International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests

We already have looked at a Spanish court’s recent issuance of 20 criminal arrest warrants regarding the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador[1] and the provisional facts of the murders themselves[2] and the Salvadoran military’s attempts to cover up its being the one responsible for the killings.[3] Now we examine the Salvadoran criminal prosecution of some of the individuals involved in this crime.[4]

The murders of the Jesuit priests caused such a huge international uproar that El Salvador had to do something to make it appear as if it were pursuing justice in the case. As a result, in January 1990 it commenced criminal prosecution of five Salvadoran military officers and five soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion. Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, the Director of the Military College, was accused of having given the order to murder the priests. Three Lieutenants were accused of commanding the operation. The five soldiers were accused of committing the murders.

The pre-trial proceedings took nearly two years. During this time, Colonel (now General) René Emilio Ponce, Colonel (now General) Juan Orlando Zepeda, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano and Colonel (now General) Gilberto Rubio Rubio pressured lower-ranking officers not to mention orders from above in their testimony to the court.

Finally, the trial by jury took place in September 1991 in the building of the Supreme Court of Justice and was broadcast live on television. Several ranking military officers attended the trial with the defendants’ families. On the last day of the trial, during the defendants’ closing arguments, a large crowd outside the courthouse shouted chants in favor of the defendants, interrupting the trial. In closing arguments, defense counsel barely mentioned the crime itself. Instead, they asked the jury to reject foreign intervention and pressure, emphasized that five of the six victims were Spanish born, and argued that the military generally and the defendants in particular were heroes protecting the nation against terrorism.

The five-person jury, whose identity was kept secret, was charged with deciding the charges of murder and acts of terrorism. The other charges were left to the judge to decide.

Benevides was convicted of all eight counts of murder and instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. One of the Lieutenants was convicted of one count of murder (the 16-year-old girl), instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and being an accessory. Benevides and this Lieutenant were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. The other two Lieutenants were convicted of instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism; they were sentenced to three years imprisonment, but released on bail and continued to serve in the military. A Lieutenant Colonel was convicted of being an accessory and sentenced to three years imprisonment, but he too was released on bail and continued to serve in the military. The five soldiers were acquitted of all charges.

International observers of the trial thought the jury verdict defied logic and the weight of the evidence.

In March 2000 and soon after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had issued a report on the case that will be discussed in a subsequent post, the Central American University (UCA), where the Jesuit priests had taught, sought to open a new Salvadoran criminal case regarding their murders, ultimately to no avail. UCA asked the country’s Attorney General to do so on the basis of UCA’s charges against former President Cristiani and five members of the Armed Forces High Command, including former General and Defense Minister Emilio Ponce.  Then Salvadoran President Flores opposed the request, and the Attorney General refused to do so, but the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that only a court could decide to reopen such a case.[5]

Thereafter (October 2000), a lower court rejected the prosecutor’s request to reopen the old case because it was “without legal substance” while ordering the prosecutor to conduct a new investigation to determine whether there were legitimate grounds for reopening the case.[6]

The Attorney General then conducted a new investigation and reapplied to a court to reopen the case, this time against Cristiani and four military officers, including Ponce. Once again, however, the lower court refused to do so in December 2000 on the ground that any new charges were barred by the country’s 10-year statute of limitations. Immediately afterwards Ponce and the other three officers held a press conference where Ponce accused left-wing groups of trying to de-stabilize the country by making these charges and admitted that he and his fellow former officers were concerned about developments elsewhere in Latin America, especially the fate of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and former Argentine military officers.[7]


[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May 31, 2011).

[2]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 2, 2011).

[3]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Military’s Attempted Cover-Up of Its Committing the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 7, 2011).

[4] This post’s summary of the Salvadoran criminal case is extracted from the Commission for the Truth for El Salvador’s Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 45-54 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html  [“Commission Report”]. See also Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador at 121-208 (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993). In future posts we will talk about the Truth Commission for El Salvador; the country’s general amnesty; the Jesuits case before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights; the Spanish implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction; and more details about the Spanish case regarding this crime.

