The case against David Ravelo

David Ravelo Crespo is an economist, human rights defender and founding member of the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS).

  • September 2010: David Ravelo was detained and sent to prison, accused of aggravated homicide, charges were based on testimony of demobilised paramilitaries
  • December 2012: Sentenced to 18 years in prison
  • June 2017: released on parole while the case is studied by the Review Section of the Peace Court

“You have to re-learn how to be free”, David Ravelo

Reinaldo Villalba: “David Ravelo’s case will be taken to the JEP, to plead his innocence”

PBI Colombia: David Ravelo is freed after nearly seven years in prison (June 2017)

In pictures: The case and the cause (June 2017)

See you in freedom

Feel it to tell it: 2.252 days (December 2016)

Feel it to tell it: The truth will make us free (March 2016)

Tales from the field: My tears are invisible (December 2015)

PBI Colombia: Joint declaration (September 2015)

“I only fear one thing: to be unworthy of my suffering”

Feel it to tell it: A voice that won’t be silenced (February 2013)

Interview with David Ravelo: David Ravelo awaits ruling after two years of incarceration (September 2012)

The case against David Ravelo (February 2011)

A surreal hearing

Justice… delayed

Human rights defender jailed


David Ravelo was detained and sent to prison on 14 September 2010, accused of being the intellectual author behind the 1991 assassination of David Nuñez Cala, who was a civil servant in Barrancabermeja.  The accusation was based on the testimony of incarcerated paramilitaries Mario Jaimes Mejía, alias ‘El Panadero’ and Fremio Sánchez, alias ‘Comando Esteban’.  On 5 December 2012, the Bucaramanga Special Criminal Court condemned Ravelo to 220 months in prison for aggravated homicide.[1]

In February 2013, Ravelo and his defence lawyer appealed the decision at the Santander Superior Court, but on the following 8 October the Court confirmed the 220 month prison sentence for Mr Ravelo[2]. The Court decided to refuse the requests made by the defence for nullification and prescription, and uphold the verdict of the First Criminal Court of the Bucaramanga Specialised Circuit.  After this decision, on 11 February 2014, Ravelo and his lawyers sought leave to appeal before the Bucaramanga Supreme Court.  Leave was refused in February 2015.

In August that year, with all avenues in Colombia exhausted, Ravelo´s lawyers decided to take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).[3]  Nearly two years later, at the start of 2017, the IACHR asked for further information on Ravelo´s case.  “This was the first time in many years that the case had gained traction,” according to what his current lawyer, Reinaldo Villalba Vargas explained to PBI.

The implementation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace was announced on 23 September 2016, and it will exercise judicial functions as part of the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, which was created in the Peace Agreements between the Government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Ravelo´s lawyer applied to the Revision Section of the Peace Tribunal to examine his case, because its role includes a provision that, exceptionally and at the request of the convict, the Tribunal can review ordinary decisions about conduct committed in the context of and due to the armed conflict, if there are allegations about the non-existence of a fact or if there is a manifest error of law. Under this provision, Ravelo comes within the remit of Law 1820 of 30th December 2016 (article 35), which applies to people who were condemned for supposed militancy within the FARC, regardless of whether they were or were not members, like in Ravelo´s case. [4]

Many previous actions were achieved thanks to the work of his lawyers, and to the advocacy of Ravelo´s international support network.  This support is the reason Ravelo was transferred on 28 August 2015 from ‘La Picota’ prison in Bogota to the penitentiary in Barrancabermeja, the city where his family lives and where he feels closer to his social and family circles.  As a relentless human rights defender, he continued his work while he was in prison, and after being there just three months he was elected by the other inmates as their representative at the prison´s Human Rights Committee, defending the interests and rights of the prisoners and their families, and taking part in numerous activities related to training and education for inmates.

