Other Legal Proceedings Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests of El Salvador and Their Housekeeper and Her Daughter

As we have seen in a recent post, the Spanish criminal investigation and prosecution of former Salvadoran military officers and soldiers for the murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter are still pending and hopefully the case will go to trial in 2015 against at least one of the 19 Salvadoran military officers and soldiers charged with the crime.

There, however, have been other legal proceedings regarding this horrible crime. Here is a summary of these proceedings.

 Other Proceedings

 Salvadoran Investigations. Immediately after the murders, the Salvadoran military took steps to destroy evidence and to cover up their involvement in the crime while supposedly conducting an independent investigation of the crime. With widespread international outrage at the crime, the Minister of Defense was forced to establish a Special Honor Commission, consisting of five officers and two civilians to do a more thorough investigation. It concluded that nine people were responsible for the murders: four lower-ranking officers and five soldiers. International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Military’s Attempted Cover-Up of Its Committing the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 7, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/07/international-criminal-justice-salvadoran-militarys-attempted-cover-up-of-its-committing-the-murders-of-the-jesuit-priests/.

Salvadoran Criminal Charges. 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 the Salvadoran government commenced a criminal prosecution of five Salvadoran military officers and five soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion. The highest-ranking officer was Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, the Director of the Military College, who was accused of having given the order to murder the priests. (International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 8, 2011).)

Salvadoran Criminal Trial. After lengthy pre-trial proceedings, this criminal trial finally took place in September 1991. 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. (Id.)

Salvadoran Truth Commission Investigation and Report. The Peace Accords of January 1992 that ended the Salvadoran Civil War established the Truth Commission for El Salvador to investigate the most serious crimes that had occurred during the war, including the murders of the Jesuits. Its March 1993 final report found the following facts regarding the murders:

  • On the night of 15 November 1989, then Colonel René Emilio Ponce, in the presence of ad in collusion with General Juan Rafael Bustillo, then Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano and Colonel Francisco Elena Fuentes, gave Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides the order to kill Father Ignacio Ellacuría and to leave no witnesses. For that purpose, Colonel Benavides was given the use of a unit from the Atlacatl Battalion, which had been sent to search the priests’ residence two days previously.
  • That same night, Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides informed the officers at the Military College of the order for the murder. When he asked whether anyone had any objection, they all remained silent.
  • The operation was organized by then Major Carlos Camilo Hernández Barahona and carried out by a group of soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion under the command of Lieutenant José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra and Second Lieutenant Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, accompanied by Lieutenant Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos.
  • Subsequently, all these officers and others, including General Gilberto Rubio Rubio, knowing what had happened, took steps to conceal the truth, including destruction of evidence.

(International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in The Truth Commission for El Salvador (June 9, 2011).)

Adoption of Salvadoran Amnesty Law. Five days after the delivery of the Truth Commission Report in March 1993, El Salvador’s National Assembly adopted the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of the Peace (Decree 486). Its provisions included “a full, absolute and unconditional amnesty to all those who participated in any way in the commission, prior to January 1, 1992 [the end of the civil war], of political crimes or common crimes linked to political crimes or common crimes in which the number of persons involved is no less than twenty.” (International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case (June 11, 2011).)

Implementation of Amnesty Law. Immediately after the adoption of the Amnesty Law and pursuant to this Law, Colonel Benavides and the Lieutenant who had been convicted and imprisoned in the Jesuits case were released from prison. (Id.)

Instigation of Case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Meanwhile, on the same day the Jesuit priests were murdered (November 16, 1989), Americas Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization, filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging that the Salvadoran government had violated the American Convention [Treaty] on Human Rights with respect to the murder of the Jesuits and their cook and her daughter.  (International Criminal Justice: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Case Regarding the Jesuit Priests (June 13, 2011).)

Investigation and Report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Ten years later (December 22, 1999), the Inter-American Commission issued its report. Relying heavily on the findings of the Truth Commission, the report made detailed findings about the murder and subsequent events and concluded that the state had violated the American Convention. As a result, the Commission recommended that the government conduct an expeditious, effective investigation and prosecute and punish those who were involved “without reference to the amnesty,” to make reparations and to render the General Amnesty Law null and void. (The Commission did not, and does not, have the power to order any of the states to do anything. (Id.)[1]

Conclusion

 Now twenty-five years after the crimes and 15 years after the Inter-American Commission’s report, no one has been convicted of the crime and imprisoned other than the two officers who were convicted by a Salvadoran court and who briefly were in prison before being released under the Amnesty Law.

Moreover, the government of El Salvador has not fully complied with the Commission’s recommendations.

In November 2009, however, El Salvador presented the nation’s highest award (National Order of Jose Matias Delgado) to the Jesuit priests’ relatives as an act of atonement and formally advised the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that the Salvadoran state accepted the binding nature of their past decisions involving the country and the state’s responsibility to implement their recommendations in those cases.

In addition, in January 2010, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes admitted that during the civil war state security forces “committed serious human rights violations and abuses of power,” including “massacres, arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse, arbitrary deprivation of freedom” and other acts of repression. Funes then made a formal apology to all of the victims of these crimes and asked for their forgiveness and created a commission to offer redress to the victims. (Id.)

