Narco News '02
of Irish Prisoner in Colombia
for Observers, Fair Trial
Proceedings to Begin
Commentary: Since August 11, 2001, three Irish citizens have
been languishing in the prisons of the narco-state of Colombia.
On October 4, they will begin a long trial that may end in decades-long
prison sentences for each. As we reported last August, the case
against the men - accused of training rebel troops of the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) - is based on mythical "satellite
photos" and "forensic evidence" which never materialized
- and in fact had much more to do with demonizing the Irish Republican
Army (IRA) and the FARC simultaneously in the US and British
Today, we print a communiqué
from Cristín McCauley, wife of Martin McCauley, one of
the Irish political prisoners in Colombia, requesting support
for three of Empire's scapegoats, who for now have no chance
at getting a fair trial.
To see just what Ms. McCauley
means by a "trial by media" read this
story from the
Observer of London, or see the quotes from the Washington
Post in the
on Narco News.
- Dan Feder
for International and National Observers
for a Fair Trial of the Three Irishmen in Colombia
By Cristín McCauley
Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley
were arrested on August 11th 2001 at Bogotá airport. For
the first six months they were held without charge. In January
2002 they were charged with the use of false documentation and
training the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). They
are currently detained in La Picota Jail in Bogotá.
of the men
their arrest on August 11, 2001 they
have been held in 3 different jails and holding centres. Their
lives have been constantly in danger. The manner in which their
presence in Colombia has been portrayed in the media and elsewhere
has made them targets for right wing paramilitary groups in Colombia.
As the conflict in the country frequently spills into the jails,
we believe that there is no safe place for them in Colombia.
They were first detained in the notorious
La Modelo Jail and had to be moved following fears of an attempt
on their lives. They were transferred to El Dijin, a police holding
centre. It was illegal under Colombian law to hold them there,
the cramped conditions of their detention was causing them severe
physical and mental trauma and following successful lobbying
by their Lawyers in Colombia, the Irish Government and their
families, the men were moved to La Picota High Security Wing
A. They were moved from this jail back to El Dijin when a loaded
gun was found in an adjacent cell. Following a successful application
(Tutela) to the Supreme Court by the men they were moved back
to La Picota High Security Wing B. In June 2002, following threats
that their food would be poisoned, the men were unable to eat
for a period of seven days. In mid September 2002, Niall Connolly
was transferred to a prison in Combita, thirty miles from Bogota.
The Colombian lawyers, due to fears for their safety were unable
to visit him there and, given that Niall is the only one of the
three capable of speaking Spanish, this transfer meant that the
lawyers were unable to prepare the men's defence. Following intense
lobbying by the Irish Government and by Non Governmental Organisations
in Bogota, Niall was returned to La picota where the men are
currently being held.
Each of them are sharing a cell with men
charged with drugs offences awaiting extradition to the US. The
Irish Government, the lawyers and the campaign have made repeated
requests for the men to be sharing a cell together to protect
them but this has been denied by the Colombian Authorities.
lawyers in Colombia are prime targets
for Colombian State Sponsored right wing paramilitaries. Since
1998 over 25 defence lawyers have been murdered. The three men
are being represented by two organisations; The Lawyers Collective,
Jose Alvear Restrepo and the Federation of Lawyers for Political
Prisoners. These are world renowned organisations affiliated
to organisations like the Organisation of American States. They
work very closely with international human rights organisations.
The Lawyers Collective has won a prestigious award for its human
rights work from the French Government. They are funded by European
Development agencies. They work under very difficult circumstances
in Colombia. In June 2002, an 'anonymous' colour poster appeared
denouncing the Lawyers Collective as the 'legal wing of the ELN',
one of the guerrilla groups in Colombia and naming a senior member
of the military as a national hero. The Lawyers Collective are
currently working on a case which involves this senior member
of the military. As a result of the poster some of the lawyers
working for the collective had to leave the country and others
have to be extra vigilant for their security. Due to national
and international pressure the Colombian Government had to put
out a statement denouncing the poster.
the men were arrested they have had
problems getting access to lawyers. On many occasions the lawyers
would arrive and not be permitted to enter. The men were not
allowed to have a collective discussion with their lawyers, which
effectively meant that two of the Irishmen had no access to lawyers.
The Colombian Lawyers do not speak English and only one of the
men speaks Spanish. The lawyer's visits on many occasions were
ridiculously short given the language barrier. Indeed it became
so serious that the Irish lawyer Peter Madden from Madden and
Finucane had to bring the lawyers over to Ireland to work on
the men's defence.
One of the lawyers representing the three
men has arrived to visit the three men in La Picota on many occasions
and the prison authorities have tried to humiliate him, attempting
to force him to take his shoes, belt and tie off. He has refused
to do this on the grounds that it is degrading treatment for
a lawyer and as a result has not been able to visit the men for
the past five months.
three Irishmen have been tried by the Colombian and international
media. Since their arrest stories have
been written about them violating all aspects of their right
to a fair trial. The Attorney General's Office leaked every prosecution
document to the press and this has been verified to us by journalists.
