Irish Republican News, December 18, 2004


Three Irishmen who face a 17-year jail sentence in Colombia after a shock judicial reversal are to attempt to overturn the judgement through an international route.

There was an outcry this week after James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connoll -- who were acquitted earlier this year on charges of training rebels in Colombia's civil war -- were suddenly convicted and sentenced on the charge by a higher court.

Supporters of the 'Colombia 3', who have accused Colombian authorities of perpetrating a miscarriage of justice, are flying to Bogota to meet the men's legal team.

However, the Bring Them Home campaign appears to have already abandoned hope of achieving justice through the highly politicised judicial system.

Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane, who heads the Bring Them Home campaign, who is en route to Colombia, said last night: "I have lost total confidence in the Colombian legal system and this case is only the tip of the iceberg.

"We turned down the offer of Colombian state protection because of their links with right wing groups and decided their best hope of staying alive until the outcome of the appeal was to go into hiding.

"Our legal options now include an appeal through the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which is the equivalent of the European Court of Human Rights or some mechanism involving the United Nations," she added.

While in Bogota Ms Ruane will seek a meeting with the Colombian president to outline her view that this week's judgement had been a political decision that was totally unacceptable.

Media coverage of the case has again reached the spy-novel dimensions that characterised the men's arrest and detention over three years ago.

Allegations of an "international terrorist network" involving the IRA and Colombian rebels were used to damage the peace process in both Ireland and Colombia. The men strenuously denied the charges, and said they travelled to Colombia to tour the country and to discuss peace issues.

The allegations were disproved, and after enduring three years in difficult and dangerous conditions in Colombian 'hellhole' jails, the men were cleared of the main charges against them.

The ruling of the higher court this week stunned international human rights observers who witnessed the proceedings in Bogota. The ability of a higher court to convict the men and overturn the ruling of the trial judge is one of the more bizarre features of Colombia's controversial judicial system.

Fianna Fail's Senator Mary White, who visited Colombia seven times to visit the men and witness the trial, urged the Dublin government to raise the matter immediately with the Colombian authorities.

"This is a very shocking, very troubling judgment. There is a sense of unreality about all of it," she said, and there had been "absolutely no evidence" that the men were guilty of the main charge.

"These men are politicians," she said.

It is believed that the men have now sought shelter from the country's civil war by sheltering outside Colombian borders. Their exact whereabouts have not been revealed, but it is understood the men remain in considerable jeopardy. However, there seems little prospect the men will surrender themselves to begin serving their sentences.

Back in Ireland the anger and shock among the men's partners and eight children contrasted with unionist delight at the sentence.

Ian Paisley jnr, a DUP Assembly man, said: "I believe the representation I made directly to the Colombian authorities has not been in vain.

"On reflection the Colombian justice system has found these men guilty and has punished them."

The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, has appeared to have ruled out the intervention of his government in the sentencing of the men. He said that while he believed the sentence "seemed very harsh" he said he did not wish to get involved in the business of criticising the Columbian judiciary.