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[1] There has been much debate in El Salvador about whether or not the Amnesty Law is valid and/or should be abolished. The country’s Supreme Court is expected in the next several months to decide whether the Law is constitutional.   Meanwhile, U.S. courts have determined that the Salvadoran Amnesty Law is not applicable to litigation in U.S. courts.

Pope Francis Urges Swift Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop        Oscar Romero

On March 24, 1980, Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while saying mass at a chapel in that city because of his preaching the Gospel and denouncing the Salvadoran regime’s violations of the human rights of his people.

I have been hoping that the Roman Catholic Church officially would recognize him as a saint, something many people in El Salvador and around the world, including this Protestant Christian, already have done unofficially. [1]

 

Now over 34 years later, on August 18, 2014, Pope Francis said that Romero’s beatification (one of the Church’s preconditions for sainthood) [2] should happen swiftly. That was the conclusion drawn by many from the Pope’s answer to a journalist’s question at an informal press conference on the papal plane’s return flight to Rome after the papal visit to South Korea.[3] Here is that answer in the Vatican’s official English translation:

Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo--Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo–Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
  • “The process [for the beatification of Romero] was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, blocked “for prudential reasons”, so they said.  Now it is unblocked.  It has been passed to the Congregation for Saints.  And it is following the usual procedure for such processes.  It depends on how the postulators move it forward.   This is very important, to do it quickly.”
  • “What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.  And this is a task for the theologians.  They are studying it.  Because after him [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande [[4]] and there are others too; there are others who were killed, but none as prominent as Romero.  You have to make this distinction theologically.”
  • “For me Romero is a man of God, but the process has to be followed, and the Lord too has to give His sign…  If He wants to do it, He will do it.  But right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles.”

Analyzing this statement first requires an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s structure and procedures regarding beatification and of the history of the “cause” for such status for Romero.

First, Pope Francis’s recent statement implicitly says that he does not have the authority to make the beatification decision himself. Instead, under the Church’s Apostolic Constitution (Pastor Bonus or Good Pastor) two parts of the Roman Curia (the Congregation for the Cause of Saints (CCS) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)) have to make certain decisions before a recommendation for beatification comes to the Pope for approval or disapproval. [5]

Before the CCS enters the picture, however, a candidate for beatification must be recommended for that honor by the bishop of the diocese where the individual died after a thorough investigation (initiated only after at least five years after the individual’s death) establishing his or her theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) and the performance of a “miracle” (an event that can be witnessed by the senses but is in apparent contradiction to the laws of nature). If the candidate is a martyr, however, a miracle is not required for beatification, but is for sainthood. (Emphasis added.)

The bishop’s conclusion and documentation then is submitted to the CCS, which has 34 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), one promotor of the faith (prelate theologian), five relators, 83 consultants and a staff of 23; it is headed by Prefect Cardinal Angelo Amato. The CCS is charged with conducting a rigorous examination into the life and writings of an individual to determine if he or she demonstrates a heroic level of virtue or suffered martyrdom. A CCS member is appointed Postulator by the CCS to oversee all aspects of the cause at the congregational level. With the assistance of a member of the congregational staff (a Relator), the Postulator prepares the “Positio” or summary of the documentation relating to the merits of the individual’s cause. The “Positio” is then subjected to an examination by nine theologians, and if a majority of them view the “Positio” positively, it then goes to examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the CCS. If the latter group is favorable to the cause, the head or “Prefect” of the CCS presents the entire cause to the Pope. If the Pope then approves the cause, he authorizes the CCS to draft an appropriate decree, which eventually is read and promulgated.

Apparently during this process the CCS may submit certain issues to the CDF, which has 23 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), 28 consultants and a staff of 47; the CDF is headed by Prefect Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Under the previously mentioned Apostolic Constitution the CDF  is charged “to protect and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals . . . in things that touch this matter in any way” (Art. 48) and to help “the bishops, individually or in groups, in carrying out their office as authentic teachers and doctors of the faith, [including] the duty of promoting and guarding the integrity of that faith” (Art. 50). I assume this must have happened because the Pope stated that the CDF had blocked the beatification process for lack of proof of Romero’s ‘”prudence,” one of the required cardinal virtues for such status.

Second, the history of the process for Romero’s beatification[6] sheds light on Pope Francis’ recent remarks:

  • The process was started in 1993 with the Archbishop of San Salvador’s announcement of his intent to proceed and with the CCS’ permission to proceed. By November 1996 the archdiocesan investigation of the cause was complete when the Archbishop approved the investigation’s findings and sent documentation to the CCS, and by 1998 all the necessary records had been submitted to the Congregation.
  • In 2000, pursuant to an objection by Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who expressed concerns about Romero’s association with Liberation Theology, Romero’s cause was investigated by the . . . CDF,” then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Between 2000 and 2005, the CDF studied the writings, sermons, and speeches of Archbishop Romero to ensure that they were free from doctrinal error. In 2001, Bishop Vincenzio Paglia, the initial Postulator of Romero’s cause, held a special congress in Italy, bringing together experts and theologians to try to determine if Archbishop Romero’s actions and written and spoken words were within the authorized teaching of the Church. Eventually the CDF concluded that “Romero was not a revolutionary bishop, but a man of the Church, the Gospel and the poor.”
  • Subsequently the cause was again referred to the CDF apparently on complaint by certain Latin American cardinals who demanded a study of Romero’s concrete pastoral actions. Thereafter the cause apparently was neglected and stalled.
  • Shortly after the inauguration of Pope Francis in March 2013,  Postulator Paglia publicly reported that the Pope in a private audience on April 20, 2013, told him that the Pope was authorizing the beatification process to proceed. Paglia said that the process had been “unblocked.”

