Posted 2012/11/30

Colombia – New irregularity in the trial of human rights defender Mr David Rabelo Crespo

On 22 November 2012, the latest in a series of worrying irregularities emerged in the trial of human rights defender Mr David Rabelo Crespo, whose time in detention now exceeds two and a half years. The public prosecutor in his trial is a former police officer who was reportedly investigated in connection to an enforced disappearance in 1991, and banned from public service for life as a consequence. David Rabelo Crespo is the secretary general of the Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos HumanosCREDHOS (Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights).

The human rights defender stands accused of aggravated murder and being one of the masterminds behind the killing of David Nuñez Cala, a local public official, in 1991. Mr William Galdardo Pacheco Granados, the public prosecutor in the trial, reportedly was found to have been involved in the enforced disappearance of a young man and consequently forced to resign from his post in the police.

Under Colombian law this should disqualify him from the exercise of any future employment in the prosecution service. Article 76 of Decree number 261/2000 states that: “whoever has been removed from any public office may not work as a public prosecutor, nor undertake any position in the prosecution service.”

This is only the latest in a series of revelations undermining the integrity of the human rights defender's trial. The evidence for the prosecution relies heavily on the testimonies of two former paramilitaries, who have accused David Rabelo Crespo of having ties to the FARC guerrilla movement. They feature among a total of three witnesses for the prosecution, while the defence claims that over thirty testimonies by inhabitants of the town of Barrancabermeja, where CREDHOS is based, were ignored despite the fact that they show statements by the prosecution witnesses to be false.

In addition to this, David Rabelo Crespo's defence lawyer has stated that the preparatory phase of the trial failed to consider some of the evidence and testimonies presented by the defence, while a witness gave a statement during that same phase of the trial that the two former paramilitaries had offered to bribe him into accepting the allegations against the human rights defender. The defence claims that the prosecution witnesses have on multiple occasions given false or contradictory statements while trying to incriminate David Rabelo Crespo.

David Rabelo Crespo was arrested on 14 September 2010 when Prosecution service 22 of the National Antiterrorism Unit in Bogotá ordered his arrest. He has been in detention in Picota prison since that time, and despite the fact that the trial hearings ended on 18 May 2012, he remains detained awaiting the verdict. Since the start of the investigation against him, in 2008, he has furthermore been targeted by ongoing threats against him and his family, as well as a defamatory pamphlet published on 30 October 2012, signed by a suspected paramilitary group, in which he and CREDHOS are accused of having ties with illegal armed groups.

The irregularities in the judicial process have attracted widespread condemnation, including a joint statement in March 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms Gabriela Knaul and Ms Margaret Sekaggya respectively, in which they express their concern at David Rabelo Crespo's detention in the context of the increase in judicial actions against human rights defenders in Colombia.

Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned at this latest revelation which further calls into question the integrity of the trial against David Rabelo Crespo. Front Line Defenders has issued a number of urgent appeals on David Rabelo Crespo, including on September 2010, June 2012 and September 2012.

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