25 October 2001 Edition
Colombian authorities obstruct defence
BY CAITRÍONA RUANE (Chairperson, Bring Them Home Campaign)
Three Irish citizens are being held in conditions that violate all international standards. Three Irish citizens' lives are in danger every minute that they are being held in Colombia, a country with a notorious human rights record
I should be in Colombia now - I had my tickets bought, my bags packed, my transport arrangements made to get to the airport in Dublin, a very kind sister booked for the week to mind my children, but I am still in Ireland. Why? Because the Colombian Authorities would not let our legal team in Ireland, Dan Connolly and myself into San Vicente De Caguan, the zone the three men were coming from when they were arrested at Bogota airport on 11 August 2001.
On the advice of our Colombian lawyers, we applied for permission in writing to the High Commission for Peace in Colombia. Four days later President Pastrana was on Television saying that the Government were issuing a decree saying that from now on foreigners had to request permission from the Colombian government to go to the zones. Prior to this anyone could go without permission. I immediately rang up the High Commission's Office and reiterated that we were seeking permission and that it was essential for the defence of the three men. They were very vague and said they would get back to us. I am still awaiting a reply to my letter and Dan Connolly has not received a reply to his. The Irish government, through their embassy in Mexico, sent a letter of support requesting that we get permission to go to the zones and made numerous phone calls to the High Commission in support of that letter. On Friday night, eight hours before our plane took off, we got a phone call through an Irish government representative that our request for permission had been denied and that we should write to the Prosecutor.
The question I would like to ask the Colombian Authorities is what have they to hide? Are they afraid of the truth? Are they afraid of what might come out if the men get a fair legal process rather than the trial and conviction by media that we have experienced since the day they were arrested?
There are lots of unanswered questions in this case not least is that of where is it authorised under Colombian law that a foreign government take forensic tests when the native government's test is negative and whose test wins?
What on earth were the RUC doing out in Colombia and who invited them to go there in the first place?
On what grounds are the Colombian authorities holding the men?
Who is this 'alleged witness' that has suddenly disappeared?
If the media reports are anything to go by, what he had to say anyway would not even have been admissible in an Irish court. It seems to me that this case is falling apart and the emperor has no clothes - only he or she is not willing to admit that they have no clothes on.
There is only one problem - this is not a bedtime story for children - this is a life and death issue whereby three Irish citizens are being held in conditions that violate all international standards. Three Irish citizens' lives are in danger every minute that they are being held in Colombia, a country with a notorious human rights record. We want them home, and we want them home now.
The Bring Them Home campaign is calling on the Irish government, national and international human rights organisations, community groups, politicians and individuals throughout Ireland to help us. We refuse to sit back and allow another Birmingham Six or Guildford Four to happen. It is for this reason that we have taken out advertisements in Irish newspapers signed by 1,000 people, among them artists, intellectuals, political activists, politicians and individuals throughout Ireland. We are organising meetings, concerts and other fundraising events throughout Ireland. We are lobbying politicians, governments, international human rights agencies about this issue.
The Bring Them Home campaign and the families of the three men would like to thank the thousands of people who have helped in this campaign, the people who have attended concerts, signed advertisements and given their £10, those who have come to meetings, written letters, lobbied their TDs or MPs or MEPs. And we need your help to continue our campaign.
These men have not been formally charged, yet they are detained in a hell hole of a police holding centre in Colombia. I have been asking questions throughout this article. The final question I have for the Colombian authorities is this. When are you sending Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan home to Ireland?
Connolly was Sinn Féin rep
In a statement on Monday morning, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams revealed that Niall Connolly, one of the three Irishmen currently being held in a Bogota jail in Colombia, was in fact a representative of Dsinn Féin in Cuba. The party had previously denied this, a claim made in good faith but that has since emerged as erroneous, said Adams. His full statements reads:
"Following the arrest of three Irish citizens in Columbia in August of this year there was a significant amount of speculation, much of it ill-informed and malicious.
"Niall Connolly was described in some reports as Sinn Féin's representative in Cuba. This was denied by us.
"This statement was made in good faith and based upon the information available at that time. Since then, two Sinn Féin representatives have visited Cuba and we have carried out a thorough internal investigation.
"It has emerged that one of our senior members asked Niall Connolly to represent the party in Cuba.
"This decision was taken without the knowledge or authorisation of the International Department or any other party structure, including the Party Chairperson and myself.
"Proper procedures were not employed in this case. These procedures have now been reviewed to ensure that this unfortunate situation does not arise again.
"Niall Connolly, for his part, acted in good faith in his dealings with the Cuban government and in lobbying and information activities.
"I regret and apologise for the embarrassment caused by our initial response to this issue of Niall's role.
"This however does not effect in any way Sinn Féin's position in respect of the three arrests in Colombia. It remains my view that Sinn Féin has no case to answer over the Colombia arrests.
"We endorse the campaign for the early release and speedy release of Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley and their return home to their families."