Pilgrimage to American Churchwomen Sites in El Salvador

We have reviewed the missionary work in El Salvador of the four American churchwomen, their brutal murders on December 2, 1980, the subsequent investigations of that horrible crime, the Salvadoran successful criminal prosecution of five of its National Guardsmen for the murders and the unsuccessful U.S. civil lawsuit for money damages against two Salvadoran Generals for their failure to prevent this crime and conduct a proper investigation after the fact.[i]

In March 2010 I was privileged to visit some of the sites associated with this powerful demonstration of religious faith, devotion and courage, on the one hand, and brutal and heartless conduct of the Salvadoran security forces, on the other hand.

Military Post, Chalatenango
Lago de Suchitlan

Two of the women, Maryknollers Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, served in the northern city of Chalatenango, population of 30,000. It is near Lago de Suchitlan. During the civil war a military fortress was built to guard the city against attacks by the FMLN guerillas.

Chalatenango chapter house
Chalatenango chapter house

Across the street from the military fortress stands the 18th-century church, which was the center of the Sisters’ activities. They lived in the adjacent chapter house.

The two of them along with their friends Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan were murdered on December 2, 1980, near the town of Santiago Nonualco in the southern part of the country near the airport. The next day their bodies were found on a country road not too far from the town, and upon order from officials they immediately were buried in a shallow, common grave. The site of the grave is not publicly accessible, but it was not too far from the places in these photos.

Now near the site of the common grave is a small chapel along with a monument to the women.

Soon after the murders, Sisters Clarke and Ford were buried where they had served, in accordance with Maryknoll custom and practice. Our group visited the cemetery for a moment of prayer and reflection. Here are photos of the municipal cemetery of Chalatenango and their grave markers.

La Libertad

We did not visit the western coastal city of La Libertad, population around 30,000. This is where Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Maryknoll lay missionary Jean Donovan served. Here is a photo of the city.

The four women are now part of the religious heritage of El Salvador and the world. Every year on December 2nd (the date of their murders), there are pilgrimages to that country to commemorate and honor their religious faith, devotion, courage and service. Praise God!

[i]  See Post: The Four American Churchwomen of El Salvador (Dec. 12, 2011); Post: The December 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 14, 2011); Post: Non-Judicial Investigations of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen (Dec. 16, 2011); Post: Judicial Investigations and Criminal Prosecutions of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 18, 2011); Post: The Salvadoran Truth Commission’s Investigation of the Murders of the American Churchwomen (Dec. 19, 2011); Post: TVPA Lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court Over the Murders of the American Churchwomen (Dec. 20, 2011).

TVPA Lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court Over the Murders of the American Churchwomen

One of the horrendous crimes during El Salvador’s civil war was the December 1980 brutal murders of four American churchwomen. We have examined the facts of those crimes along with the investigations and criminal prosecutions in El Salvador for those crimes plus the report on same by the Truth Commission for El Salvador.[1]

General Vides Casanova
General Jose Guillermo Garcia

In 1999 U.S. relatives of the four churchwomen brought a civil lawsuit for money damages under the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA)[2] for the women’s torture and murders. The defendants were former Salvadoran Generals Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia. The case was in a federal court in Florida, where the defendants then lived.[3]

The case was tried before a jury in October-November 2000. The defendants denied any knowledge of the murders beforehand. They admitted, however, that torture and violence were rampant in El Salvador and that the country’s armed forces were involved in many of these actions. In response, they testified, they had issued orders forbidding illegal interrogation and extrajudicial executions and had done all they could do to prevent such crimes. However, they further testified, they did not have the resources to stop a long practice of such actions by the armed forces.[4]

General Garcia testified that he had ordered an investigation of the killing of the churchwomen and had done nothing to interfere with the investigation. General Garcia also testified about the U.S. government’s giving him the Legion of Merit award in the 1980’s for his being a “sterling example of a military leader in a representative government”as well as the U.S. government’s granting him political asylum in 1991.

Other trial witnesses were former U.S. Ambassador Robert White to El Salvador and a former investigator for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The trial exhibits included the report of the El Salvador Truth Commission, other investigative reports and declassified U.S. diplomatic cables

In November 2000 the jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Afterwards the jurors indicated that they thought they did not have enough evidence that the generals were able to exercise authority over their subordinates. Some jurors also said the defendants had done what they could to curb abuses, given the tumult of the times and a lack of resources.