The Pope’s recent comment that at some point the CDF had concluded that Romero lacked “prudence” has been interpreted as concern that Romero had Marxist ideas. Another commentator stated, the CDF “had questioned whether the Salvadoran prelate qualified as a martyr, since his assassins clearly had political motives. Was the archbishop killed because of his faith, or because of his political involvements? And were his political activities entirely inspired by his faith? Those were the questions that complicated the cause.”

Third, the Pope said the blocking of the process by the CDF had been removed and there were now no doctrinal problems, but it is not totally clear when, why and how that happened. Apparently, as just stated, it was a decision by Pope Francis himself in April 2013, but details are lacking.

Fourth, the Pope said that he wanted clarification on whether martyrdom in ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the faith) is for confessing the [Roman Catholic] credo or for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do for our neighbors and that theologians were now studying this issue. It, however, was unclear as to whether this was being done by the CDF or the CCS. In either event, another commentator said that official martyrdom traditionally has been limited to those who were killed as persecution for their Catholicism. Indeed, this is the traditional test known as ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the Catholic faith) while death for the cause of Christian justice—sometimes called “odium iustitiae”— is currently a subsidiary test and potentially could be established as an alternative formula to prove martyrdom.

Fifth, the Pope’s recent comments made it very apparent that he supported Romero’s beatification. He called Romero “a man of God” and said that it was “very important, [for the postulators] to do it [their work] quickly.” I also thought the Pope impliedly endorsed the idea that martyrdom includes performing “the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour“ (“odium iustitiae”), which is exactly what Romero was doing and why he was assassinated.

For example, Julian Filochowski, chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust, said the Pope’s recent comment was “reaffirming in public what he’s said in private: that he hopes this process for the beatification of Romero will be dealt with and come to a speedy conclusion.” Filochowski also said, “Archbishop Romero was never the leftist some supposed him to be. His theology was essentially the theology of the Beatitudes [the teachings that begin with ‘blessed are the poor in spirit.’]”

Indeed, during his brief time as Pope, Francis has repeatedly discussed Romero and his beatification with visitors. Just after his inauguration, he “received several guests who took up Romero with the new pope, including the Anglican archbishop of York, who handed Pope Francis a “Romero Cross.”  Francis met twice with the Argentine Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, and they discussed Romero and the desirability of a positive result in his canonization process.  “[That] same topic . . . took center stage in . . . meetings with then Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, with his successor Salvador Sánchez Cerén, . . . with the President of the Central American Parliament, who Francis assured that the canonization is ‘on the right path’” and when this May the Pope met with a delegation of Salvadoran bishops. Moreover, Romero’s message seems to fit the themes of Francis’ papacy, especially the emphasis on the poor from a son of the Latin American church.[7]

Sixth, Francis’ comment that “Romero is a man of God” should be particularly well-received in San Salvador, where the Church has just launched a “Romero Triennium”—a three year program of commemorations leading to the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth in 2017.  The theme for the first year is “Romero, Man of God.” Some suggest that the year 2017 would be a very opportune time for Pope Francis to go to El Salvador and proclaim Romero as “Santo Romero.”

Indeed, many in El Salvador were jubilant over the Pope’s statement. Said President Salvador Sanchez Ceren,”We are confident that in this land where Monsignor Romero lived, a determination of his martyrdom will receive his blessings.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, added, “We are delighted by the interest and determination of His Holiness, Pope Francisco, to advance the process of beatification of Archbishop Romero our spiritual leader.”[8]

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[1] I have written many posts about Romero, some of which have concerned the beatification process.

[2] Beatification is part of the Roman Catholic Church’s process towards sainthood. It recognizes the person as someone who has lived a faithful or holy life. After beatification they are known as ‘blessed’ and can be venerated by Catholics but, unlike canonization, it is not required. Upon a grant of beatification status, a separate process for canonization commences.

[3] This discussion of the Pope’s recent comments is based upon the following: Francis: “Romero is a man of God,” Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014); Pope Francis’ Flights Yield Candid Conversations, N. Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Palumbo & Cave, An Obstacle to Honoring an Archbishop Is Removed (N.Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Borkett-Jones, Should Romero Be Canonized? Pope Francis Seems To Think so . . . ., Christianity Today (Aug. 19, 2014); Pope lifts beatification ban on Salvadoran Oscar Romero, BBC (Aug. 19, 2014); Lawler, The cause for beatification of Archbishop Romero: BBC botched the story, Catholic Culture (Aug. 19, 2014).

[4] Rutilio Grande was a Salvadoran priest and a friend of Romero who was murdered in 1978 for his vocal advocacy and actions to support the interests of the poor people of his country. In May 2013 Pope Francis reportedly told Salvadoran President Funes that Grande also should be beatified.

