instantly. At least two assailants allegedly fled the scene into an awaiting vehicle.
On November 14, two days after denouncing Mr. Soto’s murder, the office of the Center for Labor Studies and Support (CEAL), a leading nongovernmental labor rights organization in San Salvador, was reportedly burglarized.
Human Rights Watch is profoundly troubled by these incidents and their potential effect on Salvadoran workers’ right to freedom of association. If they go unpunished, they could give rise to a climate of fear that prevents workers from exercising their fundamental human rights.
It is particularly important that the perpetrators of these crimes not enjoy impunity on the eve of possible legislative action on the United States-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA)—an accord with potentially serious repercussions for workers’ human rights. As we documented in a December 2003 report, Salvadoran workers already face systematic human rights violations, while the government disregards or even facilitates the abuses. In particular, workers encounter myriad obstacles to exercising their right to freedom of association and fear dismissal and retaliation for doing so. It is unacceptable that they should also fear physical violence and even murder because of their organizing activities. We therefore urge El Salvador to undertake, without delay, a thorough investigation of these crimes and bring to justice all those responsible, including both perpetrators and any intellectual authors.
Business and Human Rights Program
Human Rights Watch