Interview with Caitriona Ruane
Caitriona Ruane of the Bring Them Home Campaign works on
behalf of the Colombia 3, three Irishmen held in jail for over
three years while on trial for aiding rebels in Colombia's
civil war. Here she gives an update on the current developments
after their acquittal on April 26th 2004.
The interview was conducted by Toni Solo, an
activist based in Central America.
Acquittal of the Bogotá 3
By Toni Solo
Q. What is the current legal status of the three following their acquittal?
The three men have been found innocent on the charge of training the FARC
 It is a very significant legal judgement. Judge Jairo Acosta in his
judgement ordered that the witnesses brought forward by the Attorney
General's Office be investigated for perjury. One of these witnesses was
living voluntarily in a military barracks. Another was a prisoner in jail.
It begs the question - were they coached by military intelligence? Also how
many other people are in jail on the testimony of these witnesses and other
The men have been found guilty of false passports and under Colombian Law
are entitled to "Conditional Liberty". The defence has a request in to Judge
Acosta requesting that he authorise that they leave the country given that
their lives are in danger here. I have given testimony to Judge Acosta about
the threats and incidents that happened to the men, the Bring Them Home
Campaign and to observers of the trial. The Irish Government have also put
in writing to the Colombian Authorities their concern about the security of
the men and the Bring Them Home Campaign representatives.
Q. Are they safe? If not, what needs to be done?
No they are not safe, they need to be permitted to leave the jail and go
straight home. The Colombian Government have refused a request for adequate
security for the three men and the two representatives of the Bring Them
Home Campaign. We are very concerned for their safety in the jail, they are
currently being held in La Modelo, one of the most dangerous jails in the
world. They are surrounded by right wing paramilitaries.
Q. Could you give some anecdotal account of threats to or risks for the 3
and for you? Are the 3's Colombian lawyers more at risk as a result of the
CR. I have given testimony to the Judge about the threats to the men, the
Bring Them Home campaign and the observers who have monitored the case here
in Colombia. The Irish Government has made representation to the Colombian
authorities about the security of the three men and the two of us. I am not
into glamorising threats so I would prefer not to use anecdotes. The lawyers
are the same. I have made representation to the Colombian Government and to
international agencies about the lawyers, requesting guarantees for them.
Q. What obstacles remain to the men returning home apart from the remaining
CR. The Minister of Defence, the police and the Attorney General's office
have begun a campaign to prevent them leaving the country. The Vice
President of the country Francisco Santos has accepted the judgement. There
is a battle going on here between the Executive and the Military, the
Colombian Government needs to reign in their security services and their
Minister for Defence.
Q. Do you think the case is still being unduly exploited politically by,
respectively the British government, the Colombian government and
politicians in Ireland?
CR. I think the case is being exploited by elements of the Colombian
Government, particularly the military, the police and the Attorney General's
office. I think there are layers of the government that realise what is
happening here is not good for Colombia's image. Three innocent men are in
jail when they should be free because the Colombian Government cannot
guarantee their safety.
There are all sorts of bogus intelligence reports surfacing trying to
question the decision of the Judge. The reality is that the three men have
been found innocent - not a little bit innocent but innocent. People should
stop using this case and let these men get on with their lives. Mr Paisley
Jnr. (of the Democratic Unionist Party in the north of Ireland) is going on
about jungle justice. Mr. Paisley has shown over the years that he does not
know too much about justice. The reality is that one of the ways that the
Unionists who do not want to powershare were attacking the peace process in
Ireland was to use Colombia, now they cannot use it. It is time they sat
down with Sinn Féin and built an Ireland of equals.
The Irish Government is working closely with us to get these men home -
there were times I would have preferred to see them taking a stronger line.
We need them to make urgent representation at the highest level and call on
the Colombian Authorities to permit the men to leave the country.
Q. Is the attitude of the US government relevant at the moment?
CR. It is difficult to know the attitude of the US Government. From what I
have seen they have made no statement in relation to the judgement that
acquitted the three.
Q. What significance do the Colombian lawyers who defended the three give to
CR. The media here are saying that it is the most important legal judgement
in 100 years in Colombia. Lawyers and human rights groups are saying the
same and are inspired by the campaign, and the legal battle that has taken
place over the past two years and nine months. They note how the defence
brought witnesses over, and the forensic expert, they also note how the
defence and campaign brought over international observers.
Q, Has the case helped strengthen the position of human rights in general
and of human rights defenders in particular in the country?
CR. Yes definitely - it was a case that nobody thought the defence could
win, not because there was any evidence but because of the political nature
of it and the political interests involved. People in Colombia have seen a
new way of fighting a case. It has also been an interesting process in terms
of solidarity and team work between the two legal teams in Ireland and
Colombia. We pooled our resources and each learned from each other. It is
also significant that the Judge made such a strong judgement and I think
that he has shown tremendous leadership in a country and legal system that
badly needs it.
Q. Are the three able to comment on the plight of other prisoners they met
in El Modelo?
CR. I was in La Modelo today and it would break your heart to see thousands
of women and children going in to visit their partners, sons and fathers.
They had travelled from all over Colombia and most of them are peasants and
poor people. It is not the rich that are going to jail. La Modelo Jail is a
hellhole. The Colombian Authorities need to begin a peace process and
seriously look at the issue of prisoners.
Q. Will there be a continuing role for the solidarity campaign with the
three once they return?
CR. We are taking it one step at a time, we want to get them home first and
then we will take stock and decide what the Bring Them Home Campaign will do.
The acquittal in Bogotá of three Irishmen falsely accused of terrorism is an
embarrassing setback for the Colombian government. It is also compelling
evidence of the deep duplicity of the British government and its Unionist
allies in Ireland. Similarly, it underlines the dishonesty of much of the
international news media, whose coverage overwhelmingly presumed the three
men's guilt. The acquittal is an important win for determined human rights
defenders in Colombia and the rest of Latin America. Here Caitriona Ruane,
coordinator of the campaign to release the three, talks about the case and
continuing dangers preventing the men returning home.