U.S. Sanctions 13 Former Salvadoran Military Officers for 1989 Murders of Jesuit Priests

On January 29, 2020, the U.S. State Department sanctioned 13 former Salvadoran military officers for the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests.[1]

Ranging “in rank from general to private, [the following men] were involved in the planning and execution of the extrajudicial killings of six Jesuit priests and two others taking refuge at the Jesuit pastoral center on November 16, 1989 on the campus of Central American University in El Salvador:”  Juan Rafael Bustillo, Juan Orlando Zepeda, Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, Francisco Elena Fuentes, Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos, José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra, Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, Carlos Camilo Hernández Barahona, Oscar Mariano Amaya Grimaldi, Antonio Ramiro Avalos Vargas, Angel Pérez Vásquez, and José Alberto Sierra Ascencio.”

Under a U.S. statute, these individuals “and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.”

The Department’s statement also said, “The United States condemns all human rights abuses that took place on both sides of the brutal civil war in El Salvador, including those committed by governmental and non-governmental parties.” The statement concluded:

  • “The United States supports the ongoing accountability, reconciliation, and peace efforts in El Salvador.  We value our ongoing working relationship with the Salvadoran Armed Forces, but will continue to use all available tools and authorities, as appropriate, to address human rights violations and abuses around the world no matter when they occurred or who perpetrated them.  Today’s actions underscore our support for human rights and our commitment to promoting accountability for perpetrators and encouraging reconciliation and a just and lasting peace.”

Comment

Even though the sanction is not that significant, it was appropriate for the U.S. to do this.

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[1] State Dep’t, Public Designation of Thirteen Former Salvadoran Military Officials Due to Involvement in Gross Violations of Human Rights (Jan. 29, 2020).

 

Spanish Court Upcoming Trial Over 1989 Murders of Salvadoran Jesuit Priests

On June 8, 2020, the Spanish National Court in Madrid will commence a trial over the November 16, 1989, murders in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. The sole defendant will be Inocente Orlando Montano, who at the time was a Colonel and the Vice-Minister of Public Security in that country and who on November 19, 2017, was extradited from the U.S., where he had been living, to Spain to stand trial.[1]

On May 20, 2011, the Spanish court had issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 Salvadoran military officers, including Montano, for this horrible crime and thereafter requested El Salvador to extradite 15 of them still living in that country to Spain to stand trial, but the Salvadoran courts refused to do so. (As of November 2017, one of the four others had died, two were cooperating with the prosecution and one had been tried, convicted and imprisoned for this crime in El Salvador.) [2]

The law, including universal jurisdiction, facts and circumstances leading up to this trial have been discussed in many previous posts. [3]

The prosecution will be lead by attorneys from The Guernica Centre for International Justice and Spanish co-counsel Oilé & Sesé Abogadas. According to the Centre,

  • “The trial for the murder of the Jesuits and the two women they employed is extremely significant. This trial has the potential to reopen the discussion in Spain about the necessity and importance of an effective universal jurisdiction law. It also supports the ongoing realization that countries like Spain need to ensure that victims of human rights violations can find redress when legal avenues have been foreclosed in other jurisdictions due to restrictive legislation, corrupt judiciaries, impunity, or political opposition. This trial also comes at a time when Salvadoran civil society is struggling to push forward investigations and prosecutions in El Salvador following the Supreme Court’s repeal of the Amnesty Law in 2016, while simultaneously political sectors in El Salvador threaten to enact legislation that once again could shield those most responsible from prosecution and criminal sanctions.”

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[1] Bernabéu, Email: Trial Date Set for the Jesuits Massacre Case (Feb. 17, 2020); Former Salvadoran Military Officer Extradited from U.S. to Spain for Trial in Jesuits Murder Case, dwkcommentaries.com (December 1, 2017).

[2] Update on Status of Extradition of Defendants in Spain’s Criminal Case Regarding the 1989 Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests, dwkcommentareies.com (Aug. 22, 2016); Spain Ready to Proceed with Case Over the 1989 Killing of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador, dwkcommenaries.com (Nov. 19, 2017).

[3] See the posts listed in “The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical:  EL SALVADOR.

Salvadoran Attorney General Requests Reopening of Jesuit Priests Murder Case

On December 5 El Salvador’s Attorney General advised a Salvadoran court that the case over the 1989 murder of the Jesuit priests should be reopened. This follows a similar request on November 27 by the Institute for Human Rights of the University of Central America (UCA), where the priests lived and worked.[1]

The defendants in the case are the alleged intellectual authors of the crime: former president, Alfredo Cristiani; the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, René Emilio Ponce (now deceased); ex-commander of the Air Force, Juan Rafael Bustillo; Deputy Defense Minister, Juan Orlando Zepeda; Public Security Vice Minister, Inocente Orlando Montano; the former commander of the First Infantry Brigade, Francisco Elena Fuentes; and the former Minister of Defense, Rafael Humberto Larios.

