David Ravelo

  • In prison since September 2010
  • Accused of aggravated homicide
  • Charges based on testimony of demobilised paramilitaries
  • December 2012: Sentenced to 18 years in prison

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


Stories from the field: 2.252 days


First prosecution of David Ravelo

In 1993, Ravelo was a councillor in Barrancabermeja whose initiatives brought about several important improvements to the city’s working class neighbourhoods. He was detained and accused of rebellion over alleged links to the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).[1] Ravelo stayed in prison until he was absolved in 1995.[2] His trial had been by justicia sin rostro, “faceless justice” which his lawyer, Alirio Uribe,[3] then a member of the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) and now a member of Congress, describes thus, “we lawyers, and the accused, litigated in front of a mirror and with voice distorters; this system of justice was declared unconstitutional because it violated rights to due process”. [4]


Stories from the field: “The branch of the truth bends but never breaks”


David Ravelo


Second prosecution of David Ravelo

Ravelo was again detained and imprisoned in September 2010, when he was with the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS), and he remains in prison to this day, having been found guilty of being the intellectual author of the 1991 murder of David Nuñez Cala, an employee of the Barrancabermja mayor’s office.[5] On 24th August 2011, the trial started in Bucaramanga.[6] On 18th May 2012 the closing arguments were made in Ravelo’s trial.[7] After more than 26 months in prison awaiting sentencing, in December 2012, the Bucaramanga Specialist Criminal Court condemned David Ravelo to 18 years in prison for aggravated homicide.[8]


Interview: David Ravelo awaits ruling after two years of incarceration

Stories from the field: A surreal hearing

Stories from the field: The Case Against David Ravelo

Stories from the field: A voice that won’t be silenced


Multiple irregularities in the legal process

According to Alirio Uribe, irregularities in the process have undermined David Ravelo’s defence and the legality of the verdict.[9] The case generated concerns when the accusations against David Ravelo were found to be based on the testimony of former paramilitaries in detention, Mario Jaimes Mejia, alias ‘El Panadero’ and Fremio Sanchez, alias ‘Comando Esteban’.[10] According to defence lawyers , these witnesses repeatedly contradicted themselves in their different statements in an attempt to cast guilt on Ravelo.[11] Both paramilitaries were condemned to 20 years’ prison for the massacre of 16th May 1998 which was carried out in Barrancabermeja by the paramilitary group ‘Autodefensas Unidas de Santander y Sur de Cesar’ (AUSAC), murdering seven people and disappearing 25 others.[12] Previously, Ravelo and CREDHOS had denounced the role of ‘El Panadero’ in the massacre.[13]


Stories from the field: Justice… delayed

Interview: Who can lock up a smile?


Additionally, another witness in the case, Orlando Noguera, reported that in the preparatory hearing these individuals had “attempted to bribe him to accept the charges of murdering Nuñez Cala and implicate Ravelo in exchange for beneficial treatment under the Justice and Peace [Law]”.[14]

During the trial, the defence submitted evidence that another witness, Fernando Barbudo Chavez, who was ten years old at the time of the events, was taken to the court by Fremio Sanchez Carreño with whom he had previously prepared an account of the events whilst in La Picota prison.[15]

According to the defence, the Public Prosecutor and Inspector General’s request for a guilty verdict was based entirely on the testimony of three witnesses but “makes no reference to more than 30 witness statements from highly regarded individuals in Barrancabermeja which demonstrate that these witnesses are lying”.[16] For Alirio Uribe, the Public Prosecutor’s willingness to take the paramilitaries’ statements at face value raises a red flag: “it is a secret to no one that paramilitary groups in Barrancabermeja, and throughout the whole country, have declared human rights defenders to be military targets, and have even given orders to assassinate them, and now they are doing it through the courts”.[17]


David Ravelo


In February 2013, David Ravelo and his defence lawyer appealed against the conviction at the Santander Superior Court[18] and, on 8th October that year, the Court confirmed the guilty verdict and 220 months’ sentence against Ravelo.[19] The sentence indicates that the Court decided not to heed the defence’s arguments regarding the annulment and prescription, and to uphold the guilty verdict sent down by the Specialist Circuit First Instance Criminal Court of Bucaramanga. In response to the decision, on 11th February 2014, David Ravelo and his lawyers lodged evidence in support of their request for an appeal. This was declared inadmissible in February 2015.

Having exhausted all avenues for appeal in Colombia, in August 2015, his lawyers decided to take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).[20]

David Ravelo’s current situation

After several requests by his lawyers and his support network, on 28th August 2015, David Ravelo was transferred from La Picota prison in Bogota to Barrancabermeja prison, in the city where his family lives. This has had a very positive effect on his state of mind and that of his family, who previously had to travel to the capital to see him. David Ravelo is a firm defender of human rights and continues his work inside, defending the rights of other inmates at the prison.


