A Letter from Cristín McCauley
Court Proceedings Begin
October 1, 2002
Associate Publisher’s 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 press.
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 original story on Narco News.
Request for International and National Observers
for a Fair Trial of the Three Irishmen in Colombia
By Cristín McCauley
Niall 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.
Conditions of the men
Since 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.
Dangers facing Defence Lawyers in Colombia
Defence 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.
Access to Lawyers
Since 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.
Trial by Media
The 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.
Update on the Case
A 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:
1. 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.
2. The US Embassy Official carried out a second test and they allege that their belongings tested positive for explosives.
3. The Colombian Authorities carried out forensic tests on clothes and belongings and all the tests were negative.
4. A 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
The 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.
The 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.
The 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 no jury.
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.
The 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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