Another former Salvadoran military officer and intellectual author of the crime, Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, earlier was convicted of the crime in El Salvador and now is imprisoned in that country.

Montano, as reported in previous posts,[2] is now in Spain facing the same charges in a Spanish court. Apparently he is asserting the following defenses: (a) he had no knowledge of the orders to kill the priests, (b) he was not part of the military chain of command; and (c) at the time of the assassination of the Jesuits, former President Cristiani was present in the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces. At least one of these defenses is supported by an attorney for the Salvadoran military, who is asserting that Montano had no command over military personnel since as deputy minister he only could give  orders to members of the military corps security.[3]

In response, the prosecution in Spain is arguing that Montano was present at the Salvadoran Military General Staff meetings when the orders were given to commit the murders and that as Deputy Minister of Defense and Public Security he was empowered to command the security forces (National Police, National Guard and Treasury Police) while as a Colonel he had command over the military units.

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[1] Labrador, Prosecutor requests the reopening of the Jesuits case in El Salvador, El Faro (Dec, 7, 2017)

[2] See posts in “The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[3] Burgos, Montano’s defense sins innocent, El Faro (Dec. 5, 2017).

Former Salvadoran Military Officer Extradited from U.S. to Spain for Trial in Jesuits Murder Case 

On November 29 Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, a former Salvadoran military officer, was extradited from the U.S. to Spain to face trial in the 1989 murders of five Jesuit priests in El Salvador.[1]

On November 30 Montano appeared before Judge Manuel Garcia Castellón of Spain’s National Court, who sent the Salvadoran to prison for pre-trial detention because the Spanish probe showed Montano had taken an “active part in the decision and design of the assassinations” and because there was a risk he would flee the jurisdiction. (Montano arrived at the court by ambulance and entered the court in a wheelchair.) [2]

Montano is to return to the court next week for testimony in the case.

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[1] Reuters, U.S. Deports Ex-Salvadoran Officer to Face Trial on Massacre of Priests, N.Y. Times (Nov. 29, 2017); Faus, The United States extradites to Spain the Salvadoran colonel implicated in the murder of Ellacuría, El Pais (Nov. 30, 2017). Many previous posts in this blog have discussed the murders of the Jesuits and legal proceedings regarding this horrendous crime, including Spain’s case under the principle of universal jurisdiction and the U.S. proceedings for extradition of Montano; they may be found in “The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2] Reuters, Spanish Court Orders Prison for Ex-Salvadoran Officer Over Priests’ Massacre, N.Y. Times (Nov. 30, 2017); Assoc. Press, Salvadoran Official Jailed Pending Trial for Jesuits’ Death, N.Y. Times (Nov. 30, 2017); Pérez, Prison for a Salvadoran ex-military for the murder of the Jesuits in 1989, El Pais (Nov. 30, 2017).

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Speaks About the Jesuits Murder Case     

On November 16, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, visited El Salvador’s Central American University (UCA), where the Jesuit priests lived and worked and were murdered, and he laid a wreath at their tomb.[i]

In a speech at UCA’s chapel, he said, “I encourage you to continue your search for answers, truth and accountability. Now it’s been 26 years since the Peace Accords were signed, but another 26 years should not pass before we see justice in this country. Reconciliation can only take place if the promise of justice is fulfilled.”

José María Tojeira, the director of UCA’s Human Rights Institute, added, We believe that after the Amnesty Law was invalidated, it is important that the case be reopened here. We do not want revenge or long sentences, but we believe that those who are intellectual authors of crimes and who now are  in freedom should be judged.”

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[i] Rauda, High commissioner of the UN: “Reconciliation can only be carried out if the promise of justice is fulfilled,” El Faro (Nov. 16, 2017). A summary of the High Commissioner’s overall evaluation of El Salvador’s human rights was contained in a re-posting of a post by El Salvador Perspectives.

El Salvador Perspectives: A strong rebuke for El Salvador on human rights*   

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,  had tough words for El Salvador in his concluding statement this week, highlighting many areas where the country falls short of international human rights standards.  Here is a selection of his comments.

On extra-judicial killings:

There are also alarming reports of extrajudicial killings and the return of death squads. No matter how serious the human rights violations committed by violent gangs, all perpetrators of violence need to be held fully accountable for their actions through judicial mechanisms. Victims on all sides deserve justice.

On prison conditions:

The Extraordinary Security Measures… have placed thousands of people in prolonged and isolated detention under truly inhumane conditions, and with prolonged suspension of family visits. The vulnerability of these inmates is highlighted by an outbreak of tuberculosis, affecting more than a thousand inmates, with several hundred also said to be suffering from malnutrition. I called on the President to end the extraordinary measures and grant international independent organisations, including my Office, access to these detention centres.

