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A joint statement by lawyers and international non-governmental organisations highlighting irregularities in the trial of human rights campaignerDavid Ravelo has been issued today to mark the third anniversary of his arrest.
He was detained in September 2010 on suspicion of murder and last December was sentenced to 18 years in prison on murder charges based on the testimony of demobilised paramilitaries, one of whom was linked to a plot to kill him.
Mr Ravelo has spent 30 years defending human rights in Colombia, investigating forced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and forced displacements. Prior to his arrest he had received numerous death threats.
The statement points out shortcomings in the case. In particular, it draws attention to the fact that the prosecutor bringing the case had earlier served as a lieutenant in the National Police, and had been removed from his post for involvement in a forced disappearance.
Additionally, the two main witnesses in Mr Ravelo’s case were found guilty of massacres in Barrancabermeja in 1998. These were cases which Mr Ravelo’s organisation, Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, had been working on for many years in order to obtain justice for the relatives of the victims.
The statement, with signatories including Christian Aid and the Law Society’s Human Rights Committee, calls on the Colombia authorities to ensure the law is observed, and to ban from the National Public Prosecutors Office anyone removed from public office for human rights abuses.
Mr Ravelo was recently visited in La Picota prison in Colombia by Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), Counsel to an Amicus Curiae submitted in the Ravelo case and Professor Sara Chandler, Chair of Law Society Human Rights Committee and Chair of the Colombia Caravana UK Lawyers Group, legal organisations which supported the Amicus Curiae along with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.
The Amicus Curiae was a submission to Colombia’s judicial authorities highlighting the lack of due process in the case.
Professor Sara Chandler said: ‘David Ravelo's emblematic case has significance for the many human rights defenders who have been criminalised because of their work in defence of human rights.’
Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), said: ‘The issues impact not only upon David Ravelo Crespo but upon both the working of due process in Colombia and its adherence to international law. BHRC is confident that the calibre of Colombian magistrates is such that careful consideration will be given to the Amicus Curiae. Its purpose is to assist the proper administration of justice.’
Concerns about the case have also been raised by Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.
Sekaggya noted the pattern in Colombia of unfounded criminal proceedings brought against human rights defenders based on ‘unreliable witness testimonies from demobilised individuals or informants in exchange for legal ... benefits’. These continue despite a Constitutional Court ruling that testimonies from reintegrated witnesses cannot be used as evidence for opening such judicial proceedings.
Louise Winstanley, ABColombia Programme and Advocacy Manager said today ‘Colombia continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a human rights defender. There has been an unprecedented increase in the number killed, rising from 32 in 2010 to 69 in 2012. Along with the criminalisation of human rights defenders, which is designed to discredit defenders and the work they do, this represents a major challenge to the protection of human rights in Colombia. Our question is why the UK Government failed to speak out publically regarding this in June (2013) when President Santos was in London.’
She added that ‘There is almost 100 per cent impunity in Colombia in relation to such attacks. The trend of killing defenders has extended into 2013 with 37 human rights defenders killed in the first six months of the year’.
Signatories to the statement include; ABColombia, Christian Aid, Colombia Caravana UK Lawyers Group, Law Society of England & Wales Human Rights Committee, Solicitors’ International Human Rights Group, War on Want, Front Line Defenders and Peace Brigades International.
The final declarations can be found on AB Colombia’s main webpage: http://www.abcolombia.org.uk/
An event, attended by supporters of Mr Ravelo, was held on 12 September at Autonmous University in Bogota to commemorate the date he was detained three years ago. Thomas Mortensen, Christian Aid Country Manager for Colombia said at the event, ‘I hope this event together with many other national and international initiatives will help further raise the profile of the case and help David get a fair trial’.
Mr Ravelo was a finalist for Frontline Defender’s 2013 Award for Defenders at Risk.