The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court. The sole issue on this appeal was the legal sufficiency of the trial court’s instruction to the lay jury on the question of command responsibility. Because there was no objection at trial to this instruction, the appellate court reviewed the instruction only for plain error and found no such plain error,

The appellate court held that legislative history made clear that Congress intended to adopt the doctrine of command responsibility from international law and that the essential elements of liability under that doctrine were (i) the existence of a superior-subordinate relationship between the commander and the perpetrator; (ii) the commander knew or should have known that the subordinate was committing or planning to commit war crimes; and (iii) the commander failed to prevent the crimes or failed to punish the subordinate for same.

The plaintiffs’ request for review by the U.S. Supreme Court was denied. Thus, this case is over.[5]

[1]  See Post: The Four American Churchwomen of El Salvador (Dec. 12, 2011); Post: The December 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 14, 2011); Post: Non-Judicial Investigations of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen (Dec. 16, 2011); Post: Judicial Investigations and Criminal Prosecutions of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 18, 2011); Post: The Salvadoran Truth Commission’s Investigation of the Murders of the American Churchwomen (Dec. 19, 2011).

[2]  See Post: The Torture Victims Protection Act (Dec. 10, 2011).

[3]  Ford v. Garcia, 289 F.3d 1283, 1285 (11th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1147 (2003).

[4]  Gonzalez, Salvadoran Admits Abuses In Trial Tied to Nuns’ Deaths, N.Y. Times (Oct. 19, 2000); Gonzalez, Salvadoran General Admits He Knew of Abuses, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2000); Gonzalez, 2 Salvadoran Generals Cleared by U.S. Jury in Nuns’ Deaths, N.Y. Times (Nov. 4, 2000); Eviatar, Following the Blood, American Lawyer, Jan. 2001, at 83.

[5] The problem with the jury instruction on command responsibility was avoided in a later and similar case against Generals Garcia and Vides Casanova in which they were held liable for $54.6 million. (See Post: Former Salvadoran Generals Held Liable by U.S. Courts for $54.6 Million for Failure To Stop Torture (Nov. 11, 2011).)

The Salvadoran Truth Commission’s Investigation of the Murders of the Four American Churchwomen

We already have discussed the mission work in El Salvador of the four American churchwomen, their December 1980 brutal murders, the subsequent non-judicial and judicial investigations and successful Salvadoran criminal prosecutions for these crimes.[1]

The Truth Commission for El Salvador also investigated these crimes and its March 1993 report found:

  • the December 2, 1980, arrests and murders of the churchwomen had been planned prior to the arrival of two of them that evening from Nicaragua;
  •  the National Guard deputy sergeant in charge that night of the killing was carrying out the orders of a superior officer;
  • the Director-General of the National Guard at the time, Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, and other high security forces officers knew that members of the National Guard had committed the murders pursuant to orders of a superior officer and were in charge of covering up those facts;
  • Vides Casanova and another officer impeded the gathering of evidence and thereby adversely affected the judicial investigation of the crimes;
  • the two Salvadoran military investigations of this crime (Monterrosa and Zepeda) were not serious and instead sought to conceal the involvement of higher officials;
  • the Minister of Defense at the time, General Jose Guillermo Garcia, made no serious effort to conduct a thorough investigation of responsibility for the murders; and
  • the State of El Salvador failed in its responsibility to conduct a thorough and fair investigation of the crime and to find and punish the culprits.[2]

[1] See Post: The Four American Churchwomen of El Salvador (Dec. 12, 20111); Post: The December 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 14, 2011); Post: Non-Judicial Investigations of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen (Dec. 16, 2011); Post: Judicial Investigations and Criminal Prosecutions of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 18, 2011).

[2] Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 62-66 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html. See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador (June 9, 2011) (summary of the Commission’s mandate and procedures).

Salvadoran Judicial Investigation and Prosecution of National Guardsmen for the Murders of the Four American Churchwomen

We have examined the Salvadoran mission work of the four American churchwomen, their brutal December 1980 murders and the non-judicial investigations of this horrendous crime.[1] Now we look at the Salvadoran judicial investigation and prosecutions of five of their National Guardsmen for this crime.

