Colombia’s peace tribunal has revoked a controversial amnesty it granted to three alleged IRA members accused of training Colombia’s largest guerrilla group in bomb-making.
Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) had pardoned the trio in April 2020 providing they fully divulge the truth about a trip they made to Colombia in 2001 at the height of the country’s six decades of conflict.
But after more than two years reviewing evidence submitted by the defendants’ lawyers, the court – which was formed out of the country’s 2016 peace accord –concluded that the Irishmen had not come clean about their trip to South America.
“Martin John McCauley, Niall Terrence Connolly and Séamus O’ Muinecháin failed ‘in a serious manner’ to comply with their obligation to contribute to the full truth,” the JEP said in a statement.
Martin McCauley, Niall Connolly, and James Monaghan were captured in Bogotá’s international airport on their way back to Europe in 2001 following a five-week trip to San Vicente del Caguán, a rebel-held town in Colombia’s vast southern jungles.
San Vincente was the main settlement in a vast swath of territory from which government forces had withdrawn, as a condition for peace talks with the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces (Farc) .
“The Colombia Three” have always denied wrongdoing, maintaining that they were observing Colombia’s peace negtiations, not training Farc guerrillas, but they were eventually sentenced to 17 years in prison for allegedly showing the rebels how to make rudimentary but lethal explosives.
The Irishmen appeared to have been let off the hook when a Bogotá judge concluded that they had travelled on false passports but threw out the terrorism allegations on procedural grounds, despite traces of explosives being found on their clothing.
The decision was reversed in the supreme court in 2004 – by which time they had fled to Ireland while on bail.
Ireland has no extradition treaty with Colombia so they have remained there ever since.
The JEP says the Irishmen have appealed the decision to deny their amnesty, which if upheld, will pass the case onto a special unit of the country’s general attorney for investigation.
The drawn-out legal saga has strained peace processes on both sides of the Atlantic.
The trial added to suspicions that the IRA had not signed 1998’s Good Friday Agreement in good faith and would continue engaging in terrorism.
And the peace process the trio had allegedly been observing eventually broke down amid accusations that the Farc were merely using the ceasefire to regroup and step up their insurgency.
Colombia’s conflict formally ended in 2016 when the Farc signed a peace agreement with the government. An estimated 450,000 people were killed and 8 million displaced in the civil conflict, making it one of the deadliest in modern history.
The 2016 accord was initially rejected in a popular vote, with the JEP a major sticking point.
Critics like Ximena Ochoa, co-founder of the Colombian Federation of Farc Victims, say the court allows war criminals like “The Colombia Three” off the hook too easily, but welcomed the tribunal’s latest decision.
“It has been incredibly difficult to see murderers go free but we victims accept it because it what was agreed and it has legal and judicial support,” Ochoa says. “But it should also be clear for those who participated in these grave and atrocious crimes, that they must comply with the court’s requirements or face the consequences. We are very grateful that the JEP is demanding compliance with these agreements and defending the rights of victims. We hope it extends to other cases.”