[5]  UCA Press Release (Mar. 27, 2000, http://www.uca.edu.sv/neuvo/pressrelease.html; Lanchin, Salvador ex-president accused of killings, BBC News, Mar. 28, 2000; El Salvador Former Air Force Chief Denies Role in Killings, Miami Herald, Mar. 29, 2000; The Necessity and Importance of the Truth, Processo, April 5, 2000, http://www.uca.edu.sv/publica/proceso/proci897.html;UCA Impugns the Attorney General of the Republic’s Decision on the Jesuit Case, Processo, April 26, 2000,  http://www.uca.edu.sv/publica/proceso/proci899.html#doc;  New Charges Barred in Salvador Killings, N. Y. Times, Oct. 24, 2000; Editorial: The Impunity of Power, Processo, Oct. 25, 2000;  Darling, El Salvador to Reopen Murder Probe; Attorney general, under pressure, will investigate an ex-president and others in 1989 slayings of six Jesuit priests, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26, 2000; No New Trial Set in Deaths of 6 Jesuits, Miami Herald, Dec. 14, 2000; Lanchin, Salvadorean ex-general issues warning, BBC News, Dec. 15, 2000.

[6]  Id.

[7]  Id.

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International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Military’s Attempted Cover-Up of Its Committing the Murders of the Jesuit Priests

We already have looked at a Spanish court’s recent issuance of 20 criminal arrest warrants regarding the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador[1] and the provisional facts of the murders themselves.[2] Now we look at the provisional facts regarding the Salvadoran military’s attempts to cover up its being the one responsible for the killings.[3]

Immediately after the killings in the early morning of November 16, 1989, two of the military officers who were involved went to Colonel Ponce’s office to report on everything that had happened at UCA. They said that they had a small suitcase with photographs, documents and money which the soldiers had stolen from the Jesuits a few hours earlier. Colonel Ponce ordered it destroyed because it was evidence of the armed forces’ responsibility. They destroyed the suitcase at the Military College.

On returning to his unit after the killings, one of the Lieutenants who was involved informed the Commander of the Atlacatl Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Alberto León Linares, of what had happened.

Colonel Benavides, who was in charge of carrying out the order to kill Father Ellacuria and leave no witnesses, immediately after the murders told Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Antonio Rivas Mejía, the Head of the Commission for the Investigation of Criminal Acts (CIHD), what had happened and asked him for help. Mejia recommended that the barrels of the weapons that had been used be destroyed and replaced with others in order to prevent them from being identified during ballistic tests. This was later done with the assistance of Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Alberto León Linares.

Lieutenant Colonel Rivas Mejia, the Head of CIHD, also advised Colonel Benavides to make sure that no record remained of those entering and leaving the Military College the prior night and following morning so that it would not be possible to identify the military personnel involved in the murders. Subsequently, Colonel Benavides and another officer ordered that all Military College arrival and departure logs for that year and the previous year be burned.

Soon after the murders, President Cristiani entrusted the investigation of the crime to CIHD, whose head already had been involved in attempting to cover up the military’s involvement in the crime.

Shortly after the CIHD investigation began, Colonel René Emilio Ponce arranged for the head of a unit of the Armed Forces’ General Staff to join CIHD in order to assist in the investigation of the case. Yet this person also had been in charge of the General Staff Tactical Operations Centre during the entire night of 15 to 16 November.

Later in November 1989, CIHD heard two witnesses who testified that they had seen soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion near UCA that night. They later changed their statements.

An UCA employee said that she had seen, from a building adjacent to the Jesuits’ residence, soldiers in camouflage and berets the night of the murders. In the United States, where she went for protection, she was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and retracted her earlier statement. Lieutenant Colonel Rivas Mejía, the Head of CIHD, was present when she was questioned by the FBI. Subsequently, she confirmed her original statement.

CIHD did not take a statement from Colonel Benavides, even though the incident had occurred within his command zone. According to the court dossier, the first statement Benavides made was in January 1990 to the Special Honor Commission of the Salvadoran military.

On 2 January 1990, a month and a half after the murders, Major Eric Warren Buckland, an officer of the United States Army and an adviser to the armed forces of El Salvador, reported to his U.S. superior that he recently had been told that Colonel Benavides had arranged the murders, that a unit from the Atlacatl Battalion had carried them out and that Benavides had asked Lieutenant Colonel Rivas Mejia for help. In a subsequent meeting with Buckland’s source, the source denied that he had so stated to Buckland.

