31 July 2003 Edition
Declarations from Colombia 3
Declaration of Jim Monaghan
"Former political prisoners have always played a central role in Irish Republican politics. Today many of the political leaders within Sinn Féin are former political prisoners. The role of prisoners and former prisoners was recognised as crucial to the development of the peace process within the community at local level.
An organisation called Coiste na n-Iarchimí was established. Its primary aim was to help former prisoners reintegrate into society and to enable them to use their abilities to shape the new society that will emerge from the Irish Peace Process.
In 1999/2000 I was granted a position within Coiste. It was a full-time paid position. I was the director of a new sub-unit in Dublin called Tar Isteach. My job, indeed the project, was funded by the Irish government as part of the peace process. Similar projects were and are funded by the British government in the north of Ireland.
Many of the discussions that we had during the course of our work in Coiste identified the need for social justice and how that could be achieved. We recognised the need to study other situations and see how conflict resolution processes were developing. To do that we knew that it was necessary to meet face to face with others in different countries who were engaged in broadly similar processes.
Witnesses have already explained in detail the problems facing former prisoners including travel restrictions. With these problems come dangers. Because of these and previous experiences in travel shared by each of us we felt it wiser and safer to travel by legitimate means but using a different identity.
I came to know Martin McCauley through the ex-prisoner community, our friendship developed when Martin and his family were forced to move near Dublin following threats to their lives. I have known Niall Connolly for a number of years. He is a native of Dublin and returns there on his regular trips home from Latin America. I knew Niall worked on humanitarian projects in that region. The three of us share the same broad political interests. Niall and I travelled to Nicaragua together a few years ago.
In the summer of 2001 the three of us travelled to Colombia principally to see the peace process but also to enjoy a holiday. For reasons already stated the three of us travelled with different names. We travelled openly and the way all other travellers would. We visited the peace zone.
We spent several weeks in the zone. We talked to a great many people. We shared experiences about the peace processes in Ireland and Colombia.
We discussed the involvement of outsiders in such processes. From an Irish perspective the advice and experiences of people involved in South Africa, Palestine, East Timor and other regions in Latin America were very important.
We discussed the process of becoming involved in a political system seen as hostile and the gains and the problems that resulted from such a course of action. We talked at length about the role of former prisoners in political developments in Ireland and the Irish peace process.
We met with members of the FARC. We learnt from them about the great number of visitors and political representatives who had visited the zone. This included members of the Colombian government and many people from outside Colombia.
Since we were arrested at El Dorado airport there has been a constant flow of misinformation and false allegations against us. The Embassies of the United States and Britain have both intervened to distort the truth. We were then driven to a military barracks, northamerican officials were present. After this we were brought to the Prosecutor's office. Everything was happening very fast, there were a lot of soldiers about. We denied meeting the FARC initially because we thought it would make matters worse for us.
The US forensics have been exposed as bogus. The stories of satellite pictures, video tapes and so on have been proven to be false. The British Embassy alleged that I am a member of the IRA. It is illegal in Ireland, North and South, and in England to belong to the IRA. I have lived openly, and travelled to all parts of Ireland over the past 17 years. I have not been arrested or charged in relation to any of these allegations. I reject them. I am not a member of the IRA.
False evidence has been presented to this court. This is clear in the case of the US Embassy. The British Embassy also presented as factual evidence what amounts to no more than wild claims. Witnesses produced by the Colombian military have been proved to have given false testimony.
The charge of training the FARC is a false charge, based on false evidence. The training never happened, and I and my friends are therefore not guilty.
I would like to conclude by thanking my family and friends who have supported me in every way since my arrest. The work carried out on our behalf by everyone involved in the "Bring Them Home" Campaign has given us strength
Thank you all.
Declaration of Martin McCauley
Following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the International Commission headed by Chris Patten, a former British government minister and former British Governor of Hong Kong, was established to make recommendations for the creation of a new police service that would be acceptable to all sections of the community. I gave evidence to this Commission based on my own experiences at the hands of the RUC. As a result of my court case and the publicity it received I was subjected to a campaign of vicious harassment by the RUC and the British military. A bomb was placed at my home. At that time I was legally represented by Rosemary Nelson, a human rights lawyer. Rosemary was threatened by the RUC. In 1999 the same death squads that had killed Pat Finucane, killed Rosemary Nelson.
I was in genuine fear for the safety of myself and my family. I moved from the North of Ireland, which is under British occupation and went to live in the south.
Prior to moving south, I had been involved with former political prisoners in Lurgan, Co. Armagh. When I had settled into my new home I became reinvolved with work for former prisoners. I re-established contact with Jim Monaghan who I had met previously. Through this work I became involved in discussions and debates on conflict and conflict resolution.
I met Niall Connolly through Jim, following a discussion on Latin America. When the idea of the trip to Colombia arose I agreed to travel with Jim and Niall. I had never been to Latin America, and I was interested in visiting this continent and seeing their peace process.
I have lived openly, north and south for 20 years. I have been in regular employment. Part of my employment involved me adapting motor vehicles for use by people with disabilities. I have travelled openly all over Ireland. I have not been charged with any of the offences alleged by the RUC or the British Embassy. I am not a member of the IRA. I am not guilty of the charges laid out against me in this court.
