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Free the Colombia 3

‘Bring Them Home Campaign’ Comes to New York

By Conor McGrady |
September 5, 2003
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Photo by Conor McGrady
Pedro Mahecha Avila and Caitrona Ruane discuss the case of the Colombia 3. Photo by Conor McGrady
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For more information on the Colombia Three, visit their website.

New York, NY - Caitriona Ruane, the national chairperson of the Bring Them Home Campaign in Ireland, was here Sept. 5 to highlight the situation facing the Colombia Three. The Colombia Three, Jim Monaghan, Niall Connelly and Martin McCauley, all from Ireland, have spent over two years in prison in Colombia awaiting trail and sentencing. They are charged with training members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in guerrilla warfare.

The three men were arrested in August 2001, after visiting the demilitarized zone established as part of a failed peace process. Since then, they have been held in some of Colombia’s most notorious prisons.

The men have stated in open court that they traveled to the demilitarized zone to speak with people there about the peace process. At the time it was common for outsiders to travel into the demilitarized zone. Visitors to the zone included journalists and various international dignitaries and human rights activists.

Ruane, along with Colombian lawyer for the men, Pedro Mahecha Avila, talked about the case of the three and explained how the war in Colombia has seriously undermined the legitimacy of the country’s legal system. Of particular concern is the widespread use of false or fabricated evidence in cases concerning the insurgency, and the pressures from state and right-wing paramilitaries which impede lawyers and judges from carrying out their professional functions. Human rights organizations have unanimously condemned Colombian prosecutors’ common practice of relying on testimony provided by paid military informers.

Pedro Mahecha Avila explained how the justice system in Colombia is being used as a counter-insurgency tool in the case of the three men. The U.S. State Department, along with members of the British government, wants the men convicted, in an effort to lend legitimacy to the U.S. ‘war on terror.’ The U.S. in particular has vested interest in propping up the Colombian regime, due to its economic and geopolitical interests in the region. It has used military and economic aid to help the Colombian government wage war on its own population through Plan Colombia, which pumps billions of dollars in military aid into Colombia to prevent the FARC and other guerilla organizations from taking power.

After laying out how the case is a fame-up - with unreliable witnesses, perjured statements that put the men in Colombia at times when they were, in fact, in Ireland and false forensic evidence - Ruane talked about the prison conditions faced by the three. They are surrounded by right-wing paramilitaries, confined to a small cell with little room to move and allowed little exercise per day. She noted a very real threat to the men’s lives from the right-wing paramilitaries in the prisons, and spoke of how the men’s food was being poisoned at one point.

When brought to trial, the men faced a one-judge, no-jury court. At the trial’s end in August, the judge announced he wouldn’t deliver a verdict until December 2003. The case for their innocence is very strong, but due to the political situation in Colombia and pressure from the U.S. and British governments, it is unclear if the judge will be allowed to reach the right decision. If convicted, the men face up to 20 years in a Colombian prison.

Ruane ended her presentation by explaining how the campaign to free the three and bring them back to Ireland was growing. “As usual, it’s the working class in Ireland who have been the backbone of the Bring Them Home Campaign. Every mountain has been climbed, walks have been sponsored, concerts and benefits have been held and money raised to fight their case.” She went on to state that, “Unfortunately in Ireland we have had a lot of experience in fighting these cases, from the Guildford Four to the Birmingham Six and Ballymurphy Seven, and we have had many long years of experience in fighting miscarriages of justice. If the men are convicted, make no mistake, there will be a long, hard-fought campaign to see that justice is done.”