International Criminal Justice: Developments in Spanish Court’s Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests

Over the last several weeks there have been significant developments in El Salvador, the U.S. and Spain regarding the Spanish court’s criminal case against 20 Salvadoran military officers for their alleged involvement in the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests. These developments arise out of the May 30, 2011, Spanish court’s issuance of arrest warrants for the 20 defendants on charges of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in planning and carrying out the murders.[1]

After May 30th Spain enlisted the assistance of the International Police Organization or INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organization, with 188 member countries, to facilitate cross-border police co-operation and to prevent or combat international crime. INTERPOL in turn issued RED NOTICES identifying the 9 of the 20 defendants believed to be living in El Salvador (the Salvadoran Nine) and their indictment by the Spanish court. (Another RED NOTICE is believed to have been issued for a defendant believed to be living in the U.S.) Such RED NOTICES typically are treated as requests for provisional arrests of the subjects of the notices so that the formal process of requests for their extradition to Spain, in this case, can be made.[2]

El Salvador Developments

In El Salvador, in late July a lawyer for the Nine requested the National Civilian Police (PNC) to not execute the Red Notices on the ground that the crime already had been prosecuted by Salvadoran courts.[3] In addition, on August 7th the Nine turned themselves in to a military base near San Salvador, presumably because of a belief that as former military officers they would have some protection there. That same day, however, the country’s Minister of Defense turned them over to civilian authorities who kept the Nine in custody at one of the country’s military facilities.[4]

Thereafter, the Nine filed habeas corpus petitions with the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court. On August 24th the Chamber rejected the petitions on the ground that there was a request for their extradition to Spain.[5]

Minutes later on August 24th, however, the 15-member Salvadoran Supreme Court decided, 10 to 2, that the RED NOTICES for the Nine only served to locate people accused of crimes by another country. The Notices did not authorize arrests. That could happen only if there were a formal extradition request, and no such request had been received by El Salvador. If Spain in fact made an extradition request, the court would consider it.[6]

The reaction to the decision within El Salvador was predictable; those who supported the military were happy; those who wanted to see justice for the Jesuits were disappointed.[7]

In response to the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruling, a Spanish court official has said that Spain cannot issue a formal extradition request to El Salvador for the Nine because Spain has not been notified that they are under arrest. The Spanish court, therefore, has asked El Salvador to clarify the legal status of the Nine after the Salvadoran court’s August 24th ruling. [8]

Does this leave the issue at an impasse? El Salvador will not authorize an arrest because there is no extradition request, and Spain will not or cannot issue extradition requests because there are no arrests?

Meanwhile in El Salvador, the controversial Decree 743 that required the Constitutional Chamber of its Supreme Court to act unanimously has been repealed.[9]

U.S. Developments

On or about August 19th defendant Montano was arrested in Virginia on charges of lying to U.S. immigration officials in applying for Temporary Protected Status in the U.S.  On August 23rd he made an appearance at a federal court in Massachusetts, where he had been residing. The next day he was released on a $50,000 bond and confinement to his sister’s house with electronic monitoring. Apparently there has not yet been a RED NOTICE for him.[10]

Earlier (in July) Senators John Kerry, Tom Harkin, Patrick Leahy and Barbara Boxer jointly signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting the U.S. to cooperate fully with the Spanish court in this case. The response from an Assistant Secretary of State said the U.S. was monitoring the case and would give any Spanish request for assistance the appropriate consideration.[11]

Spain Developments

In Spain, lawyers for the Nine apparently have decided that offense is the best defense. They have filed charges in the Spanish court alleging that the Spanish judge, Valasco Nunez, acted illegally in the May 31st arrest orders for the 20 Salvadoran former military officers. The basis for the charge is the prior Salvadoran criminal case regarding the murders of the Jesuits, the Salvadoran amnesty law and its statute of limitations barring any such charges at this time. The attorneys also are considering a charge of defamation against the Spanish judge.[12]

Conclusion

As this discussion indicates, the story is far from over. Further developments in this case are expected in all three countries.


[1]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May 31, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The Spanish Court’s Criminal Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 15, 2011).

[2]  INTERPOL, http://www.interpol.int/default.asp; Arauz, Dada & Lemus, Interpol arrest warrants processed 10 Jesuit Salvadoran military case, el Faro (July 29, 2011), http://www.elfaro.net (Google English translation). In addition to the RED NOTICES for the nine officers believed to be living in El Salvador, another was issued for Rene Emilio Ponce, who died in May 2011. (Id.)

[3]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Prosecution of the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 8, 2011).

[4] Center for Justice & Accountability, Press Release: Salvadoran High Commanders Responsible for Jesuit Massacre in 1989 Under Custody in El Salvador (Aug. 10, 2011); Tim’s El Salvador Blog, Officers indicted for Jesuit murders surrender (Aug. 8, 2011),______     ;

[5] Gonzalez & Perez, Supreme Court in the event benefited the Jesuit military, diario colatino (Aug. 25, 2011) (Google English translation).