On internal displacement:

I heard how the high levels of violence have seriously affected people’s lives, and I noted how such violence is increasing forced displacement within El Salvador and migration. To fully address this growing problem, the Government needs to recognise that it is happening.

On violence against women:

El Salvador has the awful distinction of having the highest rate of gender-based killings of women and girls in Central America – a region where femicide is already regrettably high, as is impunity for these crimes.

On the country’s extreme abortion law:

I am appalled that as a result of El Salvador’s absolute prohibition on abortion, women are being punished for apparent miscarriages and other obstetric emergencies, accused and convicted of having induced termination of pregnancy.

On Thursday morning, I visited the Ilopango detention centre for women on the outskirts of San Salvador and had the privilege to speak to women who were convicted of “aggravated homicide” in connection with obstetric emergencies and as a result are serving 30 years in prison. I have rarely been as moved as I was by their stories and the cruelty they have endured. It only seems to be women from poor and humble backgrounds who are jailed, a telling feature of the injustice suffered.

I call upon El Salvador to launch a moratorium on the application of article 133 of the Penal Code, and review all cases where women have been detained for abortion-related offences, with the aim of ensuring compliance with due process and fair trial standards. Should it be found their cases were not compliant, I appeal for the immediate release of these women. To establish compliance, my Office has proposed that such a review could be established by presidential decree and be carried out by an expert executive committee composed of national and international members. I asked the Government to act on this proposal and indicated the readiness of my Office to assist. This is in line with the recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

On impunity for human rights abuses during the civil war:

But despite the valiant efforts of civil society and victims’ groups, only three out of more than 100 criminal complaints brought over the years have so far been reopened. Left uninvestigated and unpunished, the crimes of the past fuel patterns of violence that poison the present and can undermine the future of a society. The past and the present are a continuum, I was told in my meeting with NGOs. The victims of the past are suffering still.

On attacks on human rights advocates and journalists:

I was struck by the dedication and courage of human rights defenders and journalists in El Salvador, who face threats, intimidation and smear campaigns. I urge the authorities to investigate these attacks and to establish effective means of ensuring their protection.

On LGBTI violence:

Similar action is needed to tackle the high rate of impunity for hate crimes against LGBTI persons, especially transgender women. As one civil society representative said: “There is no public policy for us, just institutional violence.”

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*This is a re-posting with consent of El Salvador Perspectives’ November 18, 2017 post of the same name (http://www.elsalvadorperspectives.com/2017/11/a-strong-rebuke-for-el-salvador-on.html). As noted in a previous post to dwkcommentaries, we learned on November 15, 2017, that Spain’s criminal case over the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador will be proceeding against at least one of the former Salvadoran military officers who soon will be extradited from the U.S. to Spain, and the Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, where the murdered priests lived and worked and were murdered, will be asking for Salvadoran prosecutors to do the same for the 15 other former officers who have been charged with that crime and who are living in El Salvador.

 

 

 

 

Spain Ready to Proceed with Case Over the 1989 Killing of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador

For the last nine years, a court in Spain has been trying to obtain the presence of 20 former Salvadoran military officers to face trial on their alleged involvement in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Recently one of them—Inocente Orlando Montano Morales (“Montano”)—Is about to be sent to Spain for trial.[1]

 Montano

Former Colonel Montano was the deputy minister of Salvadoran Public Security from 1989 to 1992 and since April 2015 has been the subject of a judicial request by the U.S. Department of Justice for his extradition from the U.S. to Spain to face these charges.

On February 4, 2016, a Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina, after an evidentiary hearing, granted this request for extradition based upon the following conclusions: the court had personal jurisdiction over Montano; the U.S. and Spain had an extradition treaty; Montano had been charged with extraditable offenses under that treaty (the terrorist murder of five Jesuit priests of Spanish original nationality); and there was probable cause the Montano committed these offenses.[2]

Montano then exercised his only means of appealing that order by filing in April 2016 an application for a writ of habeas corpus in the same court. After briefing and a hearing, a district judge of that court in August 2017, granted the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss the application and dismissed the application.  This was based on the court’s conclusion that this extradition followed accepted practice and did not appear to be infirm; the treaty “provides for the extradition of a defendant charged with murder when committed outside the territory of the requesting nation {Spain]; . . . [its] laws allow for such a prosecution; and the laws of the requested nation [the U.S.] would allow for a prosecution in similar circumstances.”[3]

Montano then appealed this order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and simultaneously asked the district court for a stay or postponement of his extradition. This was denied by the district court on September 6 after concluding that he has “failed to make a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits [of his appeal]” and “cannot demonstrate that he will suffer irreparable injury in the absence of a stay.” Thereafter simple denials of the request for a stay were entered on September 28 by the Fourth Circuit and on November 15 by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.[4]

