Colombian trade unionist confronts BP in British Museum

Colombian trade unionist suing BP over kidnap and torture brings his fight for justice to…the British Museum.

Today, we were honoured to perform alongside Colombian trade unionist Gilberto Torres in our latest unsanctioned performance protest in the British Museum. Together, we challenged the Museum’s sponsor, BP, over its history of environmental destruction and human rights abuses in Colombia.

Gilberto, a former trade unionist representing workers in the oil industry, was abducted and tortured by Colombian paramilitaries in 1992. He believes his abduction was ordered by Ocensa, a joint-venture pipeline company that was part-owned by BP. He is now taking legal action against BP in the British courts, and has come to the UK for the two-week ‘Oil Justice Now!’ tour, which aims to raise awareness – and funds – for his case.

Gilberto Torres speaks in the BP-sponsored British Museum. Photo by Kristian Buus.

Our action today aimed to bring Gilberto’s story to one of the places where BP do not want it to be heard: the British Museum. BP sponsors the Museum in order to present a false face to the world, to pose as a responsible “corporate citizen” and distract the public from its real activities. It was time, once again, to reveal the true nature of this criminal company to visitors at the Museum.

Truth translate 2
One of the “Truth Translators” listens carefully to BP’s spin. Photo by Kristian Buus.

Our pop-up performance – featuring two vaudevillian ‘truth translators’ who translated the greenwash spouted by a sleazy BP character – drew a crowd in the Great Court. Then Gilberto himself stepped forward to tell his extraordinary story. Here are some excerpts of what he said:

“Today I am here, at the British Museum in London, because there is an oil company that is sponsoring this museum, and this company was involved in my 42-day-long kidnapping. This company is BP.

“When I was kidnapped I knew what was going to happen to me. I knew I was going to be murdered and left by the side of some road. But thanks to people’s solidarity, both national and international, to an oil workers’ 24-day-long strike, and to demonstrations by communities in Colombia and human rights organisations, it was possible for me not to be executed. Instead, I was held for longer, then finally released.

“I believe that British justice will rule in my favour. Not only in favour of Gilberto Torres, but also in favour of justice, in favour of this not happening again. And, as a person who has been kidnapped, who has suffered and been on the edge of death, I am here to tell the public in London, and those who make the laws, to please legislate, pass a law that prosecutes the violations to human rights committed by corporations from this country, in this case BP.

According to Sue Willman, a lawyer from Deighton Pierce Glynn, the law firm representing Gilberto:

“Gilberto Torres is risking his safety by suing oil companies in UK and by coming here to tell his story. He and his community face huge barriers in accessing justice. We hope his courage and the Oiljustice initiative will be a small step in breaking down those barriers, and changing the behaviour of corporations. We want to see BP held to account for its role in human rights violations, and we want justice to be done not just for Gilberto but for thousands of others.”

Paula Serafini of ‘BP or not BP?’, who also took part in today’s performance, said: “BP is responsible for horrific human rights abuses in Colombia. It is also driving runaway climate change, lobbying against low-carbon alternatives, and destroying ecosystems and livelihoods around the world. The British Museum must stop legitimising this criminal company by allowing it to sponsor major exhibitions.”

You can read a personal account from one of the performers here.

Gilberto speaks
Gilberto Torres addresses a crowd in the BP-sponsored British Museum. Photo by Kristian Buus.

The Oil Justice campaign is a collaboration between War on Want, law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn and the Colombian NGO COSPACC, and we were very happy for the chance to support them today. You can see Gilberto speak as part of the Oil Justice tour at the following times and dates:

12 October: Unite House, 128 Theobalds Road, Holborn, London, WC1X 8TN. 6pm – 9pm
14 October: Jubilee Lecture Theatre, University of Sussex, Brighton, 5:00 – 7:00pm
15 October: Okinaga Room, Wadham College, Oxford University, Oxford, 7:30pm
16 October: Peel Lecture Theatre, Department of Geographical Sciences, University Road, Bristol, BS8 1SS, 6:30 – 8:30pm
17 October: Temple of Peace, Kind Edward VII Avenue, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3AP, 6pm
19 October: Northumbria University, City Campus East 003, Newcastle. 6 – 7:30pm
20 October: City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9BX, 7:15 for 7:30pm
21 October: Department of Criminology, Cambridge University, 5 – 7pm
22 October: Drama Studio, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London, WC1H 0AL, 6pm – 8.30pm
23 October: Garden Court Chambers, 57-60 Lincolns Inn Field, WC2A 3LJ. Fundraising event with drinks reception and Sri lankan dinner. 6.30pm

For more information, and to book tickets, visit the Oil Justice Now webpage.

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