In early January 1990, the Minister of Defense established a Special Honor Commission, consisting of five officers and two civilians, to investigate the murders. The Commission thereafter questioned some 30 members of the Atlacatl Battalion and a number of officers of the Military College, including Colonel Benavides. Three of the Lieutenants and the soldiers who had participated in the murders confessed their crime in extrajudicial statements to the Honor Commission.

A civilian member of the Commission and a legal adviser to the military’s General Staff altered these confessions in order to delete any reference to the existence of orders from above. He also deleted the references to some officers.

On January 12, 1990, the Commission submitted its report to Salvadoran President Cristiani. The report identified nine people as being responsible for the murders, four officers and five soldiers; they were arrested and later brought to trial. Subsequently, another Lieutenant Colonel was included in the trial. The Salvadoran criminal case will be discussed in a subsequent post.


[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May 31, 2011).

[2]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 2, 2011).

[3]  This post’s factual recitation is extracted from the Commission for the Truth for El Salvador’s Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 45-54 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html  [“Commission Report”]. See also Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador at 73-194 (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993). Although, as will be discussed in a subsequent post, the Truth Commission adhered to an objective and reasonable methodology in conducting its investigations and writing its report, it must be recognized that there was no cross-examination of witnesses by attorneys for the accused or full opportunity for them to present evidence in their own defense. Thus, the findings of the Truth Commission must be taken as provisional in nature. In other future posts we will talk about the Salvadoran criminal prosecution of some of the military officers who were involved and the subsequent Salvadoran general amnesty for them and others; the Jesuits case before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights; the Spanish implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction; and more details about the Spanish case regarding this crime.

International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests

We already have looked at a Spanish court’s recent issuance of 20 criminal arrest warrants regarding the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.[1] Here we examine the provisional facts of the murders themselves and of the surrounding circumstances.[2]

The Murders

In the early hours of November 16, 1989, a group of Salvadoran soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of the Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador. They made their way to the Pastoral Centre, which was the residence of Jesuit priests Ignacio Ellacuría, Rector of the University; Ignacio Martín-Baró, Vice-Rector; Segundo Montes, Director of the Human Rights Institute; and Amando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno, all teachers at UCA.

The soldiers tried to force their way into the Pastoral Centre. When the priests realized what was happening, they let the soldiers in voluntarily. The soldiers searched the building and ordered the priests to go out into the back garden and lie face down on the ground.

The lieutenant in command gave the order to kill the priests. Fathers Ellacuria, Martín-Baró and Montes were shot and killed by a Private, Fathers López and Moreno by a Deputy Sergeant. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers found Father Joaquín López y López inside the residence and killed him. Another Deputy Sergeant shot Julia Elva Ramos, who was working as a cook in the residence, and her 16-year-old daughter, Celina Mariceth Ramos. Another Private shot them again, finishing them off.

The soldiers then took a small suitcase belonging to the priests containing photographs, documents and $5,000. They also fired a machine gun at the façade of the residence and launched rockets and grenades. Before leaving, they wrote on a piece of cardboard: “FMLN executed those who informed on it. Victory or death, FMLN.”

The FMLN’s “Final Offensive” and the Salvadoran Military’s Response

This horrible crime occurred in the midst of what the FMLN guerrillas called “The Final Offensive.” Most of the nine-year old civil war had been fought in the mountains and countryside. On November 11, 1989, however, “The Final Offensive” was launched to bring the war into the capitol city of San Salvador for the first time.

This assault reached alarming proportions that the Salvadoran armed forces had not expected. The guerrillas gained control of various areas in and around the capitol. They attacked the official and private residences of the President of the Republic and the residence of the President of the Legislative Assembly. They also attacked the barracks of the First, Third and Sixth Infantry Brigades and those of the National Police. In addition, guerrillas blew up one of the main gates of UCA and crossed UCA’s campus.