Judicial Investigation

The judicial investigation started in late April 1981, when six members of the Salvadoran National Guard were arrested as suspects. The investigation ended in May 1984 when five of these men went on trial for aggravated homicide.[2]

During this three-year period there were several interesting developments.

In October 1981 a Salvadoran National Guardsman who had been captured by the guerillas said on their radio station (Radio Venceremos) that the women had been killed by other Guardsmen. This individual had not been involved in the killings himself, but said that a major had told him and other soldiers that Guardsmen had killed the women because two of them (Clarke and Ford) were believed to be carrying messages for the Salvadoran guerillas from the leftist Sandinistas on the women’s flight from Nicaragua.[3]

In November 1981 it had appeared that the investigation would not lead to any criminal charges, but in February 1982 the court determined that there was sufficient evidence to charge four of the men with aggravated homicide and one with murder while releasing the sixth for insufficient evidence. At that time (February 1982), the men were discharged from the military, and the court said that one of the five had confessed to his involvement in the killings and that this had been corroborated by other evidence.[4]

In November 1982, the trial court ordered the five men to stand trial on these charges at the earliest possible date. An appellate court, however, reversed this decision on the ground that the record was incomplete and returned the case to the trial court for further investigation. In October 1983, the trial court again ordered the five to stand trial.[5]

Criminal Trial

The five Guardsmen went to trial in May 1984 before a five-person jury. The trial took 19 hours. Seven hours were spent reading written testimony focusing on the women’s work in the country, the confession, ballistic tests and fingerprint evidence . Another seven hours was devoted to arguments by the attorneys. The defense emphasized that the men were obeying orders and criticized the U.S. involvement in the investigation.[6]

After one hour of deliberation, the jury found all of the men guilty of aggravated homicide. Thereafter the judge sentenced each of them to 30 years in prison.[7]

This was the first time in Salvadoran history that a judge had held a member of the armed forces guilty of homicide or murder.[8]

Post-Conviction Developments

In January 1988, a Salvadoran court rejected the application by three of the five convicts for release under the country’s General Amnesty Law.[9]The court held that the Law applied to political crimes, not to the aggravated homicide for which they had been convicted and which was a common crime.[10]

Seven months later (July 1998), however, two of the Guardsmen were released from prison apparently because of a new law to ease prison overcrowding. (The other three did not qualify for release because of prior convictions on a weapons charge and participation in a prison disturbance.) [11]

At about the same time in 1998, this case again captured public attention with two developments. First,  the convicted Guardsmen said that they had acted on orders of higher officials. Second, previously secret U.S. government files were released that did not support its prior assertions that the Guardsmen had acted on their own. The resulting public requests for a Salvadoran criminal investigation of that subject were rejected when El Salvador’s President and Attorney General said the country’s 10-year statute of limitations for murder charges meant that it was legally impossible to reopen the case to charge those who ordered the murders.[12]

[1] See Post: The Four American Churchwomen of El Salvador (Dec. 12, 2001); Post: The December 1980 Murders of the Four American Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 14, 2011); Post: Non-Judicial Investigations of the Murders of the American Churchwomen of El Salvador (Dec. 16, 2011).

[2]  UPI, 6 Salvadoran Soldiers Are Arrested in Slaying of U.S. Church Workers, N.Y. Times (May 10, 1981); AP, Salvador To Try 5 in the Deaths of U.S. Women, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 1982); n.6 infra. Presumably it was during this period (April 1981 to May 1984) that a Salvadoran attorney who had been appointed to represent one of the Guardsmen, was pressured by the U.S. Embassy to announce that he had not found any involvement of higher officials, and when the attorney refused to do so, he received death threats that forced him and his family to flee El Salvador. (See Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).)

[3]  UPI, U.S. Nuns’ Deaths Laid to Salvador, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 1981).

[4]  Bonner, Salvador’s Inquiry into Nuns’ Slaying Stalled, N.Y. Times (Nov. 13, 1981); Bonner, 6 Salvadoran Soldiers Face Court in Slaying of American Nuns, N.Y. Times (Feb. 11, 1982); Hoge, Judge in Salvador Frees One of Six in Nuns’ Death, N.Y. Times (Feb. 14, 1982).  More details about the confession entered the public domain. (UPI, Salvadoran Indicted in Death of U.S. Nuns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 1982); AP, Salvadoran Says He killed U.S. Women, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 1983).)