[5] This account of the two congregations is based upon the English language summary by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Amplification and correction, especially on this account, from others more knowledgeable on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

[6] This summary of the history is based upon Pope Greenlights Romero Beatification, Super Martyrio (April 21, 2013); Who “Blocked” Romero’s Cause, Super Martyrio (April 29, 2013); Clear path for Romero at CCS, Super Martyrio (Nov. 22, 2013); New push for Archbishop Romero, Super Martyrio (April 25, 2014); Saint Romero in two strokes, Super Martyrio (May 5, 2014); Front row with Francis, Super Martyrio (May 30, 2014); Romero in the age of Francis, Super Martyrio (June 29, 2014); Francis: “Romero is a man of God, Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014). Super Martyrio is a blog created and maintained by a Salvadoran-American lawyer in California to follow news about Romero in support of the cause for Romero’s beatification and canonization. Muchas gracias!

[7] Before becoming Pope, Sr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and as Cardinal made statements and attended events honoring Romero. In addition, Francis’ two papal predecessors have made similar comments. Saint John Paul II discussed Archbishop Romero in seven different public speeches/audiences.  The most famous of these was a 1983 mass in San Salvador where he called Romero a “zealous pastor, whom love of God and service of brethren drove to surrender his life in a violent manner.”  Saint Benedict XVI spoke about Romero during three different public events, including an in-flight press conference after a 2007 trip to Brazil, during which he said,  That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt … Archbishop Romero was certainly an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship, and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly ‘credible’, a witness of faith.” 

[8] Jubilation in El Salvador by Pope announcement on beatification of Archbishop Romero, La Pagina (Aug. 19, 2014).

 

 

Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero?

Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero

 

Today at a private audience in the Vatican Pope Francis heard a plea for the Roman Catholic Church’s beatification[1] of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The petitioner was Mauricio Funes, the President of El Salvador.[2]

President Funes & Pope Francis
President Funes &            Pope Francis 

 

Funes  gave the Pope a reliquary containing a piece of the bloodstained garment Msgr. Romero was wearing when he was assassinated on March 24, 1980. Created by the Sisters of the Hospital of Devine Providence, whose adjacent chapel was the site of the assassination, the reliquary monstrance (vessel for display of a relic) is in the shape of a cross with the arms depicting stylized human figures representing the participation of the people of God in the death of the Archbishop. (It is shown in the above photo.)

President Funes also told the Pope that Funes had been a pupil of Father RutilioGrande, whose assassination in 1977 had inspired Romero. The Pope apparently responded that Grande should also be beatified because of his love for the poor and for his persecution.

Afterwards President Funes met with the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

The Vatican’s subsequent press release said that the Pope had expressed “satisfaction . . .  for the good relations between the Holy See and the nation of El Salvador. In particular, Servant of God Archbishop Oscar Amulfo Romero y Galdamez of San Salvador was spoken of and the importance of his witness for the entire nation.”

As a Christian of the Protestant and Presbyterian persuasion, my church does not have official saints. However, I regard Romero as my saint as he already is the saint of the Salvadoran people. My many posts about Romero discuss my belated discovery of him on my first trip to El Salvador in 1989, his powerful, courageous resistance to the many human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government and military, his assassination and funeral, the cases about his assassination in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and U.S. federal court and remembering him in music, film, art and books and at Westminster Abbey in London.

I also have developed a great respect for Father Rutilio Grande. I attended his memorial mass in 2003 not far from where he was assassinated on a country road and reviewed that memorable occasion in a post.


[1]  As I understand, beatification is a recognition accorded by the Roman Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process of becoming a saint. A person who is beatifiedis given the title “Blessed” in English.

[2] This post is based upon articles in the Washington Post, Diario Latino, LaPagina and SuperMartyrio, the last of which is a blog devoted to following the process of Romero’s becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The El Mozote Masacre: Inter-American Court of Human Rights Determines El Salvador Violated American Convention on Human Rights

El Mozote
El Mozote

On December 11, 1981, the Salvadoran military detained and systematically executed virtually all of the 200 men, women and children in the small village of El Mozote in the northern part of the country. Others in nearby villages also were executed in the military’s “scorched earth” offensive.[1]

Now we look at this case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court).

 Invoking the Court’s Jurisdiction

As previously reported, the Commission on November 3, 2010, decided that the State of El Salvador had violated the American Convention on Human Rights in various respects regarding the Massacre and recommended various actions be taken by the State to redress the crimes. The State was given two months from December 8, 2010, to do so.

As of March 8, 2001, however, the State had not responded to the Commission regarding its implementation of the recommendations. Therefore, on that date, the Commission submitted the case to the Court for enforcement of those recommendations.

At the Court’s April 23, 2012, hearing in the matter, an attorney for the State said it would comply with whatever the Court decided.

