Judge for yourself
15 Jan 2003

With a decision expected in the next few weeks that will determine
the fate of the Colombia Three, Jarlath Kearney focuses on the
report, `Colombia: Judge for Yourself', which discredits much of the
so-called evidence and accusations levelled against the trio, Martin
McCauley, Niall Connolly and Jim Monaghan

With judgement in the trial of three Irishmen held in Colombia now
expected within weeks, attention has been increasingly focused on a
major report – `Colombia: Judge for Yourself' – which was circulated
before Christmas by campaigners for the detainees.

The so-called `Colombia Three' – Martin McCauley, Niall Connolly and
Jim Monaghan – were arrested by the Colombian military at Bogota
airport on August 11, 2001.

Almost immediately, a flurry of sensational allegations seeped out
through British media sources about the arrests, with the effect
that both the Irish and Colombian peace processes were destabilised.

The most significant of these allegations, with which the three
Irishmen were subsequently charged, was that they represented Irish
republicans engaged in training indigenous guerrilla fighters from
FARC – an armed, insurgent organisation – to assist its campaign
against the right-wing Colombian establishment.

During the past 30 months of detention the men have been shifted
around six different detention centres and jails – at times in fear
of their lives from other detainees linked to right-wing death-

Campaigners claim that the men's right to a fair trial has been
systematically undermined by prejudicial public statements from
political officials, military officers and media commentators – both
in Colombia, Britain and the United States.

Within weeks of the arrests families and friends of the three men
had begun to mobilise in support of their case and the Bring Them
Home campaign was formed.

A string of international observers and human rights activists were
subsequently harnessed to examine closely the men's detention,
welfare and trial.

The `Colombia: Judge for Yourself' report represents the
culmination, to date, of the `Bring Them Home' campaign.

It presents detailed and compelling first-hand evidence from highly
respected international figures about the treatment of the men and
the processing of their case.

Among the evidence presented in the men's defence at their trial
last summer was witness testimony from an Irish government diplomat,
certified payslips and work time sheets, and dated video footage
from conferences in Ireland.

This evidence meant that the three men could not – as was alleged -
have been training FARC members in Colombia during the periods
asserted by the prosecution.

One of those who championed the case of the three men over the last
30 months was leading Fianna Fail MEP Niall Andrews.

Mr Andrews has sponsored campaigners in travelling to meet senior
European Parliament officials, as well as visiting the men himself
in Colombia.
In a scathing analysis, Mr Andrews concluded: "Following my
attendance at the trial of the Colombia Three who are charged with
training the outlawed FARC, I am convinced that the charges against
them are without substance.

"In my view the main charge was an invention by the Colombian
authorities working on information provided by British and American
intelligence agencies.

"It seems to me that the Colombian government is determined that
three men should be found guilty by the Judge, Dr Jairo Acosta.

"At the time of their arrest by the Colombian authorities, the
government and FARC were in peace talks and FARC was recognised as a
political partner in these talks. The three men were not alone in
visiting the so-called `FARC zone'.

"Most disturbing of all was the appearance of the Chief of Staff of

the Colombian Army on television calling for the men to be
condemned. This followed almost immediately after the conclusion of
the prosecution case.
"Even if the men are found guilty of travelling on false passports,

they have spent sufficient time in prison and should be released.

"To summarise, there is not one jot of credible evidence which
should find these men guilty of the charge of training FARC," said
Mr Andrews.

Various delegations consisting of activists, politicians and lawyers
from four different continents have visited the three Irishmen
during their detention.

Recently, newly elected Sinn Féin MLA, Catriona Ruane – who co-
ordinated the `Bring Then Home' campaign – has called on everyone to
ensure the men are released and allowed home.

"We are now awaiting the decision of Judge Jairo Acosta. It is
obvious to the world that the Colombian military and prosecutor have
fabricated a case against these three men.

"We are calling on everyone to contact the Colombian authorities
requesting that they permit the judge to make a decision based on
the evidence presented to his court free from political and military

"It is essential that everyone acts now to ensure that we stop a
miscarriage of justice of the magnitude of the Birmingham Six and
Guilford Four occurring," said Ms Ruane.

Among the key conclusions of the international observers' report are
the following:

• That the original arrest and detention by the Colombian military
was illegal
• That the Colombian prosecutor was criticised for "not carrying
his function and failing to gather exculpatory evidence"
• That the men's liberties have been denied on the basis of
fabricated evidence
• That the men's access to defence lawyers has been unduly
• That defence lawyers have been prevented from gathering relevant
evidence and unduly restricted in their cross-examinations
• That a forensic test carried out by US Embassy officials has been
undermined and should not have been given legal standing in Colombia
• That the men were proven not to be in Colombia during previous
dates alleged by the prosecution
• That the men made no secret of their reliance upon false travel
documents and contend that their presence in Colombia was for purely
peaceful and political purposes.

The `Colombia: Judge for Yourself' report is available from the Art
Shop on the Falls Road. Information can also be obtained by
accessing the website www.bringthemhome.ie or by writing to Bring
Them Home Campaign, Dominick Court, 41 Dominick Street Lower, Dublin
1, Ireland.

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