Irish Republican News · August 7, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
The story of the Colombia 3
A summary of the case, trial, acquittal and conviction on appeal of the Colombia 3.


Colombia has a reputation for human rights abuse: terror, extra-judicial executions and disappearances are routine occurrences. Government-supported death squads battle with paramilitary groups and drug lords to impose a real state of terror over large parts of the population. Human Rights workers, lawyers and judges, as well as peasants, are among the most common victims of these groups. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their lands. Impunity reigns.

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 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.

There were 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.

Following their arrest in August 2001, the men were forced to endure horrific conditions. Senior prison officials admitted that the Colombian authorities could not guarantee their safety in the country.

In their address to the court in July 2003 the men stated that their presence in Colombia was in support of the 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 confirmed that the case was 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 was also 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 compounded the serious procedural and evidential failings in the case.

Crucially, the observers found that there was no evidence presented at the trial which proved the prosecution case -- that the men were engaged in illegally training FARC guerrillas was a lie.

The evidence of prosecution witnesses who claimed 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 men were kept in dangerous conditions and that was no safe place of detention for them in Colombia. Threats were made to their defence lawyers, to their visiting families and to the observer delegation.

Among the key conclusions of the observer delegation were 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 had been deprived of their liberty for over two years on the basis of fabricated evidence;

  • The defendant’s access to their lawyers had been unduly restricted;

  • Defence lawyers had been prevented from gathering evidence in support of their clients and were restricted in cross-examination;

  • The forensic test carried out by the United States Embassy had 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 had been definitively refuted. Expert testimony showed mortars used by the IRA differ from those used by the FARC in design and function;

  • Video evidence presented by the defence supported the men’s contention that their presence in Colombia was peaceful and related to conflict resolution;

  • The intelligence given by British 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 had accepted that they used documents under assumed identities but this is an offence punishable by deportation.

The men were eventually cleared in April 2004 of training rebels, a decision widely welcomed as just. The judge asked that the main prosecution witnesses be investigated for perjury. Embarrassed state prosecutors mounted an appeal.

The men were supposed to be deported but were then ordered to stay in the country, despite facing increased death threats. The Irish government called for the men to be allowed return to Ireland.

Last December a court consisting of three justices, without hearing any new evidence, overrruled the acquittal by a 2-1 verdict and decided that the men were guilty of training rebels. Each was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

The men left the country but remained in jeopardy after the Colombian authorities issued an international arrest warrant. The men’s whereabouts was not known until Friday night, when it was revealed that the men had recently returned to Ireland.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News