Thursday, 19 December 2002
Matter raised under Standing Order 30.
I travelled to Colombia two weeks ago at the request of the families of the three Irishmen being held in prison there – Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McAuley. I went in the interests of the three men's human rights entitlement to safe custody while in prison and the right to a fair trial. I travelled in my own right as a Senator and at my own expense. There is an honourable tradition of Oireachtas Members taking up the cause of human rights for Irish prisoners, whether at home or abroad, such as in the cases of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.
I take particular inspiration from a former Member of the Seanad, Mary Robinson, a champion of human rights. In April this year, introducing her report to the High Commission in Geneva after her two visits there, Mrs. Robinson expressed her deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Colombia as well as the recurring grave breaches of international law. She stated the rule of law was in grave jeopardy as a result of the lack of proper administration of justice and the burgeoning military threat.
I visited the three prisoners in La Modelo prison, Bogota on Sunday, 1 December, where they live in fear of attack at any moment. In July this year a battle broke out in the prison between right and left wing prisoners, resulting in ten prisoners being killed and 23 being seriously injured.
On the first day of the trial the witness for the prosecution, Major Matíz, gave evidence. I was sitting two feet away for approximately four hours as he gave his evidence. He produced two training manuals on bombmaking techniques but had no first hand knowledge of the circumstances in which they were found and produced no evidence to link the manuals to the accused. One of the manuals can be found on the Internet. On the second day of the trial neither of the prosecution witnesses due to appear turned up and there was consternation in the courtroom.
When Senators stand back and look at the two days of the trial, one can only conclude that the case for the prosecution was a shambles. The judge adjourned the case until 5 February 2003. I intend to return for the resumed trial. The Government should convey to the Colombian Government the serious doubts about the status of the main case against the three accused. It should do so because of the inability of the prosecution to produce the two key witnesses from Colombia, despite the fact that the three men have been in prison for 16 months and because of the unsubstantiated evidence from the Colombian army.
Furthermore, last Friday there was a bomb in the hotel where I stayed—