The Court’s Judgment

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Inter-American Court of Human Rights

On October 25, 2012, the Court rendered its judgment concluding that El Salvador had violated the American Convention on Human Rights with respect to the Massacre, and on December 10, 2012 (International Human Rights Day and the day before the 31st anniversary of the Massacre), the Court publicly released the judgment.[2]

Preliminarily the Court commended El Salvador for accepting all of the factual assertions of the petitioner and victims’ representative and for Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes’ January 16, 2012, apology for the Massacre and commitment to provide remedies for victims and their relatives.[3]

The Court essentially endorsed or affirmed the Commission’s conclusions that the Salvadoran State had violated the following provisions of the American Convention of Human Rights regarding the Massacre:

  • (a) the rights to life, humane treatment and personal liberty of the victims who were executed extrajudically;
  • (b) the special rights of children who were executed extrajudically;
  • (c ) the rights to humane treatment and privacy of the women who were raped;
  • (d) the right to property of the murdered victims and the survivors whose homes were destroyed and whose means of livelihood were stolen or eliminated;
  • (e) the right to humane treatment of the survivors and relatives of the murdered victims;
  • (f) the right of freedom of movements and residence of those who were forcibly displaced; and
  • (g) the rights to a fair trial and judicial protection of the survivors and relatives of the murdered victims.

The court devoted considerable attention to the Salvadoran Law of General Amnesty after noting that unlike its earlier cases invalidating amnesty laws, this Law refers to acts committed in the context of an internal armed conflict and, therefore, implicates the competing considerations of Article 6(5) of Protocol II to the Geneva Convention Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts. That article provides:

  •  ”At the end of hostilities, the authorities in power shall endeavour to grant the broadest possible amnesty to persons who have participated in the armed conflict, or those deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict, whether they are interned or detained.”

According to the Court, this provision of the Additional Protocol is not absolute as there is an obligation under international law for a state to investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Therefore, the Court concluded, the General Amnesty Law is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Peace Accords ending the Salvadoran civil war, to international law and to the American Convention on Human Rights. Accordingly that Law is without legal effect in this case and may not continue to obstruct the investigation of the facts and the identification, prosecution and punishment of those responsible for these crimes.[4]

The Court, therefore, ordered the State of El Salvador to:

  • (i) continue with the full commissioning of the “Register of Victims and Relatives of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations during the Slaughter of El Mozote “and take the necessary measures to ensure its permanence in time and budget allocation to operate effectively;
  • (ii) initiate, promote, reopen, direct, and continuing conclude, as appropriate, with the utmost diligence, investigations of all the facts of the violations declared in this judgment, in order to identify, prosecute and, if necessary, punish those responsible;
  • (iii) ensure that the General Amnesty Law . . . [is] not an obstacle to the investigation of the facts of this case or the identification, prosecution and punishment of those responsible for them and other serious human rights violations similar that occurred during the armed conflict in El Salvador;
  • (iv) investigate . . . the conduct of the officials who obstructed the investigation and allowed [offenders] to remain in impunity and, after due process, apply . . . administrative sanctions, disciplinary or criminal sanctions to those found responsible;
  • (v) carry out a survey of the available information on possible burial or burial sites . . . which should be protected for preservation, . . .[in order to] initiate a systematic and rigorous, with adequate human and financial resources,. . .  exhumation, identification and, if necessary, return of the remains of those executed to their families;
  • (vi) implement a development program for [the affected] communities] communities . . . .;
  • (vii) ensuring appropriate conditions so that the displaced victims can return to their home communities . . .permanent[ly], if they choose, and implement a housing program in the areas affected by the massacres of this case;
  • (viii) implement a comprehensive care and treatment of physical, mental and psychosocial [injuries];
  • (ix) publish the judgment;
  • (x) [produce and] perform an audiovisual documentary about the serious crimes committed in the massacre of El Mozote and surrounding areas;
  • (xi) implement a permanent program or compulsory course on human rights, including gender and childhood [rights], . . . [for] all ranks of the Armed Forces of the Republic of El Salvador; and
  • (xii) pay the compensation by way of compensation for material and moral damages, and reimbursement of costs and expenses.

The Court concluded with a statement that it would monitor full compliance with the judgment and terminate the case only after there has been such compliance.

Reaction to the Court’s Judgment

Immediately after the public release of the judgment, the Salvadoran government issued a public statement that it respects the judgment and assumes responsibility for complying therewith. The government specifically recognized that the victims and their families are entitled to moral and economic reparations which would be met within the government’s resources and powers. As the Court’s judgment acknowledged, the Salvadoran government since at least December 2011 had started the process of moral and economic reparations for these crimes.

Another problem of Salvadoran law that was not present in the Salvadoran criminal case about El Mozote and, therefore, was not addressed by the Inter-American Court in this case is a relatively short statute of limitations (10 years) for such crimes that were committed in 1981. Although, in my opinion, such limitations are subject to the same legal analysis and conclusion of invalidity as the Court’s treatment of the General Amnesty Law, difficulties in complying with the Court’s order will probably be presented by these short statutes of limitation with respect to any attempted criminal prosecutions.

Indeed, Salvadoran courts already have used the 10-year statute of limitations to bar criminal cases regarding the 1980 rapes and murders of the four American churchwomen and the 1989 murders of the six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.

Moreover, one of the reasons for statutes of limitation for civil and criminal cases around the world is to protect the right to fair trial for both parties, but especially defendants. The longer that time passes between the events in dispute and the investigation and trial, the greater the risk of loss of evidence through death or incapacity of parties and witnesses and loss or destruction of documents and other physical evidence plus general loss of memory of the events. Here, 31 years already have passed since the Massacre.

