Observers' concern at continuing Colombia trial delay

A delegation of international observers are visiting Colombia to express their concern at the delay in the decision in relation to Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan. The men have now been in jail for two and a half years. The trial finished in July of last year and there is still no verdict.

Caitriona Ruane, of the `Bring Them Home Campaign' working to free the men, is accompanying a delegation of members of parliament and lawyers including Niall Andrews, MEP, Sean Crowe TD, Senator Mary White and US lawyer Steve McCabe.

Caitriona Ruane said the group had met with senior representatives of the United Nations, the EU Ambassador, and the director of the notoriously dangerous La Modelo prison where the men are being held.

``Everyone we met without exception is shocked that the three men are still waiting for a verdict six months after the trial ended,'' she said.

She said the delegation had held ``a very honest and constructive meeting'' with the Colombian Vice President. The group expressed their grave concern at the delay in the verdict and requested that the Vice President ``helps create the space for the judge to make a decision solely based on the evidence presented to his court, free from politicial and military pressure''.

She said Mr Santos assured the delegation that the judge is free to make an independent decision and stated that the Colombian judiciary is independent.

``We explained that this has not been our experience to date, and that we will judge this when the decision is given.

``Sixteen different international observers from three continents in their reports have found that there is insufficient evidence to convict the men and that they should be sent home.''

Ruane added that the increasing focus of human rights activists on the case was making officials in Bogota nervous.

``I'm getting a sense that the Colombian government is getting increasingly concerned about its human rights image internationally. There is a sense that this case is being viewed as a test of Colombia's justice system. The delegation of people I have brought from Ireland and the United States has been finding that doors are being opened to us at the highest level.''

Ms Ruane claimed tonight the three men and their legal representatives had been told initially that the verdict was due 15 days after the completion of the trial.

``It now appears that we could see a verdict in March,'' she said.

Ruane also criticised comments by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, in which he condemned the human rights ``industry'' as ``one of the great curses of this world''.

``I have heard Mr Trimble's comments and am very shocked by them. Yesterday at a meeting with a senior United Nations lawyer we heard about the systematic, and massive abuses of human rights in Colombia and the escalation of violations of rights against entire villages. Over the past few months entire villages have been arrested by the Colombian army. The United Nations have informed us that human rights defenders are now in jail on the flimliest of pretexts.''

``Mr Trimble's rant against human rights defenders are dangerous and reactionary... It is remarks like these that give the green light to death squads all over the world to carry out their assassinations of some of the most remarkable and bravest people who have stood up against repressive regimes. In Colombia more human rights lawyers and trade unionists have been killed than in any other country in the world.''

In a statement, Senator Mary White said: ``Justice delayed is justice denied. What is happening here is unacceptable. I found the meetings with the EU and United Nations very informative. I will be reporting to the Irish Prime Minister on my return to Ireland.''

Steve McCabe, US Lawyer added: ``Many people in the United States are very concerned about the issue of fair trial and presumption of innocence in the case of these three Irishmen. What began as an issue for Irish America is now a concern of the entire human rights community in the United States. Prior to coming here a delegation of Irish American organisations met with the Colombian Consul in New York and expressed our concerns about this case.''

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2004 Irish Republican News