There is a sub-judice law in Colombia during the investigative
stage of a legal process and this has been blatantly violated.
The former Colombian President - President
Andreas Pastrana wrote in the Washington Post, April 5, 2002
"Some months ago, IRA members were captured in Colombia
after training FARC guerrillas in urban terrorism". This
is a very serious interference in the legal process for a president.
It is important to note that it was written when he was in Washington
requesting an increase in military aid to Colombia.
The United States Senate Foreign Relations
Committee also violated the three Irishmen's right to fair trial
when they held public hearings on the three men and 'evidence'
was presented by Colombian General Tapias. The media were present
at the hearing and the General's comments were reproduced word
for word in the media throughout the world. Many of the Republican
and Democratic Congressmen and Senators present were very publicly
critical of the hearings.
It is obvious that the three Irishmen
are being used by elements of the Colombian Government and by
elements of the US Government to increase and redirect US Military
Aid to Colombia. At present the US Congress have put restrictions
on the Military Aid because of the Colombian Government's appalling
human rights record. Under these circumstances it is virtually
impossible for the three men to get a fair trial in Colombia.
on the Case
Prosecutor was appointed to direct
the Investigative Stage of the legal process. This stage ended
in January 2002. In theory the prosecutors job is to look for
evidence both for and against the men. Unfortunately this did
not happen and this stage of the case was closed without hearing
the defence witnesses. This is a violation of fair trial in Colombia.
The Irishmen are charged with the use
of false documents and training of the FARC. To date the evidence
presented against the men includes the following:
A test carried out by a US Military Official after the men were
arrested tested positive for explosives and drugs, they allege.
This was ruled inadmissible immediately because the Colombian
Army who arrested the three men brought them directly to a military
base near the US Embassy and called the US Embassy Official before
contacting their own civil authorities.
The US Embassy Official carried out a second test and they allege
that their belongings tested positive for explosives.
The Colombian Authorities carried out forensic tests on clothes
and belongings and all the tests were negative.
world renowned forensic expert, commissioned by Madden and Finucane
has examined all the materials in relation to the forensics and
he says there is not forensic evidence against the men
Colombian military has brought forward witnesses who they allege saw the men training the FARC.
These witnesses have been discredited under cross examination
by the defence lawyers. They are alleging that the men were in
Colombia in 1998 and December 2001. The defence has alibi witnesses
in Ireland (including employers records, elected parliamentarians,
and work colleagues) to prove that the men were not in Colombia
during those times.
men were travelling on false documentation.
This is a minor charge and under normal circumstances it would
be expected that the men would have been deported.
trial stage has begun, originally the
Colombian State decreed that the trial would be held in Florencia,
a region further south of Bogota. However, following a petition
to the Supreme Court the Colombian State admitted that it could
not protect the lives of the three men and the trial has been
transferred to Bogota, the Capital of Colombia. A judge has been
appointed. The men will be tried by one judge. There will be
The next stage of the trial will take
place on October 4th and the lawyers expect that it will be take
place over a period of three to four months.
Colombian and Irish Legal teams feel that it is very difficult
if not impossible for the three Irishmen
to get a fair trial given the politicisation of the case and
the military and political interests involved. Therefore they
feel that it is essential that there are observers at the trial.
This would involve legal and political observers to monitor different
aspects of the case. The legal teams are requesting that International
human rights organisations, political parties, artists, solidarity
groups, journalists and lawyers attend this trial.
The fact that observers are present would
put pressure on the Colombian Government and the legal process.
The only hope these men have of receiving a fair trial is if
the eyes of the world are watching.
International observers would also play
a role in protecting the lives of the defence lawyers whose lives
have been threatened.
In a public event held on the 9th September
2002 in the Colombian Congress in Bogotá, Amnesty International
expressed the support of thousands of its members for the courage
and dedication of the men and women who continue to carry out
their vital work in defence of the rights of all Colombians under
the most testing circumstances.
Amnesty International has expressed concern
that some of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's policies,
proposed as a means of combating guerrilla abuses, seriously
risk causing a further deterioration in human rights. "Security
quite simply does not come at the price of human rights,"
the organization said. "What Colombia needs are measures
which strengthen rather than jeopardize fundamental rights and
freedoms. It is through a renewed and unequivocal commitment
to human rights -- including, crucially, the work carried out
by human rights defenders, that true and lasting security will
be attained and all Colombians will enjoy the peace and sense
of justice that is their right."
"Defending human rights is itself
a right which has been recognised by the international community,
and which governments have the responsibility to uphold and protect,"
Amnesty International said. "Those who defend human rights
seek to ensure that individual rights, rather than being mere
subtleties, are valued and respected as essential components
to guarantee people's protection and security."
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