In December 2015, on International Human Rights Day, he presented a book of poems and stories titled “Accuse me” at Barrancabermeja penitentiary, that had written during his time in prison.[5]   This project was made possible thanks to support from Frontline Defenders and Justice for Colombia.  At the same time, Congressman Alirio Uribe made a public statement, recognising Ravelo and declaring him a “victim of a trumped-up prosecution.“[6]

David Ravelolanzamiento libro poemas_web

Finally, we remember that Ravelo was “Case of the Month” in the campaign Stand 4 Human Rights Defenders from HRDN, platform of over 50 international organisations that work for human rights and democracy to be central to the internal and external political agenda of the European Union.[7]

Violations of Due Process, the role of Public Prosecutor William Pacheco

Amongst a number of irregularities that were reported, a particularly salient one is the fact that the Public Prosecutor responsible for opening the case against Ravelo, Mr William Gildardo Pacheco Granados, who before being a Public Prosecutor was a lieutenant in the National Police, was investigated and dismissed in 1993 by the Inspector General (and that dismissal confirmed by the Constitutional Court) for his involvement in the forced disappearance of Guillermo Hurtado in 1991, who was apparently witness to the killing of a civilian at the hands of the police.[8]

In addition, Mr Pacheco Granados was also sentenced to a year in prison by the Supreme Military Tribunal in November 1993 for illegally detaining the young man before he was disappeared.[9] Pacheco, however, continued to work as a Public Prosecutor.  Before the reports emerged and the news became known, in July 2013, Prosecutor Pacheco Granados submitted his resignation, which was accepted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.[10] On 23 April 2014, Mr Ravelo´s lawyer presented a criminal complaint against the Prosecutor Pacheco Granados for his responsibility in the forced disappearance of Guillermo Hurtado.[11]  In 2014 the Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into Pacheco Granados and called him in for questioning.[12]

One of the main witnesses in this case has been killed.  Before he was killed, the witness had expressed fear of retaliation for his declarations.[13]  The process continues and if Pacheco´ involvement is proven, he could be accused and sentenced for the forced disappearance of Guillermo Hurtado.[14]

According to Colombian law, “no one who has been previously been removed from public office can become a Public Prosecutor or carry out any role within the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”[15]  In the grounds for appeal lodged by Ravelo´s legal team[16] as well as the amicus curiae from the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), it was argued that the case should be dismissed because of procedural irregularities committed by the Public Prosecutor which affected Ravelo’s fundamental rights[17] and the decision in the case. These include:

  • The opening of the formal investigation against Ravelo by Mr Pacheco, despite him being barred from holding office.
  • The formulation of the Resolution of accusation by Mr Pacheco Granados.
  • Mr Pacheco´ lack of objectivity given that a person accused of having committed a crime against humanity was leading the prosecution of a human rights defender.
  • His investigation and assessment of the evidence[18] despite him being barred from holding office.[19]

The BHRC’s opinion coincides with arguments put forward by the defence, and confirms that the ineligibility of Prosecutor Pacheco Granados to hold the position throughout the investigation, trial and sentencing of Ravelo “resulted in an inadmissible and incurable procedural error in violation of due process”[20] and that “his omission to investigate thoroughly all the favourable and unfavourable elements in the case resulted in a separate violation of due process.” In conclusion, the BHCR affirms that “any of these violations would constitute grounds for dismissing the case.”

Other procedural irregularities

Many other procedural irregularities were reported during the legal process[21].  Ravelo´s defence assures that the process was a restatement of previous charges of which he had already been acquitted, namely, it was argued again that he was a member of the FARC and had ordered the assassination of Núñez Cala.

Ravelo had previously been detained for 27 months between 1993 and 1995, accused of rebellion. He was tried and absolved of all charges in the first and second instances and also won a lawsuit against the State, which was ordered to compensate him for arbitrary detention.[22]

It was argued that his defence was also harmed due to the following irregularities:

  • A key witness, Dario Enrique Arrieta Bandera, was not available to be cross examined by the defence.
  • The use of previously prepared notes and intelligence documents without the defence being able to cross examine their authors at trial.
  • There was an incorrect interpretation of the charge of aggravated homicide instead of a charge of simple homicide[23].