Like my two friends I was using another name. Each of us had experience of threats, harassment and violence in shared and different situations. There is nothing more than a desire to travel unhindered in the fact that I was travelling on another name. I have explained how my life and those of my family have been threatened. I have explained how two human rights lawyers who have worked on my behalf [Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson] were murdered by pro-British death squads.
I am a supporter of Irish republicanism. I have worked within my community to help give a political voice to their views. I am not a member of Sinn Féin. I have worked for Sinn Féin candidates in elections. I believe in the right of the Irish people to control their destiny free from foreign occupation and interference.
The peace process in Ireland continues to survive but it has been undermined and attacked by elements within the British political and military establishment and from pro-British forces in Ireland. Our arrest in Colombia has been used by these and other elements to further undermine the peace process. Elements in the Colombian military and the political establishment have fed lies and misinformation to the media to serve their own interests. The Embassy of the United States cannot escape criticism for its role in this affair. Their so-called forensic evidence against us is fraudulent and misleading.
I wish to directly refute the evidence given by Captain Pulido. At no stage did I speak with this man. At the airport I was not asked for my passport nor was I asked my name at the time of my arrest. Captain Pulido's testimony is wrong.
In conclusion, I wish to thank my family and friends, the legal and political observers who have travelled great distances to help us, and everyone involved in the Bring Them Home campaign.
Declaration of Niall Connolly
I have been interested in Latin America and the politics of the region since the 1980s.
While living in Cuba I was able to gain employment and put my knowledge of Spanish and English to good use. I worked as a translator. On occasion, as the court has heard in evidence, I was employed as a guide for visiting politicians and media.
I became active in political mobilisation against the British political and military occupation of part of Ireland in the 1980s. In particular, I was influenced by the hunger strike in 1981 when ten Irish prisoners died in a British prison. I participated in campaigns and protests during this period. I support Sinn Féin and wherever I was, at home or abroad, I made myself available to promote the aims of Sinn Féin. I am a supporter of the Irish peace process and the efforts of leaders like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness who are striving to bring about a lasting peace with social justice.
I visited Ireland regularly. During one of my visits home I got to know Jim Monaghan. Jim was aware of my work in Latin America and was eager to hear my experiences.
While in Dublin in early 2001 I met with Jim and a number of other people including Martin McCauley, who had been involved in discussions about conflict situations and conflict resolution processes around the world.
As a result of this meeting I agreed to undertake a trip to Colombia with Jim and Martin. I had travelled with Jim previously and my knowledge of Spanish was a primary reason for asking me to accompany them.
I have experienced first hand the reconciliation process in Nicaragua and El Salvador. I have followed the peace process in Guatemala. I have an interest in the Colombian peace process along with other issues that effect politics in Latin America. When we visited Colombia, the country was trying, through dialogue between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to define positions that would be used as the foundation for a peace process. The government had given political status to the FARC. Observers from around the world came to learn and to offer solidarity in the search for peace with social justice. I was motivated by my desire to see firsthand another process of conflict resolution in motion. I believed that an historic opportunity had been created between the government and the insurgents in one of the oldest conflicts in Latin America. I hope that a new process of reconciliation with social justice will develop in the future in Colombia.
When we were arrested by the Colombian military there were no warrants for our detention.
It became clear that false and irresponsible information was being leaked by the British Embassy. I was described as a member of the IRA. I have never been arrested or questioned about such an allegation. It is false. I am not a member of the IRA.
The intervention of officials from the US Embassy in the taking of the forensic samples and the subsequent media leaks from both the US and British embassies was an attempt to damage and undermine the Colombian peace process. The so-called forensic evidence has been proven to be false.
Our arrests and the mass of information and false stories that have followed have also been used to damage and undermine the Irish peace process. The Irish peace process is at an advanced stage. Yet more work needs to be done. My friends have spoken about the process of political recognition and status, the process of negotiations between the governments of Ireland, Britain and America and Irish republicans.
Since our arrest the Fiscal [prosecutor], instead of fulfilling his duty and responsibilities to guarantee that justice is done, has arrogantly thrown the presumption of innocence into the dustbin, along with the independence of his institution.
The Fiscal has failed to guarantee that procedures are respected and that the evidence is analysed in a just and impartial way. Confidential details about our case have been given to the media to upset and damage our opportunity to get a fair trial. Fabricated forensics was allowed, while DAS tests that showed that there were no traces of explosives or drugs were kept out.
We have been placed in jails in Colombia under the recommendation of the Fiscal while our lives have been in danger, and in the opinion of one judge, who ordered our transfer, we have been subject to degrading and inhumane treatment. Obstacles have been placed in our way and that of our lawyers when we were trying to prepare our defence. Our lawyers' lives are in danger because of the statements made in the media, many of them by prominent politicians.
Our lawyers from Colombia and Ireland will show that without a shadow of a doubt that we are not guilty as charged. They will also show that this case should never have been brought to this court. I am not guilty of the charges laid against me. I come here today to remind the Fiscal of my rights, my international rights of the Presumption of Innocence.
The determination of our families and the Bring Them Home Campaign led by Caitríona Ruane, the presence of international observers from Australia, the United States, Ireland and the presence of the Irish government observers at this trial, the messages from all around the world of support and the active support of thousands of people in Ireland has given us much moral support and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.