[5]  Hoge, Judge in Salvador Frees One of Six in Nuns’ Death, N.Y. Times (Feb. 14, 1982); AP, Salvador To Try 5 in the Deaths of U.S. Women, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 1982); AP, Salvadorans Again Face Tiral in Killing of 4 Churchwomen, N,Y. Times (Oct. 29, 1983).

[6] Chavez, Salvador Trial in Killing of 4 Is Due Next Week, N.Y. Times (May 17, 1984); Chavez, Guardsmen’s Trial Opens in Salvador; Judge Calls Case in Slaying of 4 Churchwomen Strong Enough for Conviction, N.Y. Times (May 24, 1984); Chavez, 5 Salvadorans Are Found Guilty in Slaying of U.S. Churchwomen, N.Y. Times (May 25, 1984); Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 65 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html.

[7]  Id.

[8] Id.

[9]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case (June 11, 2011).

[10] Assoc. Press, Salvador Judge Refuses Amnesty To Killers of 4 U.S. Churchwomen, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 1988).

[11] Lawyers Comm. Hum. Rts., Media Alert: Human Rights First Calls for Formal Process in El Salvador Following Statement on Possible Release of Five Convicted Guardsmen, May 18, 1998; Lawyers Comm. Hum. Rts., Media Alert:Human Rights First Denounces Possible Parole for Guards, July 1, 1998; No Parole in Nuns’ Murder, N. Y. Times (July 9, 1998); 2 Killers of Nuns Freed From Salvadoran Prison, N.Y. Times (July 22, 1998); Release Ordered of El Salvador nun murderers, BBC News (July 22, 1998).

[12]  Id.; Rohter, 4 Salvadorans Say They Killed U.S. Nuns on Orders of Military, N.Y.  Times (Apr. 3, 1998); Lawyers Comm. Hum. Rts., Media Alert: Human Rights First Obtains Embassy Evidence on U.S. Nuns Murder in El Salvador (June 24,1998);  Rohter, Files Focus on Salvador Colonel in U.S. Women’s Deaths, N.Y. Times (June 25, 1998).

International Criminal Court: Six New Judges Elected

At its current meeting in New York City, the ICC’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, was charged with electing six new judges for the Court.[1] On December 16th, the Assembly completed this task, and the new judges will take office on March 11, 2012.[2]

All six possess the basic Rome Statute qualifications for these important positions: high moral character; impartiality; integrity; the qualifications required by their States for appointment to their highest judicial offices; and excellent knowledge of the Court’s two “working languages” (English and French) and fluency in at least one of these languages.

In addition, they have established competency in either (a) “criminal law and procedure, and the necessary relevant experience, whether as judge, prosecutor, advocate or in similar capacity, in criminal proceedings” or (b) “relevant areas of international law such as international humanitarian law and the law of human rights, and extensive experience in a professional legal capacity which is of relevance to the judicial work of the Court.”

All were on the list of qualified candidates for the judgeships that was produced by the Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections that evaluated the 19 candidates advanced by States Parties. The six new judges range in age from 49 to 66 and are reported to be in good health and thus presumptively able to serve the full nine-year term of office.

As shown below, the new judges bring a wealth of experience in domestic and international criminal law, prior judicial and advocate experience in criminal trials plus academic writing in the fields of criminal law, humanitarian law (or the law of war) and human rights. They also have distinguished educational records.

Judge Carmona

Anthony Thomas Aquinas CARMONA from Trinidad and Tobago. At 58 years of age, he has degrees from the University of the West Indies and the Sir Hugh Wooding Law School. He has considerable experience, training and demonstrated competence in criminal law and criminal procedure both at the national and international levels for over 25 years.