Flawed evidence, trial against alias ‘El Panadero’ for perjury

Procedural irregularities were pointed out by the BHRC which drew attention to the Public Prosecutor’s failure to explore other avenues for investigation.[24] According to the defence, the prosecution by the Prosecutor’s Office and the Inspector General was based on only three witnesses, but “does not make any reference to more than 30 statements by well-known and respected individuals from the city of Barrancabermeja which show that those witnesses were lying”.[25]

The other person accused in the case, Orlando Noguera, reported in the preparatory hearing that Mario Jaimes Mejía, alias ‘El Panadero’ and Fremio Sánchez “tried to bribe him so that he would accept the charges for killing Núñes Cala and blame Ravelo in return for benefits under the Justice and Peace Law”.[26]

Another important fact is that the Prosecutor’s Office brought charges against ‘El Panadero’, for perjury over his accusations that ex-Congressman Aristides Andrade was a co-author of the homicide Ravelo was also accused of.

The Supreme Court nonetheless decided to pursue the trial of ex-Congressman Andrade, who had an outstanding arrest warrant and is currently a fugitive, for his alleged participation in the killing of Núñez Cala, the ex-candidate for Mayor of Barrancabermeja.[27]

In the imputation of charges against Jaimes Mejia, the Public Prosecutor cited various declarations that – in his judgment – call into question the declarations that the paramilitary boss gave in trial.  He pointed out that “the innumerable contradictions in the different declarations that ‘El Panadero’ made before the administration of justice, when set against those made in declarations from other sources and other material evidence”, were enough to prosecute him for perjury.[28]

The first hearing against ‘El Panadero’ for perjury took place on 9th February 2015 in Bucaramanga; the trial is currently ongoing and Ravelo has been recognised as a victim in the case.

The defence argues that the witnesses continuously contradicted themselves and lied in their different statements in an attempt to blame Ravelo.[29]

The BHRC pointed out a series of problems with the evidence from the key witnesses such as Mario Jaimes Mejía and Fremio Sánchez Carreño, including incoherence and lack of detail in their testimonies; possible contamination of their testimonies; and that the witnesses had motives to implicate Ravelo because of their contempt for him due to his activities as a human rights defender, and because of their interest in obtaining the benefits of the Justice and Peace law.[30]

Their own defence explained how Mario Jaimes Mejía and Fremio Sánchez, (who gave their initial testimony under the Law 975[31]), were paramilitary commanders in Barrancabermeja who had been found guilty of crimes on the basis of evidence provided by Ravelo and CREDHOS.[32]

Since the Bucaramanga Ninth Criminal Court instituted charges in August 2014, the strategy by the accused paramilitaries has been to delay the trial by improper use of criminal procedures:

  • The defence asked to postpone the first hearing scheduled for 11 August 2015.
  • On 18 January 2016, his lawyers resigned.
  • On 16 April 2016, the designated lawyer affirmed he was unable to attend the hearing due to a training event.
  • The hearing scheduled for 2 August 2016 did not take place because ‘El Panadero’ refused to accept the lawyer he had been given by the Human Rights Ombudsman.
  • The hearing scheduled for 27 October 2016 did not take place because ‘El Panadero’ declared that he had not been able to speak to his lawyer.
  • Finally, the hearings began on 2 February 2017; two and a half years after charges had been imputed.[33]

Meanwhile, in the case of the kidnapping, rape and torture of journalist Jineth Bedoya, on 3 March 2016 ‘El Panadero’ accepted the charges of kidnapping, torture and rape, and was condemned to 28 years in prison.  In August of the same year, the Justice and Peace Chamber of the Bogota Supreme Court declared that he was excluded from the Justice and Peace process, for not having told the truth during the investigation of the crime, which was a condition for obtaining the benefits of the process.

