12-15-2011By Alison Searle
Human Rights Defenders
In August 2011, Colombian human rights defender Principe Gabriel González was re-arrested on unsubstantiated charges of rebellion and association with FARC guerillas, even though he was acquitted of those same charges by a trial court in 2006. As Regional Coordinator for the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee (CSPP), Principe exposed the mistreatment of Colombian political prisoners.
Currently, Principe is being held in a county jail in Pamplona, Colombia, and a judge has denied a request for his conditional release and a house arrest bracelet. His family and CSPP colleagues are working to clear his name and have him released from prison.
In 2009, Human Rights First awarded Principe with its prestigious Human Rights Award. Just two years later, In October 2011, we advocated on Principe’s behalf, urging Secretary Clinton and the U.S. government to promote rule of law in Colombia and protect human rights defenders from prosecutorial abuse and uncorroborated charges.
Today, we continue to work with Principe’s family and colleagues to promote justice in this case. As part of that work, we invited Franklin Castañeda Villacob, the current Director of CSPP and an integral part of the campaign to have Principe released, to share his thoughts about Principe’s prosecution and the effort to secure his freedom. Below is a translation of his remarks.
Can you explain a little more about Principe Gabriel’s case and the effort between CSPP and international organizations?
Principe Gabriel was the regional coordinator for CSPP. He developed his humanitarian work with a focus on those being denied liberty and coordinated with lawyers that focused on defending the human rights of victimized communities. Our organization was started with political motives to defend the human rights of victims in the community; we created a space for people to defend their rights in an organized way and to be connected with each other to promote social organization in Colombian communities to defend their rights both individually and collectively.
Our dedication to Principe was in response to illegal actions by the Colombian state including inaccurate judicial reporting, unconfirmed testimony from witnesses and witness bribery. In addition, the defense did not have the opportunity to cross-examine at the trial to reveal contradicting testimony because Principe was regarded as a terrorist and publicly labeled as a guerrilla affiliate. This not only hurt our organization and its ability to combat human rights issues, but it publicly defamed Principe’s character in the process.
After Principe was detained for a year and nine months, the charges were deemed inadmissible and he was released. However, the prosecutor’s office in Colombia and the government body in charge of protecting the rights of the Colombian public repealed the ruling and sentenced Principe to another prison sentence up to seven years. Principe is currently detained in the Pamplona county prison, but continues to defend the rights of victims from within the prison by meeting with other detainees and recording their personal accounts in order to denounce the injustice that has victimized both him and fellow inmates.
Unfortunately, we do not have the legal resources or capacity to win Principe Gabriel’s freedom within the Colombian judicial system. We have sought out the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because we know they have the ability to evaluate the case. We are convinced of Principe’s innocence but we know without intervention from a higher judicial mechanism, like the Inter-American system, there will be a series of irregularities and a series of negative decisions that will ultimately reflect poorly for Principe’s case.
Regrettably, cases like Principe’s have continued to repeat themselves in Colombia. Each time the Colombian government utilizes the judicial apparatus. Not to protect us, but to victimize us:
Cases like Luis Tongalló from Pamplona, a human rights defender that was recently arrested, David Ravelo, another human rights defender that is currently detained, Carmelo Agámez, leader of the victims of crimes by the state, currently detained and Liliana Obando, leader of a group of farm workers, recently detained. These are just a few of the cases throughout the country that we have raised concern about because they follow the same pattern of injustice as the case of Principe: false witnesses, witnesses paid off by the State, and the inability of the defense to controvert testimony at the trial, one of the only guarantees we should have to defend ourselves in court.
The political and media pressure prove to be the most detrimental forces for the leaders within the defender community. Falsely targeting human rights defenders destabilizes human rights organizations and leads to a loss of national and international support. It not only delegitimizes human rights leaders on a personal level, the reality is, that it eliminates the right to defend human rights in Colombia.
To read more about Principe Gabriel Gonzalez, click here.