Spain’s Criminal Investigation of 1989 Murders of Jesuits in El Salvador Is Approved by Spain’s Supreme Court

On May 6th Spain’s Supreme Court affirmed its High Court’s criminal investigation and prosecution of former Salvadoran military officials for the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador.[1]

The legal issue for the Supreme Court was whether a 2014 amendment to Spain’s statute regarding universal jurisdiction barred further proceedings in the case. Important for the Supreme Court’s conclusion that it did not were (a) the fact that five of the murdered priests were Spanish citizens and (b) “serious and reasonable” indications that El Salvador’s 1991 criminal trial in this case was not held to find those responsible for the murder but instead to obstruct justice, “all of it accompanied by the absence of the necessary guarantees of independence and impartiality.” One of the grounds for the latter reason was the resignation of the Salvadoran prosecutors after the country’s attorney general refused to allow them to call important military officials to testify at the trial.

In previous developments in this case, Spain had issued arrest warrants for former Salvadoran military officials and requested their extradition to Spain, but El Salvador denied the request for most of these men. One of them (former Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano), however, had been living in the U.S., where he was prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for lying to U.S. immigration about his military record in El Salvador, and on April 8, 2015, the U.S. government filed a request in a U.S. district court in Massachusetts seeking the extradition to Spain of Col. Montano for his alleged role in the 1989 Jesuit massacre.  Montano will now face an extradition hearing before a U.S. magistrate judge and, if ruled extraditable, will be transferred to Spain to stand trial.[2]

Last month Spain’s Supreme Court upheld the dismissals of two High Court investigations of alleged human rights violations by Chinese officials in Tibet under Spain’s universal jurisdiction statute. Still awaiting decision by the Supreme Court are whether the amended universal jurisdiction statute permits investigations of the 1976 murder of Spanish diplomat Carmelo Soria during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and the 2010 Israeli attack on volunteers in the Freedom Flotilla, who were bringing aid to Gaza.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Spain’s Supreme Court, Press Release: The Supreme Court agreed that the High Court continue to investigate the death of five Spanish priests in El Salvador in 1989 (May 6, 2015); Rincoń, Supreme Court approves inquiry into 1989 Jesuit massacre in El Salvador, El Pais (May 7, 2015); Spanish Justice decides to investigate deaths of Jesuits in El Salvador, DiarioCoLatino (May 6, 2015). Previous posts examined the general international law principle of universal jurisdiction; Spain’s universal jurisdiction statute and its 2014 amendment.

[2] Other posts discussed El Salvador’s criminal prosecution regarding the Jesuits’ murders; the early history of Spain’s Jesuits case; Spain’s issuance of criminal arrest warrants in Jesuits case; other developments in Spain’s Jesuits case; Spain’s request for extradition in Jesuits case and El Salvador’s denial of extradition; and update on Spain’s Jesuits case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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