  • He currently  is a judge of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • He has served as Appeals Counsel (Office of the Prosecutor) at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Judge Carmona also served at the highest level of the criminal prosecution service of Trinidad and Tobago rising to the position of Acting Director of Public Prosecutions. At this level, he prosecuted major and complex criminal cases which sometimes involved appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
He was a representative of Trinidad and Tobago at the Preparatory Committee on the establishment of the ICC.As a judge of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago and a former prosecutor, Judge Carmona presided over or prosecuted cases involving violence against women and children.
Senator Defensor-Santiago
Miriam DEFENSOR-SANTIAGO of the Philippines. At age 66, she holds degrees from the University of the Philippines and the University of Michigan (LLM and LLD) and has authored books and articles on Philippine and international law. She will be the first Asian from a developing country on the Court. She has had a distinguished career in the Philippines:
  • Defensor-Santiago currently is a Senator, having been elected in 2010 for a third term; she also served as Senator from 1995 to 2001 and 2004 to 2010. She was the Chairperson of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, 2004-2010.
  • She also stood for election as President in 1992 and received the second highest number of votes.
  • She was Professional Lecturer on constitutional and international law, College of Law, University of Philippines, 1976-1988.
  • She was a legal officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1979-1980.
  • She served as Presiding Judge of a Regional Trial Court, 1983-1987.
  • She was head of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation, 1988-1989.
  • She was appointed Secretary (Minister) of Agrarian Reform in 1989.

She is well known in her home country for making colorful statements. For example, when she was asked if she had received death threats at the Commission on Immigration and Deportation, she said, “I eat death threats for breakfast. Death is only a state of thermodynamic equilibrium.”[3]


Chile EBOE-OSUJI of Nigeria. At age 49, he holds degrees from the University of Calabar (Nigeria), McGill University in Canada (LLB and LLM) and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands (PhD in international criminal law). Mr. Eboe-Osuji  has  competence in substantive and procedural criminal law based on 25 years of experience and familiarity with professional  advocacy in courtrooms:

  • He has worked in senior legal advisory capacities to the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights and has rendered legal advisory services to the Government of Nigeria and foreign governments, on questions of international law.
  • He has practiced criminal law in the courts of Nigeria and Canada.
  • He has litigated cases before the ICTR as senior prosecution trial counsel, the Special Court for Sierra Leone as senior prosecution appeals counsel and the European Court of Human Rights. Prior to these engagements, he was prosecution counsel in several cases at the ICTR.
  • He also has extensive experience, in a senior legal advisory capacity behind the scenes, assisting ICTR trial and appellate judges in the drafting of many judgments and decisions.
  • His specific areas of competence include international criminal law (especially genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes); international humanitarian law; international human rights law; public international law; Nigerian and Canadian criminal law, and criminal law in the common law world.  He also has expertise relating to the crime of aggression, by virtue of his research and legal advisory assistance to the Delegation of Nigeria to the ICC Assembly of States Parties Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression.
Judge Fremr
Robert FREMR of the Czech Republic. He is 54 years old and holds degrees from Charles University Law School in Prague. He has nearly 25 years of experience in criminal law and procedure as a judge in all four tiers of the Czech judicial system plus judicial experience at the ICTR. In these positions, he has gained considerable expertise in managing complicated and time-intensive cases as well as in working with women and child victims of violent crime who require special treatment in court. Here are the specifics:
  • Judge ad litem, ICTR, 2010-2011
  • Judge of the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic, 2009-10.
  • Judge ad litem, ICTR, 2006-2008
  • Judge of the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic, 2004-2005
  • Judge of the High Court in Prague (Penal Section), 1989-2003
  • Judge of the Court of Appeal in Prague (Penal Section), 1986-1989
  • Judge of the District Court Prague 4, 1983-1986
  • Judicial practitioner, Municipal Court, Prague, 1981-1983

Judge Fremr also has lectured on criminal law at the Faculty of Law of Charles University in Prague and taught human rights courses to judges and trainee judges at the Judicial Academy of the Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic.

Judge Fremr has attended many important international conferences (e.g. the ninth session of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute, official meetings within the Council of Europe,  Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Herrera Carbuccia

Olga Venecia HERRERA CARBUCCIA of the Dominican Republic (DR). She holds degrees from the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo in the DR and is 55 years old. She has practical experience in the field of criminal law, human rights protection, children’s rights, and combating money laundering and financing terrorism.  She has extensive legal teaching experience in her home country. Herrera Carbuccia has extensive judicial experience in her home country:

  • Judge President of the Criminal Chamber of a Court of Appeals , 2003-present
  • Presiding Judge of the First Criminal Chamber of a Court of Appeals, 2001-2003
  • First Deputy Judge President of the  Criminal Chamber of a  Court of Appeals, 1997-2003
  • Substitute Second Judge President of the Criminal Chamber of a Court of Appeals, 1991-1997
  • Judge President of the Eighth Penal Chamber of a Court of First Instance, 1986-1991
  • Assistant Attorney to the National District Prosecutor, 1984-1986
  • Fiscal of two DR Peace Courts, 1981-1984
Judge Howard Morrison
Howard MORRISON of the United Kingdom. He holds a degree from London University and is 62 years old.  Here are some of the highlights of his legal career:
  • Judge of ICTY, 2009-present
  • Judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, 2009
  • Senior Judge of the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus, 2008.
  • Circuit Judge, criminal and civil, 2004
  • Defense counsel , ICTY and ICTR, 1998-2004
  • Recorder in crime, civil and family jurisdictions, 1998
  • Assistant Recorder in crime, civil and family jurisdictions, 1993
  • Ad hoc Attorney-General for Anguilla, 1988-1989
  • Resident Magistrate and  Chief Magistrate of Fiji and concurrently Senior Magistrate of Tuvalu, 1986-1988
  • Practicing barrister in U.K., primarily criminal law and equally divided between prosecution and defense, 1977-1985 and 1989-2004.

We the peoples of the world should give thanks to these six qualified people for their willingness to undertake the important and challenging work of a Judge of the ICC.

[1]  See Post: International Criminal Court: Basics of Its Upcoming Judicial Election (June 23, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Specified and Recommended Qualifications for ICC Judges (June 24, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: New States Parties, Judges and Prosecutor (Nov. 22, 2011).

[2]  ICC, Final Results:  Election of the Judges of the ICC (contains biographical material about the new judges), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ASP/Elections/Judges/2011/Results/Final+Results.htm; AMICC, First Week of Assembly of States Parties Concludes with the Completion of the Election of Six ICC Judges, http://amicc.blogspot.conm (Dec. 16, 2011).

[3] Tordesillas, We will miss Sen. Miriam, http://www.gmanetwork.com (Dec. 15, 2011).


Non-Judicial Investigations of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador

On December 2, 1980, four American churchwomen were beaten, raped and murdered in the countryside 15 miles from the country’s international airport.[1]

This was a huge problem for the governments of the U.S. and El Salvador because four religious missionaries who were U.S. citizens had been brutally raped and murdered and because there was a huge public outcry in the U.S. for investigation and prosecution of those responsible. Continuation of  U.S. military aid to El Salvador was also at risk. Immediately after the discovery of the murders, President Carter suspended $25 million of aid (with restoration 10 days later), and in 1983 Congress voted to withhold $19 million in aid pending a verdict in the criminal case discussed below.[2]

There were five non-judicial investigations of the crime.

The first investigation was initiated on December 6, 1980 (four days after the murders), by President Jimmy Carter, when he appointed William G. Bowdler, a State Department official, and William D. Rogers, a former Department official, to go to El Salvador and investigate the case. They went and said they had found no direct evidence of the crime or of involvement of Salvadoran authorities, but that there had been a cover-up of the murders.[3]

The Junta then governing El Salvador started the second investigation by putting Colonel Roberto Monterrosa in charge of an official commission of investigation. Later he admitted that his commission had excluded the possibility that Salvadoran security forces had been involved in the crime because that would have created serious difficulties with those forces. He hid from the U.S. Embassy evidence implicating a deputy sergeant of the Salvadoran National Guard. In short, Monterrosa did not conduct a thorough, honest investigation.[4]

Simultaneously with the Monterrosa commission, the Director-General of the National Guard, Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, started a third investigation. He put Major Lizandro Zepeda in charge. Zapeda reported there was no evidence that National Guard personnel had committed these crimes while he simultaneously ordered the actual Guard perpetrators to replace their rifles to avoid detection and to remain loyal to the National Guard by suppressing the facts. There is also evidence that Zapeda kept his superior, Vides Casanova, informed of the details of the investigation.[5]

The fourth investigation was conducted by former U.S. federal judge Harold R. Tyler, Jr. at the appointment of the U.S. Secretary of State. He concluded that the purpose of the Monterrosa and Zapeda investigations had been to establish written precedents clearing the Salvadoran security forces of blame for the crimes. Tyler also concluded that senior officers had not been directly involved in the crimes themselves although it was quite possible that General Vides Casanova, who had been the commander of the National Guard at the time and was then the Salvadoran Minister of Defense, was aware of the cover-up. Indeed, the deputy sergeant immediately had confessed his involvement to his superiors, who kept this secret and took other steps to make detection more difficult. [6]

