Irish Republican News, August 8, 2005

'Colombia Three' must stay

There is increasing evidence that there is no legal basis nor political will to return three victims of a miscarriage of justice to Colombia or to imprison them in Ireland.

It was revealed last Friday that the men, known as the Colombia Three, had returned to Ireland several days previously after four years in exile. The three were arrested at Bogota International Airport in August 2001 and charged with training rebels in Colombia's civil war.

All three were later cleared of the charges but a discredited appeal by the Colombian government sentenced each to lengthy jail terms and forced the men to go into hiding.

The three -- Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley -- finally emerged last week, creating a frenzy of political debate.

Revealing the men's return on Irish television, ex-prisoner Jim Monaghan said the men were not 'on the run', and were available to speak to the Irish garda police through their lawyers.

Anti-republican elements in the 26 Counties called for a security response, insisting the men should be arrested. However, it remains unclear if the men can legally be chargd with any offence.

Hardline unionist Peter Robinson called for the Irish government to send the three men back to Colombia. "Those who harbour terrorists are terrorists," he declared.

There is no extradition agreement between Colombia and Ireland, and as yet there has been no official extradition request.

Niall Connolly's brother Dan said he believed the men could not be returned to Columbia.

"The families do not believe there is a case for extradition and we can't see it being pursued through the courts and even if it was we feel it would not be successful," he said.

"The Irish government are saying that it is in the hands of the Garda and courts. We doubt if extradition proceedings will be pursued as there is no treaty between the two countries.

He pointed out that people in Ireland would be extremely hostile to the men being being sent back to Colombia, particularly in light of that country's human rights record.

"Even if there are provisions under the extradition act we don't feel that the political will is there to send the men back. Our priority always was to get the men home and now that has come to pass they should be let get on with their lives."

The DUP's Peter Robinson has called for the Irish government to send the three men back to Columbia.

"Those who harbour terrorists are terrorists," he declared.

Legal experts have said the absence of an extradition agreement makes the prospect of the men being returned to Colombia -- to serve jail sentences of up to 17 years -- remote. In addition, there is no equivalent charge in Ireland to the one under which the three were tried, and there are significant concerns over Colombia's handling of the judicial process and human rights.

The possibility of the Colombia Three serving their sentence in Ireland -- under a plan suggested by the right-wing Progressive Democrats -- is also being discounted.

The plan would involve Colombia signing up to a European Council Convention on the transfer of prisoners and be accepted by Ireland as an acceptable country from a human rights point of view.

Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Ashling Reidy said she "very much doubted" the move would prove feasible given that Irish legislation to ratify parts of the convention had not even been passed yet.

"I fail to see how they could retrospectively apply legislation which isn't even on the books now," Ms Reidy said.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has welcomed the returned of the men to Ireland.

"These men should not be extradited under any circumstances whatsoever. Most sensible people, if they're reasonable about these matters, would have a view that the Irish government has a responsibility to uphold the rights of citizens, and that includes the rights of these three Irish citizens."

Sinn Fein also rejected a statement by Progressive Democrats leader Mary Harney that Gerry Adams intervene to ensure that the three men are questioned by Gardai Ms Harney was speaking in her capacity as acting Minister for Justice.

A Sinn Fein spokesman pointed out that the men were willing to speak to the Garda.

Expressing gratitude to all those who provided assistance during the case, Dan Connolly said: "Obviously we are delighted and we have a lot of people to thank, Caitriona Ruane, Peter Madden and the Colombian lawyers; the observers; the Department of Foreign Affairs for their kindness; the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former minister for foreign affairs Brian Cowen for their interventions; the Sinn Fein leadership and grass roots; Irish people across the 32 counties for their support and concern."