David Ravelo
Before he was imprisoned in 2010, David Ravelo had to endure ten years of death threats.

International concerns

Since Ravelo was detained, national and international entities have called attention to his case and to the lack of compliance with national and international standards of due process and judicial guarantees.[34]  In particular, in March 2011, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Magistrates and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, senT a joint letter to the Colombian Government about his detention.

This letter expressed concern because the “criminalisation of Mr Ravelo Crespo occurred in a context of an increase in cases of baseless prosecutions of human rights defenders in Colombia.”[35] In November 2010, various British delegates also called for Ravelo’s release.[36]  When the sentence was known, several national[37] and international[38] organisations expressed serious concern for the violations of due process in this case, indicating that Ravelo´s defence had been undermined.

David Ravelo

In September 2014, Kirsty Brimelow QC, president of the BHRC, accompanied by Sara Chandler, president of the Human Rights Committee at the Law Society of England and Wales, presented the first amicus curiae[39]  that was filed before the High Court of Santander, in relation to the trial and sentence against Ravelo.

Kirsty Brimelo QC affirmed, “the problems found in this case do not just have an impact on Ravelo, but also on the functioning of due process in Colombia and its adhesion to international law, whose purpose is to favour the administration of justice”.[40]

The amicus curiae concluded that the trial should be considered null and that Ravelo should be absolved given that “Mr Ravelo´s sentence was given against the weight of evidence that showed his innocence in this case”.[41]

Furthermore, it highlights the call made by PBI and 35 other international organisations and networks on 23 September 2015 in a joint declaration that expressed their concerns about non-compliance with due process on the fifth anniversary of Ravelo’s detention, and called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take these concerns into account to expedite their review and re-open the case.[42]