Perhaps a Salvadoran criminal court could adopt in such circumstances the U.S. legal doctrine of “laches.” In U.S. law, it is an equitable defense in civil cases, not criminal cases, when the defendant alleges that as a result of delay in the plaintiff’s asserting the claim, circumstances have so changed that make it unjust for the plaintiff’s claim to be granted. One example of such changed circumstances is relevant testimony or other evidence is no longer available to defend against the claim. Laches is similar to a statute of limitations defense, but laches may be invoked before the statute of limitations has expired.

We will have to see how this and other issues develop initially in El Salvador and then in the Inter-American Court.


[1] A prior post set forth a brief summary of the facts of the Massacre, the investigation of same by the Truth Commission for El Salvador and the subsequent adoption of the Salvadoran General Amnesty Law and the dismissal of a criminal case on the basis of that Law. Another post  reviewed the El Mozote case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

[2]  Available online are the judgment itself, an official summary of the judgment and the Court’s press release about the judgment.

[3] An earlier post discussed the Salvadoran government’s December 2011 public apology for the Massacre and its January 2012 commitment to commence moral and economic reparations.

[4] The President of the Court, Judge Diego Garcia Sayan (Peru), submitted a concurring opinion with a more extensive analysis of the issue of the validity of the General Law of Amnesty. He emphasized the difficult choices facing a country that seeks to end an internal armed conflict. Another concurring opinion was submitted by Judge Eduardo Vio Grossi (Chile), who urged the Court in another case to focus on whether a fetus should be considered a “person” or “human being” under the American Convention on Human Rights.

The El Mozote Massacre: Recent Salvadoran Efforts To Redress the Crimes

On December 11, 1981, the Salvadoran military detained and systematically executed virtually all of the 200 men, women and children in the small village of El Mozote in the northern part of the country.[1]

El Mozote Memorial
El Mozote Memorial

On the 30th anniversary of the Massacre (December 10, 2011), the Salvadoran Foreign Minister, Hugo Martinez, went to El Mozote and asked for forgiveness for the “blindness of state violence” and to honor “the memory of hundreds of innocent people who were murdered” in that Massacre.[2]

A month later, on January 16, 2012 (the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Salvadoran Peace Accords ending the country’s civil war), Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes went to El Mozote and announced various efforts to redress the crimes relating to the Massacre.[3]

President Funes @ El Mozote
President Funes @                  El Mozote

Funes publicly acknowledged that Salvadoran soldiers of the Atlactal Battalion had committed the massacre and apologized on behalf of the State for this atrocity. He asked for forgiveness for what he called “the biggest massacre of civilians in the contemporary history of Latin America.”

Funes said there could be no true peace until there is justice to provide compensation to victims and penalties for perpetrators. He also announced the following in response to the massacre:

  • He asked the Attorney General to review existing legislation and propose amendments or new laws to allow criminal sanctions to be imposed on those who participated in the worst human rights violations. Funes also noted that the Salvadoran Supreme Court already had decided that the General Amnesty Law did not protect those guilty of war crimes and could not be used to self-amnesty those who were in charge of the military during the period 1989-1994 (government officials from the Arena political party).
  • Funes instructed the Armed Forces to stop honoring former officers who were linked to this massacre, including Domingo Monterrosa Barrios, who was the commander of the Brigade involved.
  • He requested political parties and others to stop honoring people who could be linked to such violations, which was interpreted as a message to the ARENA political party to stop honoring its founder, Roberto D’Aubuisson, and to the FMLN party to do likewise with Shafik Handal.
  • The government will conduct an investigation to identify all victims of the massacre.
  • The government will create a National Reparations Program for Victims of massacres and other human rights violations.
  • The government will declare El Mozote a cultural center.
  • The government will establish a community health clinic for El Mozote.
  • The government will assist agricultural production in the area, construct paved roads and improve potable water service, build a lodging house for elderly people without families and provide computers to the local school.

I do not know whether and to what extent these promised actions were actually implemented. I invite comments with information on this issue.

Interestingly the apology by Foreign Minister Martinez and the announcement by President Funes came while a case regarding the Massacre was pending in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Its judgment on the merits was issued on October 25, 2012 and made public on December 10, 201s. It will be discussed in a subsequent post.


[1] A prior post set forth a brief summary of the facts of the Massacre, the investigation of same by the Truth Commission for El Salvador and the subsequent adoption of the Salvadoran General Amnesty Law and the dismissal of a criminal case on the basis of that Law. Another post concerned the proceedings about El Mozote in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. An excellent collection of posts about El Mozote is on “Tim’s El Salvador Blog.”

[2] Muth, El Mozote–30th anniversary commemoration, Tim’s El Salvador Blog (Dec. 12, 2011); Editorial: El Mozote, elfaro (Dec. 12, 2011) [Google translation].

