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British lawyers offer help to court reviewing case against Colombian human rights defender

September 2013

David Ravelo

Last year, human rights defender David Ravelo was sentenced to more than 18 years in jail on charges of aggravated homicide.

David is a founding member of our partner CREDHOS and was the organisation’s Secretary General at the time of his detention.

The sentence was appealed by the defence and the court is currently reviewing the case.

On 4 September 2013, in an informal meeting with the chair of a Colombian court in Bucaramanga, two prominent British lawyers - Kirsty Brimelow QC and Professor Sara Chandler - presented an amicus curiae in defence of Mr Ravelo's right to due process.

An amicus curiae constitutes an offer by a neutral party to assist the court in an impartial way.

According to David Ravelo's defence lawyer, Alirio Uribe - president of Christian Aid partner CCAJAR - the legal system and false witnesses have been used to target his innocent client.

Including time spent in prison awaiting sentence, Ravelo has been in jail for the last three years.

The amicus curiae, which was supported by the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, argues that the right to due process was not respected.

The prosecutor in the case, William Pacheco, had been investigated for his involvement in the forced disappearance of a youth when he was a police lieutenant. He was removed from his post and subsequently sentenced to one year in prison as a result of his alleged involvement in the crime.

Since Colombian law prevents anyone found guilty of committing such a serious offence from holding the post of prosecutor, Pacheco was legally ineligible to prosecute the case against David Ravelo.

The amicus curiae also questions the credibility of prosecution witnesses, as the main witnesses were known enemies of Ravelo with the motivation to falsely testify against him.

Thomas Mortensen, Christian Aid's Colombia country manager, accompanied the lawyers to court.

He explains that the case needs to be understood in context: 'In Colombia, human rights defenders go up against very strong interests - in many cases interests represented by paramilitaries, who are willing to go as far as it takes to pursue those interests.

'This is the reason so many human rights defenders are targeted and need special protection measures.'

As a point of reference, 69 human rights defenders were killed in 2012.

Read the December 2013 update

After more than 26 months in prison awaiting sentence, David Ravelo Crespo has been sentenced to more than 18 years in prison on charges of aggravated homicide.

On Human Rights day, we would like to express grave concern about a series of anomalies that have been reported during his trial. According to defence lawyers, these have undermined the defence of Mr Ravelo and the integrity of the subsequent conviction.

March in Colombia calling for human rights defender David Ravelo's release from prison

Public march and campaign for the liberation of David Ravelo

In respect of the irregularities of due process and the right to a fair trial, we wish to highlight the following:

  • The prosecutor from the Anti-Terrorism Unit closed the investigation stage without accepting most of the evidence submitted by David Ravelo’s defence lawyer. This has significantly affected Mr Ravelo´s right to due process and a fair hearing.

  • On 15 and 18 May 2012, the final statements were made, bringing the trial to its conclusion, but Mr Ravelo subsequently spent more than six months awaiting sentence.

  • The case against Mr Ravelo rests heavily on the statements given by two released paramilitaries in exchange for benefits. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has already expressed concern about the practice of prosecutions directed against human rights defenders that are based on “unreliable witness testimonies from demobilised individuals."

Ravelo’s case has been highlighted by international authorities, like the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, who sent a communiqué to the Colombian Government expressing concern that the “criminalisation of Ravelo occurs in the context of increasing prosecutions against human rights defenders in Colombia”.

Christian Aid, along with other international organisations, will continue to monitor the next phases of the judicial process, urging full respect for due process and guarantees for the safety and security of David Ravelo Crespo, his family and his lawyers.

Defending human rights in Colombia is a high risk undertaking. High profile human rights defender David Ravelo, from Christian Aid partner CREDHOS has been arrested and jailed since September.

Christian Aid is concerned for his well-being and by the threats facing others protecting human rights in the region.

In early October, our colleagues in Colombia visited David Ravelo in jail. They reported he was well. Christian Aid is also supporting a campaign for the liberation of political prisoners in the country.

Here are extracts of a letter Ravelo wrote from his cell:

'In my status of political prisoner and of conscience, for thinking and expressing opinions different from those of the establishment, I have been prosecuted, stigmatised, criminalised and victimised.

I've dedicated most of my life fighting against social inequality. To build a fair country where children cry of happiness, that is what we are fighting for.

I am convinced that (my imprisonment) aims to undermine popular movements and especially human rights organisations. I will never give in and will remain firm to my principles.

I’m immensely grateful for the huge national and international solidarity which gives warmth to the cold cell where I am, and makes it possible for me to maintain a high morale.

Sooner or later my innocence will come to light, because the truth will make us free.'

On 14 September 2010, Ravelo, the Secretary General of Christian Aid's partner organisation CREDHOS, was arrested by order of the Public Prosecutor's Office. He was jailed, charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and aggravated homicide.

'I am convinced that (my imprisonment) aims to undermine popular movements and especially human rights organisations.'

The charges are based on the testimonies of demobilised paramilitaries. In a hearing, they testified that Ravelo has ties to guerrilla groups and was involved in the planned killing of a political leader in 1991.

Ravelo maintains his innocence.

Ravelo's safety at risk

Ravelo is currently being held in a prison in Bogota, which also houses some prisoners implicated in crimes and human rights violations denounced by CREDHOS, and specifically by Ravelo.

He has also received several death threats since the investigation against him was opened.

Calling for Ravelo's protection

Christian Aid partner Peace Brigades International (PBI) has been providing accompaniment to Ravelo and expresses their concern for the harmful effects of this judicial proceeding, as well as for CREDHOS and all human rights defenders. PBI is urging the Colombian state to:

  • guarantee the physical integrity and safety of David Ravelo and that of his family members, while he is in prison;

  • ensure that proper procedures are followed at all stages of the proceeding;

  • transfer the case to the Human Rights Unit of the Office of the Attorney General to ensure a fair trial;

  • and ensure that the accusations are not motivated by political interests.

False criminal investigations in Colombia

According to the US State Department, the Colombian government has detained hundreds of people under false criminal investigations, particularly members of social organisations, trade unionists and human rights defenders. The prosecutions are often based on manipulated evidence or unreliable witnesses, for example guerrilla or demobilized paramilitary groups.

The credibility of demobilised individuals

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warns of the credibility of demobilised individuals who have received compensation for their testimony. Find out more and read reports on the UN website.

David Ravelo's history and status

Ravelo is the survivor of a political party whose members were executed. As a result, he is the beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and subject to special protection from the Ministry of the Interior.

In the early 1990's Ravelo was jailed for nearly two years; accused of links with illegal armed factions, but was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Video: David Ravelo talks to PBI

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