On November 12, the Government declared a state of emergency and imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

The next day, November 13, at a meeting of the Salvadoran Armed Forces’ General Staff, security commands were created to deal with the FMLN offensive. Each command was headed by an officer under the operational control of Colonel René Emilio Ponce, Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Staff. Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides was designated to head the military complex security command zone. It included the Military College, the Ministry of Defense, the Joint Staff, the National Intelligence Department, two districts where many members of the armed forces lived, the residence of the United States Ambassador and the UCA campus. (It takes less than five minutes to drive from the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense complex (Estado Mayor) to the UCA campus, as I know from visiting them both.)

A national radio channel also was established, the pilot station being Radio Cuscatlán of the armed forces. Telephone calls to the station were broadcast in a “phone-in” in which callers lofted accusations at Father Ellacuria and called for his death.

Salvadoran Military’s Focus on UCA

The Salvadoran military’s response to the FMLN offensive devoted a lot of effort to UCA, which was very close to the Ministry of Defense complex and which was seen by many in the armed forces as a “refuge of subversives.” Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda, Vice-Minister for Defense, publicly accused UCA of being the center of operations where FMLN terrorist strategy was planned. Colonel Inocente Montano, Vice-Minister for Public Security, stated publicly that the Jesuits were fully identified with subversive movements. Sectors of the armed forces identified the Jesuit priests with FMLN because of the priests’ special concern for those sectors of Salvadorian society who were poorest and most affected by the war.

On November 12th, a Salvadoran military detachment was stationed to watch who went in and out of UCA. Starting the next day no one was permitted onto the campus.

On November 13th, Colonel Ponce ordered a search of UCA premises. According to Colonel Ponce, he ordered the search because he had been informed that there were over 200 guerrillas inside the UCA campus.

The search was entrusted to a Lieutenant with 100 men from the Atlacatl Battalion. Another Lieutenant  of the National Intelligence Department joined the troops at the entrance to UCA to assist with the search. One of the Lieutenants personally directed the search of the Jesuits residence. They found no signs of any guerrilla presence, war material or propaganda. After completing the search, one of the  Lieutenants reported the results to higher officers.

On November 15th at 6.30 p.m. there was a meeting of the General Staff with military heads and commanders to adopt new measures to deal with the offensive. Colonel Ponce authorized the elimination of ringleaders, trade unionists and known leaders of FMLN, and a decision was taken to step up bombing by the Air Force and to use artillery and armored vehicles to dislodge FMLN from the areas it controlled.

The Minister of Defence, General Larios, asked whether anyone objected. No hand was raised. It was agreed that Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani would be consulted about the measures.

After the meeting, the officers stayed in the room talking in groups. One of these groups included Colonel Ponce, Colonel Zepeda and Colonel Montano. Colonel Ponce called over Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, who was the Director of the Military College. In front of four other officers, Ponce ordered Benavides to eliminate Father Ellacuria and to leave no witnesses. He also ordered him to use the unit from the Atlacatl Battalion which had carried out the search two days earlier.

That same night, November 15th, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., Benavides met with the officers under his command. Colonel Benavides told them that he had just come from a meeting at the General Staff at which special measures had been adopted to combat the FMLN offensive. Colonel Benavides said that the situation was critical and it had been decided that artillery and armored vehicles should be used. He also told them that all known subversive elements must be eliminated.

Colonel Benavides specifically said that he had received orders to eliminate Father Ignacio Ellacuria and to leave no witnesses. Colonel Benavides asked any officers who objected to this order to raise their hands. No one did.

After the meeting, the leader of the Atlacatl Battalion decided that in order to try to blame the deaths on the FMLN, they would use an AK-47 rifle that had been captured from the FMLN, instead of regulation firearms, and that they would leave no witnesses. After the murders, they would simulate an attack and leave a sign mentioning FMLN.

Two pick-up trucks with the soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion left the Military College and joined other soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion. They then proceeded to the Pastorale Center of UCA and committed the murders as previously described.


[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May31, 2011).