[3]  This account of the January 16th statement is based upon the following: Assoc. Press, El Salvador: President Apologizes for 1981 Massacre, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2012); Carias, Funes ordered the army not to call heroes human rights violators, elfaro (Jan. 17, 2012)[Google translation]; Editorial: Funes asks for forgiveness and to investigate war crimes, lapagina (Jan. 17, 2012) [Google translation]; Flores, Request for forgiveness includes repair programs for victims in El Mozote, Diario Co Latino (Jan. 17, 2012) [Google translation].

lapaginaJan2012–http://www.lapagina.com.sv/nacionales/61107/Funes-pide-perdon-e-investigar-los-crimenes-de-guerra

E

The 1981 El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador

   On December 10 and 11, 1981, the Salvadoran military (Atlacatl Battalion) detained and systematically executed virtually all of the men, women and children in the small northern village of El Mozote. The men first were tortured and then executed. Then the women were killed. Finally the children were killed. Over 200 of the victims subsequently were identified plus many others who were not so identified. This happened as part of the military’s “Operacion Rescate” that sought to eliminate the guerrilla presence in the area and that also committed massacres in other villages at the same time.[1]

In late January 1982 information about the massacres started to become publicly available, and protests began. The Salvadoran government, however, “categorically denied” that a massacre had taken place and did not conduct any judicial investigations of the events.

Over eight years later (1990) criminal proceedings were commenced in El Salvador, and in November 1992 court-ordered exhumations started. By September 1993, however, there were no identifications of the alleged perpetrators of the massacre, and the trial court, therefore, dismissed the case. Thereafter there was no appeal of that dismissal. Thus, no one was ever convicted for this crime.

These horrible crimes have reverberated ever since then. The Truth Commission for El Salvador in 1993 delivered its report on the massacre. In 2006 the Inter-American Commission on Human rights (IACHR) made a preliminary decision in a case about the massacre, and in 2011 it referred the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court). And this year, 2012, the Salvador President made an important statement about the crime.

Truth Commission

The Truth Commission for El Salvador in its April 2003 report found “full proof” that Atlacatl Battalion  soldiers “deliberately and systematically killed . . . more than 200 men, women and children, constituting the entire civilian population” of the village. There was “sufficient evidence” that these troops committed other massacres at the same time in nearby other villages. Names of the officers in charge were given. The Commission’s findings on what happened at El Mozote were aided by its retention of an international forensic team that conducted exhumations at the village and by its interviewing eyewitnesses. These efforts constituted a major advance in establishing the truth of the most egregious crimes.

In addition, the Truth Commission found that the Armed Forces High Command “repeatedly denied” that a massacre had occurred and that Minister of Defense General Jose Guillermo Garcia (“full evidence) and Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Staff General Rafael Florez Lima (“sufficient evidence”)  had initiated no investigation of the matter. Finally, the Commission found that the President of the Supreme Court “had interfered unduly and prejudicially, for biased political reasons, in the ongoing judicial proceedings on the case.”

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

In October 1990 the Oficina de Tutela Legal of the San Salvador Archbishop’s Office filed a petition with the IACHR alleging various human rights violations by the State of El Salvador in connection with the massacres in El Mozote and five other nearby villages.[2]

The government did not seriously challenge the allegations as to what happened in the villages. Instead, it asserted that (a) the case was not admissible to the IACHR because the petitioners had not exhausted their remedies in the country; (b) there was a criminal investigation precipitated by a complaint that was not made until 1990; (c ) the investigation proceeded properly despite great external difficulties caused by the war; (d) the case properly was dismissed in accordance with the General Amnesty Law; and (e) and the petitioners had failed to appeal that dismissal.

In March 2006 (16 years after the filing of the petition), the IACHR issued a report determining that the petition was admissible, i.e., eligible for further proceedings. The parties (petitioners and the government) were proper parties under the American Convention on Human Rights. The petition alleged violations of the Convention occurring within the territory of a party to the Convention after it had become such a party. Most importantly for admissibility, the exception to the requirement for exhaustion of domestic remedies was satisfied: the systematic violations of human rights in the country made it impossible to file a complaint prior to 1990, appeals of dismissals based on the General Amnesty Law were not necessary, and the state had the responsibility to initiate criminal proceedings based on the Supreme Court’s recognition or creation in 2000 of possible exceptions to that Law and had not exercised that option. In reaching these conclusions, the IACHR relied, in part, on the Truth Commission Report.

Apparently sometime before March 2011, the IACHR issued its decision on the merits apparently concluding that El Salvador had violated various provisions of the American Convention on Human rights, but this decision is not available on its website.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

 On March 11, 2011, the Commission referred this case to the Court. The Commission’s press release about this referral stated:

  • “Due to the application of the General Amnesty Law for Consolidation of the Peace, as well as repeated omissions on the part of the Salvadoran State, these grave acts [at El Mozote and other surrounding villages] remain in impunity. To this day, the massacres have not been clarified judicially, nor have appropriate sanctions been imposed, despite the fact that a significant number of the persons responsible have been identified through various sources. Some exhumations were performed in subsequent years, but these did not lead to a reopening of the investigations, despite repeated requests made to the relevant authorities. The case was sent to the Inter-American Court . . .  because the Commission deemed that the State had not complied with the recommendations contained in the report on the merits.”

Presumably the Court will be holding a hearing in this case and thereafter rendering a decision on the merits.

