After years of enduring threats from paramilitary organizations, David Ravelo, a Colombian human rights defender, economist and founding member of the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), has been imprisoned for the last two years based on the testimony of demobilized paramilitaries. The circumstances surrounding the case against him are filled with irregularities, including accusations of witness tampering and serious questions about witness credibility. And new information has just come to light that presents even more serious questions about the Ravelo’s imprisonment.
The prosecutor who charged Ravelo, William Pacheco, appears to have been involved in a 1992 forced disappearance and was dismissed from his then post as lieutenant in the police force. Given that in Colombia it is illegal for those dismissed from public office to work for the Attorney General’s office, this raises the question as to how he managed to become a federal prosecutor and hold other important official posts. .
In 1995, Ravelo was absolved of the charge of rebellion relating to the homicide of David Nuñez Cala, a public official from the Mayor’s Office in Barrancabermeja, but he is currently being held on charges of aggravated homicide related to the same incident. He remains imprisoned based on the testimony of just three former paramilitaries, though over 30 people gave declarations contradicting that testimony. The principle witnesses, Mario Jaimes Mejia, alias “El Panadero” (the Baker), and Fremio Sanchez Carreno, alias “Commando Esteban”, are ex-paramilitaries, both of whom were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their involvement in a 1998 massacre that killed 7 and disappeared 25—a massacre publicly denounced at the time by Ravelo and CREDHOS. Furthermore, Orlando Noguera, another witness in the case, has publicly stated that Mejia and Carreno tried to bribe him so that he would implicate Ravelo, further eroding the ex-paramilitaries’ credibility.
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Alirio Uribe, Ravelo’s lawyer, says, “It’s no secret to anyone that paramilitary groups in Barrancabermeja and throughout the country have declared human rights defenders military targets, including ordering that they be killed, and now they are doing it through the legal system.”1 For over a decade, Ravelo and has endured threats, many from paramilitary organizations, and since his imprisonment, threats have also been directed at his family members.
The latest revelations about Ravelo’s prosecutor, William Pacheco, bring up several new questions about the legitimacy of Ravelo’s trial. For instance, how can a person dismissed from public office become a Prosecutor for the Attorney General’s office? How does a person with such a past become a Director of the National Association of Prosecutors or member of the Anti-Terrorism Task Force? And finally, what authority does a person with such a past have to investigate and try a recognized human rights defender like David Ravelo?
Amidst these serious questions about his trial, Ravelo still sits in jail, after more than two years, awaiting sentencing, which brings me to my final question: Is this justice?