Undoubtedly important in Chief Justice Roberts’ denial of a stay was the brief in opposition to such a stay that was submitted by the U.S. Solicitor General, the principal attorney for the U.S. in the U.S. Supreme Court. In its first three of 29 pages, before setting forth a detailed review and approval of the lower courts’ actions, that brief set forth the following facts from the record: “Toward the end of that war [between the military –led government and a leftist guerrilla group]– on November 16, 1989—members of the El Salvador Armed Forces . . . murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter at the Universidad Centroamerica (UCA) in El Salvador. . . . Five of them were Spanish nationals.” Moreover, evidence submitted by the Spanish authorities showed that “in the days leading up to the murders, the . . .  radio station that [Montano] oversaw made threats against the Jesuit priests; that on the day before the murders, [Montano] participated in a meeting at which one of this fellow officers gave the order to kill the priests; that [Montano] provided ‘necessary information’—namely, the location of one of the priests—to those who carried out the murders; and that following the murders, [Montano] attempted to conceal [the Armed Forces] involvement by threatening the wife of a witness.”[5]

The Solicitor General concluded his brief with these comments: “the [U.S.] has a strong interest in having extradition requests resolved without undue delay, both to comply with its treaty obligations and to further its reciprocal interest in having other Nations cooperate swiftly with its own extradition requests and other law enforcement objectives.” Moreover, “Spain is an important partner of the [U.S.] in terrorism and other cases of national importance, and timely compliance with its extradition requests advances the [U.S.’] foreign policy and law enforcement interests.” (Pp. 27-28.)

As a result, Montano is now headed for imminent extradition to Spain. Almudena Bernabéu, an expert from the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and a private prosecutor of the Jesuits case in Spain with her organization Guernica 37, said about four weeks ago the State Department determined that extradition was appropriate. “From that moment, the two countries are ready for delivery and reception of Montano, but they did not want to do it” until he had exhausted all of his U.S. remedies.

Other Former Salvadoran Military Officers

Of the other 19 former Salvadoran military officers charged with this horrible crime, one was convicted of the crime in El Salvador and was re-imprisoned after its Supreme Court invalidated its Amnesty law, one (former Defense Minister Emilio Ponce) is deceased and two others are cooperating with the Spanish prosecutors (Yussy Mendoza and Camilo Hernandez).

These other 15 still live in their home country, but its Supreme Court twice (2012 and 2016) has denied their extradition to Spain.

Manuel Escalante, a human rights lawyer at Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, where the murdered priests lived and worked and were murdered, after learning of the imminent extradition of Montano, called for prosecution of the 14 in El Salvador. He said that a conviction in Spain would be a big step toward “eliminating historical impunity” and that Salvadoran prosecutors must also act to advance the case in the Central American nation. The victims and their defenders “are going to seek justice. We are going to ask for the reopening of the trial.”[6]

The university, however, previously had said it considers the case closed against those who carried out the killings and even has called for clemency for former Col. Guillermo Benavides, who has served four years of a 30-year sentence as the only military official in prison for his role in the crime.

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[1] The charges subsequently were reduced to terrorist murder of the five priests of original Spanish nationality as a result of an amendment to Spain’s statute on universal jurisdiction. The priests, their murders, judicial proceedings about this crime, including the Spanish case, and these extradition proceeding have been discussed in the posts listed in “The Jesuit Priests” section in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2]  Certification of Extraditability & Order of Commitment, In re Request by Spain for the Extradition of Montano, Montano v. Elks. No. 2:15-MJ-1021-KS (E.D.N.C. Feb. 5, 2016).

[3] Order, Montano v.  Elks, No. 5-16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. Aug. 21, 2017).

[4] Order, Montano v.  Elks, No. 5-16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C.. Sept. 6, 2017); Order, Montano v.  Elks, N0. 17-7091 (4th Cir. Sept. 28, 2017); Order, Montano v.  Elks, No. 17A445 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Nov. 15, 2017); Drew, Last hurdle cleared for ex-Salvadoran official’s extradition, Assoc. Press (Nov. 15, 2017); Labrador & Rauda, Colonel Montano to Spain for the  murder of the Jesuits, El Faro (Nov. 15, 2017); Progress in Jesuit murder case on 28th anniversary, El Salvador Perspectives (Nov. 16, 2017); Alonso, The Supreme Court of the United States approves extraditing a Salvadoran ex-military man to Spain for the killing of the six Jesuits, El Pais (Nov. 15, 2017).

[5] Memorandum for the Federal Respondents in Opposition, Montano v. Elks, No. 17A445 (U.S. Sup. Ct. Nov. 8, 2017).

[6] Assoc. Press, El Salvador Jesuits Seek Reopening of Case in 1989 Massacre, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 2017); Lafuente, A halo of justice in the killing of the Jesuits in El Salvador, El Pais (Nov. 17, 2017.