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes’ Statement About El Mozote

El Mozote Memorial
President Funes @ El Mozote

January 16, 2012, was the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Salvadoran Peace Accords. On that date President Funes went to El Mozote where he made an important speech about the massacre, He publicly acknowledged that Atlactal Battalion soldiers committed the massacre and apologized on behalf of the State for this atrocity. He asked for forgiveness for what he called “the biggest massacre of civilians in the contemporary history of Latin America.” (A video of the speech in the original Spanish is on the web.)

Funes said there could be no true peace until there is justice to provide compensation to victims and penalties for perpetrators. He also announced the following in response to the massacre:

  • He asked the Attorney General to review existing legislation and propose amendments or new laws to allow criminal sanctions to be imposed on those who participated in the worst human rights violations. Funes also noted that the Salvadoran Supreme Court already had decided that the General Amnesty Law did not protect those guilty of war crimes and could not be used to self-amnesty those who were in charge of the military during the period 1989-1994 (government officials from the Arena political party).
  • Funes instructed the Armed Forces to stop honoring former officers who were linked to this massacre, including Domingo Monterrosa Barrios, who was the commander of the Brigade involved.
  • Funes also requested political parties and others to stop honoring people who could be linked to such violations, which was interpreted as a message to the ARENA political party to stop honoring its founder, Roberto D’Aubuisson, and to the FMLN party to do likewise with Shafik Handal.
  • The government will conduct an investigation to identify all victims of the massacre.
  • The government will create a National Reparations Program for Victims of massacres and other human rights violations.
  • The government will declare El Mozote a cultural center.
  • The government will establish a community health clinic for El Mozote.
  • The government will assist agricultural production in the area, construct paved roads and improve potable water service, build a lodging house for elderly people without families and provide computers to the local school.

This presidential statement at El Mozote went far beyond the previous apology Funes had made for the assassination of Archbishop Romero and the one for the murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.


[1]  This preliminary factual statement is based upon the Truth Commission Report  and Mark Danner’s  The Massacre at el Mozote . The mandate and procedures of the Truth Commission were discussed in a prior Post.

[2]  Background about the IACHR is set forth in a prior Post.

 

Remembering Oscar Romero in Film

 Oscar Romero is remembered in music.[1] So too is he remembered in three films.

Oliver Stone in his 1986 film Salvador stars actor James Wood as U.S. journalist Richard Boyle who goes to El Salvador to report on the violence of the early years of its civil war. It includes the famous portion of Oscar Romero’s homily of March 23, 1980. Woods was nominated for an Oscar for his role as were Stone and Boyle for their screenplay.[2]

The biographical film Romero from 1989 was produced by the Paulist Fathers, and in one sense it is a Christian evangelical film designed to convert people to Christianity as lived by Romero.

Staring Raul Julia as Romero, the film accurately shows the new Archbishop in 1977 as a man singularly unsuited for high office, particularly in such a time of crisis. By nature timid, bookish, and retiring, he had no presence, no political instincts, no sense of moral authority. Romero, however, had one important “virtue” at the start of his service as Archbishop–in the eyes of El Salvador’s wealthy oligarchy, military officials and other Salvadoran bishops: he was noncontroversial.[3]

What no one anticipated — including Romero himself — was how he would respond when horrible things happened. Less than a month into his office, demonstrators in the main plaza of San Salvador were surrounded by police forces, and some were killed. Days later, Romero was stunned when his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, who was known for his advocacy of reform and social justice, was assassinated, along with an old man and a young boy accompanying him to Mass. The film shows Romero’s increasing courage in denouncing the human rights violations in his country and includes his homily asking President Jimmy Carter to stop military aid and the most famous homily in which he says to men in the military, “I beg you, I implore you. I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”[4]

"Romero" film in Plaza Libertad, March 2000

When I was in El Salvador for the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination in March 2000, the Romero film was being shown for the first time in the country. In Plaza Libertad in front of the Cathedral the film was playing in continuous loop on television monitors. Many people were watching the film as I walked through the plaza.

Rutilio Grande Memorial
Misa para Rutilio Grande, March 2003

The mention of Father Grande reminds me that in March 2003 I attended his 25th memorial mass in the village of El Paisnal, where he served near the town of Aguilares. On the road to the village we stopped to pay our respects at the memorial where he was assassinated. Interestingly the priest at the church in 2003, Father Orlando, was a former banker and a relative of Grande’s.

A third film, a documentary, about Romero entitled “Romero by Romero” was premiered in San Salvador in March 2010 as part of the Romero anniversary celebration. I was especially touched to see scenes of Romero walking around a poor neighborhood and warmly greeting and touching the people he met without a lot of ceremony. This was the film promised by the Funes Administration at the November 2009 hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Post: Oscar Romero’s Assassination Case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Oct. 13, 2011); Tim’s El Salvador Blog, Romero’s life documented in film and video, http://luterano.blogspot.com (Mar. 17, 2010) (includes YouTube trailer for the film).)


[1] Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Music (Oct. 14, 2011).

[2] Wikipedia, Salvador (Film), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvador_(film); Post: Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011).

[3] Decent Films Guide, Romero (1989), http://www.decentfilms.com/reviews/romero.html; Wikipedia, Paulist Fathers, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulist_Fathers.

[4]  Decent Films Guide, Romero, supra; Post: Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011).