[2] This post’s factual recitation is extracted from the Commission for the Truth for El Salvador’s Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 45-54 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html  [“Commission Report”]. See also Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador at 37-71 (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993). Although, as will be discussed in a subsequent post, the Truth Commission adhered to an objective and reasonable methodology in conducting its investigations and writing its report, it must be recognized that there was no cross-examination of witnesses by attorneys for the accused or full opportunity for them to present evidence in their own defense. Thus, the findings of the Truth Commission must be taken as provisional in nature. In other future posts we will talk about the Salvadoran military’s efforts to cover up their participation in this crime; the Salvadoran criminal prosecution of some of the military officers who were involved and the subsequent Salvadoran general amnesty for them and others; the Jesuits case before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights; the Spanish implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction; and more details about the Spanish case regarding this crime.

International Criminal Justice: Mladic Update

On May31st Ratko Mladic arrived at The Hague and immediately was locked up in the Dutch prison used by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[1]

In the five days since his arrest and ordered extradition on May 26th,[2] Mladic appealed the Serbian court’s order of extradition to The Hague. The appeal asserted that he is physically and mentally unfit for trial. On May 31st the appeal was rejected.[3]

The following is a summary of the ICTY charges facing Mladic:

  • Genocide and complicity in genocide: for leading Bosnian Serb forces who massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 and ethnically cleansed towns and villages in Bosnia of non-Serbs throughout the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
  • Crimes against humanity by persecution on the basis of religion: for killing, torturing, raping, deporting and illegally imprisoning Muslims and Croats.
  • War crimes by extermination, murder and cruel treatment: for widespread killing of non-Serb civilians in towns and villages targeted by Bosnian Serb forces and for the deadly campaign of sniping and shelling of civilians during the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.
  • War crimes by taking hostages: for taking hostage United Nations military observers and peacekeepers. [4]

Through his son Mladic has denied that he ordered the massacre at Srebrenica.[5]

Now attention is being paid to how Mladic was able for so long to avoid arrest and whether those who aided his evasion of legal process are liable for crimes.[6]

Mladic still has supporters in Serbia, and on May 29th around 10,000 of them rallied in Belgrade to protest the arrest and threatened extradition of Mladic to the ICTY at The Hague. The crowd also demanded the resignation of the Serbian president, Boris Tadic, whom they called a traitor to Serbia for his willingness to hand over alleged war criminals to the tribunal.[7]

The ICTY has jurisdiction over perpetrators of atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, including grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity. It has indicted 161 ethnic Serbs, Croats and Muslims, the majority of whom are Serbs. The following summarizes the status of these 161 cases:[8]

Concluded cases: Convicted & sentenced   64
Acquitted   13
Referred to national court   13
Withdrawn/deceased   36
SUBTOTAL 126
Pending Cases: Appeal after trial   16
At trial   14
Pre-trial     4
At large     1
SUBTOTAL   35
TOTAL   161

[1] Simons, Mladic Arrives in the Hague, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/world/europe/01serbia.html?ref=world&pagewanted=print.

[2] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Mladic To Face Charges at ICTY (May 27, 2011).

[3] Carvajal, Mladic Appeals Extradition on Health Ground, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/world/europe/31serbia.html?ref=world; Carvajal, Mladic Extradition Appeal Rejected, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/world/europe/01serbia.html?hp.

[4] Associated Press, A Summary of War Crimes Charges Against Mladic, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/05/31/world/europe/AP-EU-Mladic-The-Charges-Glance.html?hp; ICTY, Case Information Sheet: Ratko Mladichttp://www.icty.org/x/cases/mladic/cis/en/cis_mladic_en.pdf.

[5] Beaumont & Meikle, Ratko Mladic denies ordering Srebrenica massacre, says his son, Guardian (May 30, 2011), http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/29/ratko-mladic-denies-ordering-srebrenica-massacre.

[6] Carvajal & Erlanger, Serb Fugitve Slowly Starved of Friends and Cash, N.Y. Times (May 29, 2011),   http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/world/europe/30mladic.html?ref=world.

[7] Erlanger, Demonstrators Rally Against Mladic Extradition, N.Y. Times (May 29, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/world/europe/30serbia.html?ref=world.

