Arrested illegally in El Dorado Airport Bogota on the 11th August 2001, Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley were held without charge for six months in constant fear of their lives. They were charged in January 2002 with the use of false documentation and training the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in rebellion. Their trial began in October 2002 and concluded in August 2003.
A delegation of international observers including lawyers, politicians and human rights activists from Ireland, the US and Australia attended each hearing of the trial in Bogota and a hearing on Commission in the city of Medellin, in the north of Colombia.
In a press conference on the 4th October 2002, at the beginning of the trial the men's lawyers stated that they did not believe the men could obtain a fair trial in Colombia given the political nature of the case. This report confirms that belief.
As their detailed accounts establish, the observers discovered deep inconsistencies in the prosecution case, flaws in the forensic evidence used against them, interference by senior political and military figures in Colombia in the case and fabricated evidence by key prosecution witnesses.
During their visits to the three men, who have been held in six different prisons in varying degrees of danger, the observers were informed by senior prison officials that the Colombian authorities cannot guarantee their safety in the country.
They also heard directly from the men their reasons for visiting Colombia, the manner of their illegal arrest and detention and the horrific conditions they have been forced to endure since their arrest in August 2001. The three men explained their reasons for refusing to attend the trial hearings until the concluding stages in July 2003.
In their address to the court in July 2003 the men stated that their presence in Colombia was in support of the, now-stalled, peace process in that country. The men spent a number of weeks in a demilitarised zone in the south east of Colombia which had also been visited by many international delegations, including senior politicians, diplomats and business people as well as human rights and political activists from Europe and the US.
They stated that their possession of documentation with assumed identities reflected nothing more than a desire to travel unhindered. Under Colombian law this is a minor offence punishable by deportation.
The public interference in the case by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his predecessor, Andres Pastrana, as well as the head of the army, General Mora, and the former Attorney General has confirmed that the case is politically motivated and is being used by the military in Colombia as a way of seeking resources from the USA and the UK to fight the guerrillas.
It has also been used by political, military and intelligence forces seeking to undermine the peace process in Ireland.
The inflammatory and prejudicial interventions by elements of the media and by some Irish, British, and US politicians and military figures have compounded the serious procedural and evidential failings in this case.
Crucially the observers have found that there was no evidence presented at the trial which proves the prosecution case that the men were engaged in illegally training FARC guerrillas is a lie.
The evidence of prosecution witnesses who claim to have seen the men at various times in Colombia between 1999 and 2001 was refuted under cross examination. Alibi, including video evidence, was presented which showed that the men could not have been in Colombia at the times alleged by these informer witnesses.
Further, there was no evidence presented by the prosecution for the activities of the men when they were known to have been in Colombia for some weeks prior to their arrest in August 2003.
The forensic evidence connecting them to explosive materials was discredited by international expert, Dr Keith Borer, who also destroyed the claim by Colombian military witnesses that the IRA and FARC employed similar technologies.
The observers found that the men have been kept in dangerous conditions and that there is no safe place of detention for them in Colombia. They also noted the threats to their defence lawyers, to their visiting families and to the delegation itself. These included harassment and direct intimidation by the Colombian authorities of members of the observer delegation.
They concluded on a wide number of grounds that three men have not had a fair trial, remain in immediate and constant danger, should not be convicted on the serious charges and should be sent back to their families, who have also suffered greatly over the past two and half years, without further delay.
Among the key conclusions of the international delegation are that;
* The original arrest and detention by the Colombian military was illegal.
* The Colombian prosecutor did not carry out his function and failed to gather exculpatory evidence;
* The men have been deprived of their liberty for over two years on the basis of fabricated evidence;
* The defendant's access to their lawyers has been unduly restricted;
* Defence lawyers have been prevented from gathering evidence in support of their clients;
* Defence counsel have been unduly restricted in cross-examination while the prosecutor has been given greater and unfair latitude in his cross-examination of defence witnesses;
* The forensic test carried out by the United States Embassy has been discredited by a leading forensics expert during the hearing and should never have had legal standing in Colombia;
* The argument that technical expertise has been passed to the FARC by the IRA has been definitively refuted. Expert testimony shows mortars used by the IRA differ from those used by the FARC in design and functional detail;
* Video evidence presented by the defence supports the men's contention that their presence in Colombia was peaceful and related to conflict resolution;
* The intelligence given by UK Intelligence to the Colombian authorities was inaccurate or 20 years out of date.
* The circumstantial evidence brought by the prosecution had no credibility in relation to times and places of the alleged crimes;
* The men were not In Colombia at the times alleged by prosecution witnesses;
* The men have accepted that they used documents under assumed identities but this is an offence punishable by deportation.
The full report is available at https://www.bringthemhome.ie