[1] Vanguardia Liberal: David Ravelo fue condenado a 18 años de prisión por crimen de Núñez Cala, 6 December 2012
[2] Official page for the judicial branch
[3] El Espectador: El caso de David Ravelo, a la Cidh, 27 September 2015
[4] Amnesty, Pardon and Special Criminal Treatments Law – Law 1820 of 30 December 2016
[5] Talks with Dario: con David Ravelo y Fabio Hernández, 11 December 2015
[6] Alirio Uribe: Saludo David Ravelo lanzamiento libro, 10 December 2015
[7]  Stand4humanrights
[8]  Semana: El ‘transformer, 1 June 2013
[9]  Ibid. Semana: El ‘transformer’
[10]  Noticias Uno: Renuncia el Fiscal William Gildardo Pacheco , 6 July 2013
[11] Criminal complaint against William Gildardo Pacheco Granados made by the Attorney General for the crime of forced disappearance, 2 Abril 2013
[12] Corporación Solidaridad Jurídica: Comité británico intercede ante la CSJ por el caso del defensor de derechos humanos David Ravelo, 1 September 2014
[13] CCAJAR: Pacheco no es un perseguido sino un funcionario sancionado penal y disciplinariamente, 23 October 2015
[14] Ibid. Ccajar: Pacheco no es un perseguido sino un funcionario sancionado penal y disciplinariamente
[15]  Law 270 of 1996, Presidential Decree 261/2000 and Law 938/2004
[16] Appeal by Alirio Uribe: “Chapter II: The request for annulment within this process for violation of due process”, Bogotá: 21 January 2013
[17] Law 600 of 2000, Article 9, 11 y 306; Colombian Constitution, Article 29; American Convention on Human Rights, Article 8; International Treaty on Civil and Political Rights Article 14
[18] PBI Colombia: Defense lawyer Alirio Uribe speaks with PBI about the investigation and imprisonment of David Ravelo, 19 January 2011
[19]  CCAJAR: Un nuevo ataque contra David Ravelo Crespo: Fiscal 22 Antiterrorismo hace falsa denuncia, 24 December 2011
[20]   Chapter 2 of amicus curiae
[21]   Ibid. Chapter 2 of amicus curiae
[22]   La Sandunga Films: En medio del Magdalena Medio, 2012
[23]   Amicus curiae: “Procedural Issues”, paragraphs 53-64
[24]   Amicus curiae: “Evidentiary Issues”, paragraphs 65-73
[25]  CCAJAR: David Ravelo Crespo: en espera de pronta absolución, 24 May 2012
[26]  Op. Cit. La Sandunga Films: En medio del Magdalena Medio
[27] El Espectador: Corte dejó en firme llamado a juicio contra excongresista José Aristídes Andrade, 7 January 2016
[28]   El Espectador: ¿Las mentiras de ‘El Panadero’?, 16 September 2014
[29]  Ibid. El Espectador: ¿Las mentiras de ‘El Panadero’?
[30]  AmicusCuriae, “Evidentiary Issues”, paragraph 65-73
[31] The 975 law gives reduced sentences to paramilitaries accused of crimes against humanity in exchange for their confessions and cooperation with the legal procedures
[32]  Appeal by Alirio Uribe, 21 January 2013, Chapter III, parts 6.2 y 6.3.
[33] El Espectador: Los trucos judiciales del jefe exparamilitar “Panadero” y de su compadre, 17th March 2017
[34] Human Rights Council of the General Assembly of the UN, Report by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of magistrates and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, A/HRC/17/30/Add.1, May 2011; Ccajar: Ccajar: Un nuevo ataque contra David Ravelo Crespo: Fiscal 22 Antiterrorismo hace falsa denuncia, 24 December 2011; World Organisation against Torture: Colombia:  International organisations express serious concerns for the irregularities in the judicial process that has reached the sentencing of David Ravelo Crespo,  Colombian human rights defender, 10 December 2012; WOAT: Colombia: International organisations express their concern on the third anniversary of the detention of David Ravelo Crespo, prominent Colombian human rights defender, 14 September 2013; WOAT: On Human Rights Day, International organisations deplore the sentence in second instance of David Ravelo Crespo, 10 December 2013; Protection International: International organisations demand attention to the continuation of the process against David Ravelo Crespo, 10 March 2014
[35] Op. cit. Human Rights Council of the UN General Assembly
[36] Caracol Radio: Diputados británicos piden que Colombia libere a cinco defensores de DD.HH, 17 November de 2010
[37] CREDHOS and MOVICE: Injusta condena al defensor de derechos humanos David Ravelo Crespo, 14 December 2012
[38] World Organisation against Torture: Colombia:  International organisations express serious concerns for the irregularities in the judicial process that has reached the sentencing of David Ravelo Crespo,  Colombian human rights defender, 10 December 2012; WOAT: Colombia: International organisations express their concern on the third anniversary of the detention of David Ravelo Crespo, prominent Colombian human rights defender, 14 September 2013; WOAT: On Human Rights Day, International organisations deplore the sentence in second instance of David Ravelo Crespo, 10 December 2013; Protection International: International organisations demand attention to the continuation of the process against David Ravelo Crespo, 10 March 2014
[39] The amicus curiae (literally friend of the court or friend of the tribunal) refers to presentations made by third parties to the litigation, which voluntarily offer their opinion on some point of law or other related aspect, to collaborate with the Court in the resolution of the process.  This figure has been recognised by the Constitutional Court of Colombia and by international courts and tribunals.
[40] MOVICE: Declaración conjunta por la libertad de David Ravelo Crespo, 16 September 2013
[41] Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC): Amicus Curiae before the Supreme Court of Santander en relation to the trial and sentence dictated by the First Criminal Court of the Special Adjunct-Circuit (Providencia no 151, radicado: 2011-0049-01, 16 November 2012. Causa contra David Ravelo Crespo), Paragraph 72
[42] Joint Declaration: Organizaciones internacionales expresan su preocupación en el quinto aniversario de la detención de David Ravelo, 23 September 2015

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