In December 1981 Colonel Vides Casanova appointed Major Jose Adolfo Medrano to conduct a fifth investigation.[7]

As the first four of these investigations were proceeding, the Salvadoran government announced that it had sent to the FBI for analysis new evidence, including fingerprints of Salvadoran police and military personnel who had been stationed in the area of the national airport on December 2. Subsequently there were reports in late April 1981 that the FBI had concluded that certain evidence pointed to six Salvadoran National Guardsmen as the killers.[8]

Several  weeks after this report about the FBI conclusions, six Salvadoran Guardsmen were arrested to start a Salvadoran judicial investigation and eventual prosecution of this crime. The next post in this series will look at this judicial investigation and prosecution.

[1]  See Post: The Four American Churchwomen of El Salvador (Dec. 12, 2011); Post: The December 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen in El Salvador (Dec. 14, 2011).

[2] Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador at 65 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html [Commission Report]; Chavez, 5 Salvadorans Are Found Guilty in Slaying of U.S. Churchwomen, N.Y. Times (May 25, 1984).

[3] Onis, U.S. Officials Fly to El Salvador to Investigate Murders, N.Y. Times (Dec. 7, 1980); Commission Report at 63. Bowdler was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs and a former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador (1968-71). In the Ford Administration Rogers served as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs and Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.

[4]  Commission Report at 63-64.

[5]  Id.

[6]  Id. at 63-65; Bonner, Cover-Up Charged in Death of Nuns, N.Y. Times (Feb. 16, 1984).

[7]  Commission Report at 64.

[8]  Schumacher, Salvadoran Discloses New Evidence in the Murder of Four U.S. Missionaries, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 1981); Assoc. Press, Link of Salvadoran Soldiers to Killing of 4 Reported, N.Y. Times (April 27, 1981).

International Criminal Court: New ICC Prosecutor Promises To Work To End Impunity for Worst Human Rights Violators

Fatou Bensouda


On December 12th the International  Criminal Court’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) officially elected by acclamation Ms. Fatou Bensouda as the new Prosecutor of the Court for a period of nine years starting next June.[1]

Ms. Bensouda endorsed “the legal mandate entrusted to the Prosecutor to end impunity for those responsible for the gravest offenses, bringing justice to their victims, and preventing future crimes.” She also pledged to continue working in close cooperation with the other organs of the Court, the ASP and civil society and to do so in a consistent, predictable and transparent manner.

The day after her election, she told the ASP that she would strengthen efforts to bring to justice perpetrators of sexual and gender crimes. Too often, she said, such crimes go unreported and unpunished and the victims trivialized, denigrated, threatened and silenced.[2]

The election of Ms. Bensouda was applauded by a close observer of the Court: “Her wealth of experience, her talent and commitment to justice, her tremendous personal charisma and gravitas and her inclusive and collaborative working style” should produce an effective tenure as the Prosecutor.[3]

Although the U.S. is not a party to the Court’s Rome Statute, U.S. representatives are attending the New York meeting of the ASP. At a side event, U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp described extensive U.S. efforts to ensure justice for victims by ensuring protection for witnesses. He also said the U.S. is involved in all of the situations now under investigation by the Court.[4]

[1] ICC Press Release, The Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute opens its tenth session (Dec. 14, 2011); Bensouda, Election Speech (Dec. 12, 2011). See Post: International Criminal Court: New States Parties, Judges and Prosecutor (Nov. 22, 2011); Comment [to same post]: List of Possible New ICC Prosecutor Is Narrowed to Two People (Nov. 28, 2011); ); Comment [to same post]:Consensus on New Prosecutor (Dec. 1, 2011).

[2] Lederer, Next ICC Prosecutor warns against sex crimes, Assoc. Press (Dec. 13, 2011).

[3]  Sadat, View from New York: ICC ASP session, IntLawGrrls (Dec. 13, 2011).

[4]  AMICC, US Ambassador Rapp Touts American Cooperation with ICC at ASP in New York (Dec. 14, 2011), http://amicc.blogspot.com.