[6] Id.; Assoc. Press, Salvadoran Supreme Court refuses to detain men charged in 1989 killings of Jesuit priests, Wash. Post (Aug. 24, 2011); Released in the Salvador to military courts in Spain by death of Jesuits, lapagina.com (Aug. 25, 2011) (Google English translation).

[7]  General Zapeda,”national sovereignty has prevailed and has restored peace to the country, lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011) (Zapeda is one of the defendants) (Google English translation); Perez, Munguia Payes, “an episode closes, whatever comes later, lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011)(Payes is Defense Minister) (Google English translation); Calderon, Rodolfo Cardenal, “The decision was somewhat expected, because,” lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011)(Cardenal is former UCA vice chancellor) (Google English translation); Guzman, Siegfried Reyes: “El Salvador has a large debt tp truth and justice, lapagina (Aug. 25, 2011)(Reyes is President of the Legislative Assembly) (Google English translation).

[8] Sainz, Spain seeks El Salvador clarification on suspects, Miami Herald (Aug. 25, 2011); Assoc. Press, Spain Seeks El Salvador Clarification on Suspects, N.Y. Times (Aug. 25, 2011).

[9] Tomorrow Decree 743 will be history, diariocolatino (July 28, 2011). See Post: El Salvador’s Current Controversy over Its General Amnesty Law and Supreme Court (June 16, 2011).

[10] Arsenault, War crime suspect found in Everett [Massachusetts], Boston Globe (Aug. 17, 2011); Assoc. Press, Salvadoran accused in Jesuit deaths held in Mass., Boston Globe (Aug. 23, 2011); Assoc. Press, Suspect in Jesuit deaths out on immigration charge (Aug. 24, 2011); Arsenault, War crimes suspect in house arrest in Saugus [Massachusetts], Boston Globe (Aug. 25, 2011); Aragon, Military accused of slaughter in the U.S. Jesuit was arrested while fleeing to Mexico, elfaro (Aug. 25, 2011) (Google English translation).

[11] Arsenault, War crime suspect found in Everett [Massachusetts], Boston Globe (Aug. 17, 2011);

[12]  Lemus, Military sue Spanish judge to reverse the Jesuit case, elfaro (July 31, 2011) (Google English translation); Aguilar, Military accused of slaughter in Spain by Jesuits are delivered to the army, elfaronet (Aug. 8, 2011). See Post: International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 8, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case (June 11, 2011).

 

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

6 thoughts on “International Criminal Justice: Developments in Spanish Court’s Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests”

  1. Salvadoran Supreme Court’s Decision on INTERPOL RED NOTICE Was Erroneous

    On August 24, 2011, as this post indicates, the Salvadoran Supreme Court concluded that INTERPOL RED NOTICES for nine former Salvadoran military officials allegedly involved in the murders of the Jesuit priests were just for location of these individuals, not for their arrest.

    The Universidad de Centro America where the Jesuit priests taught has asserted that this Salvadoran decision was political, not legal. There are two fundamental reasons for this conclusion. (UCA, A political decision, not a legal (Aug. 25, 2011), (Google English translation), http://www.uca.edu.sv/noticias/nota.php?texto=586565894.)

    First, El Salvador is a member of INTEROL and thus obligated by treaty to abide by its rules. INTERPOL has rules that specifically state that Red Notices “are published in order to seek the location and arrest of a person with a view to his/her extradition.” In order for a country like Spain to request INTERPOL to publish and circulate a red notice, that country must ensure that “the person sought is the subject of criminal proceedings . . . and references to an enforceable arrest warrant, court decision or other judicial documents are provided; assurances have been given [by the requesting country] that extradition will be sought upon arrest of the person . . .; sufficient information is provided to allow for the co-operation requested to be effective.” (INTERPOL, Implementing Rules for the Rules on the Processing of Information for the Purposes of International Police Co-operation, Art. 37(a)(1)(emphasis added), http://www.interpol.int/Public/ICPO/LegalMaterials/constitution/rulesRPI/rulesRPI09.pdf.)

    Those INTERPOL rules also identify and specify details for eight other kinds of notices. Blue notices, for example, are published in order to “obtain information on a person of interest in a criminal investigation; and/or locate a person of interest in a criminal investigation; and/or identify a person of interest in a criminal investigation.” (Id., Art. 37(a)(2).)

    In short, it was obvious that the Red Notices called for the arrest of the individuals wanted in the Spanish criminal prosecution for the murders of the Jesuit priests.

    Second, the Salvadoran Supreme Court on May 20, 2011, had decided that a Red Notice was sufficient to arrest an individual in El Salvador who had been accused of drug trafficking in the U.S. In the decision on August 24, 2011, however, the court said its May decision had been erroneously decided.

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