David Ravelo
“On several occasions I have been democratically elected to represent inmates on our block at the prison’s Human Rights Committee. Defending the rights of the other inmates and supporting dialogue and peaceful resolutions to the problems which arise on our cell block, has created community. There is a good atmosphere of understanding and a lot of respect”.

In December 2015, on International Day for Human Rights, from inside Barrancabermeja prison he presented a book of poems and stories entitled “Accuse me”, written during his time in detention. [21] Aliro Uribe publicly recognised his plight and stated that he was “the victim of a fabricated prosecution”.[22]


Stories from the field: “My tears are invisible”


dr web2
“This is a book of the day to day account of what happened to me….and it tries to show the reality and the human side of those of us who are deprived of liberty”.

David Ravelo’s case was taken on by the Stand4HR campaign by Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN), a platform of more than 50 international organisations which advocates for human rights and democracy to be central to the European Union’s internal and foreign political agenda.

A decade of death threats

During his time as a councillor in Barrancabermeja and with CREDHOS, David denounced and gave testimony on countless cases of human rights violations, and his actions interfered with paramilitary ambitions in the city.[23] “I am guilty because I denounce”, Ravelo has said on several occasions, convinced as he is that his imprisonment is way for them “to try and silence a community leader who didn’t let himself be intimidated, and whom the establishment couldn’t co-opt”. Before he was imprisoned, David Ravelo had to endure ten years of death threats.[24] His family didn’t escape the threats either; his son David Ravelo Gutierrez has been harassed and persecuted before and during his father’s detention.[25]

National and international support

Since his detention, national and international organisations have raised concerns about David Ravelo’s case and the breaches of national and international standards of due process and judicial guarantees.[26] In November 2010, British Members of Parliament called for his release.[27] In March 2011, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and then Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, issued a joint statement to the Colombian Government over the defender’s detention. In the statement they express concern because “the criminalization of Mr. Ravelo Crespo falls within a context of increased cases of prosecution against human rights defenders in Colombia”.[28]


Read: Defending human rights, a high risk activity in Colombia: Baseless prosecutions


After the verdict was made public, several national[29] and international[30] organisations expressed concerns regarding “a series of irregularities which were reported throughout the process”.[31]

On 4th September 2014, Kirsty Brimelow QC, President of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), and Sara Chandler, President of the Law Society Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, presented the first Amicus Curiae[32] brief to the Santander Superior Court, in relation to the trial and conviction of David Ravelo. According to Kirsty Brimelow QC, “the problems in this case not only have an impact on David Ravelo, they also affect the functioning of due process in Colombia and its compliance with international law, whose purpose is to enable the administration of justice”.[33] The Amicus Curiae brief concludes that the trial should be considered void, and alternatively, David Ravelo should in any event be absolved because “Mr Ravelo’s conviction went against the weight of evidence which demonstrated his innocence in this case”.[34]

Additionally, on 23rd September 2015, PBI and 35 other international organisations and networks issued a joint declaration expressing concern for the breaches of due process on the fifth anniversary of David Ravelo Crespo’s detention and called on the IACHR to take these concerns into account and expedite its consideration and reopen the case. [35]


Stories from the field: “The truth will make us free”


Risks, threats and attacks

Since the Prosecutor General’s Office opened the investigation into David Ravelo, he has reported being under surveillance by unknown individuals, and an increase in death threats.[36] Since then, PBI has informed of actions being taken against the defender which aimed to impede his work in defending human rights.[37] These actions include: plans for attempts to be made against his life, public smears and numerous threats against him and his family.[38]

International accompaniment

Since David Ravelo’s detention, PBI has been accompanying the legal process and has requested observation by the international community, in order to guarantee respect for due process and the right to a defence, because the prosecution is targeting a human rights defender who has been granted precautionary measures of protection by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


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


Footnotes:

[1] En medio del Magdalena Medio. En: La Sandunga Films, 2012
[2] Ibid. En medio del Magdalena Medio. En: La Sandunga Films, 2012
[3] David Ravelo is currently represented by lawyer Reynaldo Villalba, also a member of CCAJAR
[4] Testimony by Alirio Uribe. En medio del Magdalena Medio. En: La Sandunga Films, 2012
[5] PBI Colombia: Alirio Uribe: «Hay una gran violación del debido proceso», 22nd February 2011
[6] Interview with Alirio Uribe, August 2011
[7] Op.cit. Ccajar
[8] Página oficial de la rama judicial; Declaración conjunta: International organisations express serious concerns over the irregularities in the trial which resulted in the conviction of David Ravelo Crespo, the Colombian human rights defender. 10th December 2012
[9] PBI Colombia: El abogado Alirio Uribe habla sobre las irregularidades en el caso de David Ravelo, 3rd December 2012
[10] CCAJAR: David Ravelo Crespo: en espera de pronta absolución, 24th May 2012
[11] Ibíd. Ccajar
[12] El Espectador: Condena por masacre en Barrancabermeja, 8th November 2010
[13] PBI Colombia: Defence lawyer Alirio Uribe speaks with PBI about the investigation and imprisonment of David Ravelo, 19th January 2011
[14] Ibíd. Ccajar
[15] Op. cit. Ccajar
[16] Ibíd. Ccajar
[17] Op. cit. PBI Colombia: Defence lawyer Alirio Uribe speaks with PBI about the investigation and imprisonment of David Ravelo
[18] Vanguardia Liberal: David Ravelo fue condenado a 18 años de prisión por crimen de Núñez Cala , 6th December 2012
[19] Página oficial de la rama judicial
[20] El Espectador: El caso de David Ravelo, a la Cidh, 27th September 2015
[21] Conversations with Dario, with David Ravelo and Fabio Hernandez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01ZjPIUQYLk
[22] David Ravelo book launch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-Ecst1AZdQ
[23] Ibíd. Ccajar
[24] PBI: ¿Quién encierra una sonrisa? Interview with David Ravelo, 6 December 2010
[25] Protectionline: David Ravelo Gutiérrez, hijo del defensor David Ravelo Crespo, recibe amenazas por correo electrónico, 21 March 2012
[26] UN Human Rights Council, Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, A/HRC/17/30/Add.1, May 2011 ;Ccajar: Un nuevo ataque contra David Ravelo Crespo: Fiscal 22 Antiterrorismo hace falsa denuncia, 24th December 2011;Organización Mundial contra la Tortura: Colombia: Organizaciones Internacionales expresan serias preocupaciones por las irregularidades en el proceso judicial que llevo a la condena de David Ravelo Crespo, defensor de derechos humanos colombiano , 10th December 2012; Omct: Colombia: Organizaciones Internacionales expresan su preocupación ante el tercer aniversario de la detención de David Ravelo Crespo, prominente defensor colombiano de derechos humanos, 14th September 2013; Omct: En el Día de los Derechos Humanos, Organizaciones Internacionales deploran la condena en segunda instancia de David Ravelo Crespo, 10th December 2013; Protection International: Organizaciones Internacionales solicitan atención a la continuación del proceso en contra de David Ravelo Crespo, 10th March 2014;
[27] Caracol Radio: Diputados británicos piden que Colombia libere a cinco defensores de DD.HH, 17th November 2010
[28] UN Human Rights Council, Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, A/HRC/17/30/Add.1, May 2011
[29] CREDHOS and MOVICE: Injusta condena al defensor de derechos humanos David Ravelo Crespo , 14th December 2012
[30] OpCit OMCT: Colombia: Organizaciones Internacionales expresan serias preocupaciones por las irregularidades en el proceso judicial que llevo a la condena de David Ravelo Crespo, defensor de derechos humanos colombiano; Opcit Omct: Colombia: Organizaciones Internacionales expresan su preocupación ante el tercer aniversario de la detención de David Ravelo Crespo, prominente defensor colombiano de derechos humanos; Opcit Omct: Colombia: En el Día de los Derechos Humanos, Organizaciones Internacionales deploran la condena en segunda instancia de David Ravelo Crespo; Op cit Protection International: Organizaciones Internacionales solicitan atención a la continuación del proceso en contra de David Ravelo Crespo
[31] Op. cit. Declaración conjunta
[32] An amicus curiae brief (literally, friend of the court) is a presentation by a third party which is not involved in the litigation, which voluntarily submits its opinion regarding a point of law or other related aspect, to assist the court in deciding on the substance of a case. This figure has been recognised by the Colombian Constitutional Court and by international courts and tribunals.
[33] Movice: Declaración conjunta por la libertad de David Ravelo Crespo , 16th September 2013
[34] Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC): Amicus Curiae ante el Tribunal Superior de Santander en relación con el juicio y la sentencia dictada por el Juzgado Primero Penal del Circuito Especializado-Adjunto-(Providencia n º 151, radicado:. 2011-0049-01 of 16th November 2012. Case against David Ravelo Crespo), Paragraph 72
[35] Joint Declaration: International organisations express their concern on the fifth anniversary of the detention of David Ravelo Crespo, a prominent Colombian human rights defender, 23rd September 2015
[36] Corporación Reiniciar: Acción urgente: Grave situación de riesgo del defensor de derechos humanos David Ravelo Crespo y su familia, 28th May 2010
[37] See Quaterly Human Rights Update by PBI Colombia: February, June, July and December 2008, March 2009 and April and June 2010
[38] MOVICE: Amenazas por correo a David Rabelo, hijo del defensor David Rabelo Crespo, 16th July 2012

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