[8] ICTY, Key Figures, http://www.icty.org/sections/TheCases/KeyFigures;  Associated Press, An Overview of the Yugoslav War Crimes Court, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/05/31/world/europe/AP-EU-Mladic-Tribunal-Glance.html?ref=world. See also Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (May 28, 2011).
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International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests

A Spanish court yesterday issued arrest warrants for 20 of the top military leaders of El Salvador’s civil war, accusing them of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in meticulously planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in November 1989.[1]

Among the men named in the indictment were Rafael Humberto Larios, who was the Salvadoran defense minister at the time; Juan Orlando Zepeda, the vice defense minister; Rene Emilio Ponce, leader of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Inocente Orlando Montano, the vice minister of public safety. Mr. Ponce, who is believed to have given the order for the killings, died this month in El Salvador. Mr. Montano is in custody.

The Jesuit priests were the leader and professors at the Universidad de Centro America (UCA) in San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador. The Rector of the University of Central America, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, had organized an open public forum about the country’s problems. All six were noted professors who had published papers about the country’s problems, and most of them also had served as pastors in communities around the capital city.[2]

At the time of the murders, El Salvador was engaged in a civil war with leftist guerillas, and supporters of the Salvadoran government said that UCA was the “logistical center of Communist subversion.” The Jesuits at UCA were “agents of the Marxist conspiracy at the service of the Kremlin.” Ellacuria, they said, directed “all Marxist-Leninist strategy in Central America.” The Jesuits, according to these government supporters, were “the intellectual authors who have directed the guerillas.” [3]

This important development raises many issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts: (a) the work of the priests and UCA in the life of El Salvador; (b) the facts relating to the murders; (c) the criminal prosecution of some of the military officers in El Salvador; (d) the investigation and report about this horrendous crime by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; (d) the subsequent general amnesty adopted by the Salvadoran legislature; (e) the investigation and report about this crime by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; (f) the background of the case before the Spanish court; (g) the important work by international human rights non-governmental organizations like the Center for Justice & Accountability that has been a leader in the case in Spain; and (h) the international law principle of universal jurisdiction and Spain’s implementation of that principle.

As a result of my involvement with El Salvador over the last 26 years, my six visits to the country and to UCA itself and my investigation of the above issues, the latest development in the Spanish case is very important to me legally, spiritually and emotionally. Through all of these activities, I have come to see that there is an ever-evolving interactive global struggle against impunity for violators of human rights and that many courts, other international and domestic governmental and non-governmental institutions and people play different and important roles in this process.  [4]


[1] Malkin, From Spain, Charges Against 20 in the Killing of 6 Priests in El Salvador in 1989, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011); Center for Justice & Accountability, Spanish Judge Issues Indictments and Arrest Warrants in Jesuits Massacre Case (May 30, 2011), http://www.cja.org/article.php?id=1004.

[2] Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador  (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993) [“Doggett”]; Jon Sobrino, et al., Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador (Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Books 1990).

[3] Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 49 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html;  Doggett at 17.

[4] See Post: My First 10 Years of Retirement (April 23, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011); Post: Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011); Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).

Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of the Rhodes Scholarships

In June 1983 my wife and I attended festivities in Oxford to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Rhodes Scholarships.

 

With our printed invitations in hand, we went to a Garden Party at Rhodes House in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. They walked around a roped circle in the center of an eager gathering of over 1,400 former Scholars and spouses. From time to time they stopped to engage someone in conversation. We were not close enough to be candidates for being selected for such a conversation. But it was exciting to be there.

The “Court Circular” in The Times of London the next day reported that “The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh . . . visited Rhodes House, Oxford (Warden Dr. R. A. Fletcher) and attended the Rhodes Scholars’ Reunion Garden Party. [They] . . . were received on arrival by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Oxfordshire (Sir Ashley Ponsonby, Bt.), the Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees (the Lord Blake) and the Chancellor of the University (the Right Hon. Harold Macmillan).”

 

At the University of Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the University’s Vice-Chancellor convened the Congregation of the University (an official meeting of the senior members of the University). He then awarded Honorary Degrees to five former Rhodes Scholars. Doctors of Civil Law were awarded to Don Price, Emeritus Professor of Government and Public Management at Harvard University; The Honourable Robert Aaron Gordon Robertson, former Secretary to the Canadian Cabinet and to the Canadian Cabinet for Federal-Provincial Relations; and General Bernard William Rogers, Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Doctors of Letters were awarded to the Rt. Hon. Sir Zelman Cowen, the former Governor-General of Australia; and Robert Penn Warren, U.S. novelist, poet and Emeritus Professor of English at Yale University.

The Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford was the site for a Thanksgiving Service.  The Bidding Prayer by The Rev’d Dr. J. K. McConica, a former Canadian Rhodes Scholar, gave “thanks for the benefits enjoyed in this place through the munificence of our Founder, Cecil John Rhodes” and prayed “for ourselves, that we may use to God’s glory the gifts and opportunities with which we have been so abundantly blessed.” The Rev’d Dr. David Alexander, an American Rhodes Scholar, in his closing prayer gave “hearty thanks for thy servant Cecil John Rhodes our Founder, by whose bounty we are here brought up to godliness and the studies of good learning.” Alexander then offered A Prayer for the Nations, A Prayer for the Universities, A Prayer for All Men in Their Vocation and a General Thanksgiving prayer.

A gala anniversary dinner was held in large marquees in the garden of Oxford’s Trinity College. Toasts to Her Majesty the Queen and to the Founder were offered by the Chairman of the Rhodes Trust, The Right Hon. Lord Blake. Welcoming remarks were made by the Chairman and by The Right Hon. Harold Macmillan, the Chancellor of the University and former Prime Minister of the U.K. The response on behalf of the guests was made by J. Ogilvie Thompson, a South African Rhodes Scholar at Worcester College (before my time) and the CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, a gold-mining company in South Africa.

The dinner menu featured Ogen Melon, Darne de Saumon, Le Supreme de Volaille Suedoise, Haricots verts, Pommes Nouvelles and Mille Feuille. The wines were Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling 19980, Gold Label Rhine Riesling Ashbrook Estate 1982, Cabernet Sauvignon Newton Vineyard 1980 and Paarl Vintage 1961 port.

Celebrating Oxford’s Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary

On June 25, 1983, my wife and I attended the dinner to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Oxford’s Worcester College. The College’s Provost, Asa Briggs,[1] and Fellows were joined by many “Old Members” (what we in the U.S. call alumni) and other guests in a large marquee in the College’s garden.

We were served Ogen Melon with White Port, Sole Veronique and Lemon Sorbet for the first course; Roast Saddle of English Lamb Clamart for the second course; and Swan Eclairs, Diables a Cheval and Fresh Fruit Bowl for dessert. The wines were Muscadet Le Maitre Gourmet, Chateau de Barbe 1979 and Dow’s 1974 Reserve.

The toasts were to The Queen and the College with a Reply by the Provost.

The special guest of honor was Harold Macmillan, then the Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the former Prime Minister of the U.K.

Worcester’s claim to 700 years is somewhat strained. In 1283 the Benedictine Order founded Gloucester College, whose great work was educating the most promising men in the Order and sending them back to the monasteries as administrators or minor statesmen in their chapters.[2] In 1541, however, Gloucester College was one of the institutions that was subject to King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and thus ceased to exist, and its property reverted to the Crown.[3] The Crown in 1560 sold the property to a new institution, Gloucester Hall, which was organized and occupied the former College buildings from 1560 to 1714, but the Hall was not a college.[4] In 1714 Worcester College was founded on the site, and magnificent 18th century neo-classical buildings were built on the north and east sides of the main quad. They are still used today. Amazingly some of the medieval “cottages” of Gloucester College have survived on the south side of the main quad of today’s Worcester College and are still used as residences for students and dons.[5]

After the anniversary dinner, The Times of London had a photograph of Mr. Macmillan with a caption written by someone who knew the history. It stated, “Harold Macmillan, Chancellor of Oxford University, celebrating the seven hundredth anniversary of the founding of Gloucester College, the Benedictine college, some of whose buildings are now occupied by Worcester College.”[6]


[2] Worcester College at 1-6 (1976).

[3] Wikipedia, Dissolution of the Monasteries, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissolution_of_the_Monasteries.

[4]  Worcester College at 7-14 (1976).

[5]  Id. at 15-21; Worcester College, The History of Worcester College, http://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/About%20Worcester/c_collegeHistory.php.

[6]  College calls, The Times (June 27, 1983).