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Bogotá 3 Acquittal - IV with Caitriona Ruane

Acquittal of the Bogotá 3 - Interview with Caitriona Ruane

By Toni Solo

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.

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 [1]

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 such witnesses?

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 case?

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 legal procedures?

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 the judgement?

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.


Caitriona Ruane gave this interview via e-mail with Tono Solo.

1 The left wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have sustained opposition to successive Colombian governments and the Colombian army for over 40 years.

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