Update on Status of Extradition of Defendants in Spain’s Criminal Case Regarding the 1989 Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests 

Previous posts have reported that the National Court of Spain in 2008 commenced a criminal investigation of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. In May 2011 the Spanish court issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 former Salvadoran military officials for their alleged involvement in those murders.[1]

One of these defendants had died; one had been living in the U.S.; two have been cooperating with the Spanish investigation; and the whereabouts of three are unknown. The other 13 are believed to be living in El Salvador.

Ever since May 2011 Spanish authorities have been seeking extradition of 13 of these men from El Salvador and one from the United States. But extradition has not happened yet. Here is an update on the status of those efforts.

 Developments in El Salvador

In December 2011 Spain requested extradition of 13 of them who were then believed to be in El Salvador. In May 2012, however, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied extradition of the 13 on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens.

In August 2015, in an unrelated case, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that, according to a treaty on international cooperation in criminal matters to which El Salvador is a party, an INTERPOL red notice requires both the identification of the location of the defendants and their arrest and detention pending an additional filing, such as an extradition request. This decision appeared to be in direct conflict with the just mentioned Court’s May 2012 ruling against extradition in the Spanish case.[2]

In response to the August 2015 ruling, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, on November 16, 2015, petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to review its 2012 decisions refusing to arrest and order the extradition of 13 former military officials who were subjects of the INTERPOL arrest warrants.[3]

The Ombusman also issued a resolution asking Spanish authorities to re-issue the arrest warrants for extradition purposes in this case. This request was endorsed in the Spanish case by the U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE).

On January 4, 2016, the Spanish court’s Judge Velasco honored that plea by requesting INTERPOL to re-issue the international arrest warrants for all the Jesuit Massacre case defendants who reside in El Salvador for their extradition to Spain to face the charges.

On January 6, the Salvadoran government said it will cooperate in the execution of those warrants and the extradition of former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers, but that the country’s Supreme Court would make the final decision.

In February 2016 Salvadoran authorities arrested and detained four of the former Salvadoran military officials who are sought for this Spanish criminal case. The four were former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno; former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. The Salvadoran National Civilian Police (PNC) force said that it would “continue the search and capture of the rest of the wanted persons and will inform the public in the opportune moment.” To date, however, no additional arrests have been reported.

On July 14, 2016, the full Supreme Court of El Salvador was scheduled to release its decision on the latest request to issue extradition warrants in this case. The day before, however, the Constitutional Chamber of the Court decided that the country’s Amnesty Law was unconstitutional, which was discussed in a prior post. As a result, the full Supreme Court stayed further proceedings about the extradition warrants.

On August 16, 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously, 15-0, decided that former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno could not be extradited.[4] The court, 11-4, also ordered that Benavides be detained in a Salvadoran prison in accordance with his conviction and imposition of a 30-year sentence by a Salvadoran court before passage of the amnesty law; after the passage of that law Benavides was released from prison. As a result, extradition was barred by a provision of the El Salvador-Spain extradition treaty that says extradition can be denied “if the person whose extradition is requested “has been tried and finally acquitted or convicted [of the same crime].”

The Supreme Court, however, has not yet ruled on the request to extradite the other three men– former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. They also were tried by a Salvadoran court for illegal homicide, which is an essential element of the crime now being pursued in Spain, but these three men were acquitted in a Salvadoran trial with many alleged irregularities. Strict application of the rationale of the above Supreme Court decision and the cited provision of the extradition treaty and the underlying notion of no double jeopardy suggest that they too should not be subject to extradition, but the irregularities in their trial are impediments to that analysis.[5] We now await the Salvadoran Supreme Court’s ruling on these three men.

Developments in United States

As explained in a prior post, a Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on February 5, 2016, upheld the requested extradition of Orlando Montano Morales to Spain in this case. https://dwkcommentaries.com/2016/02/06/resumption-of-spanish-criminal-case-over-1989-salvadoran-murder-of-jesuit-priests/

On April 1, 2016, Montano filed in that court an Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which is the only way for him to appeal or challenge that decision.[6]

On April 26, the U.S. moved to dismiss that habeas application. Its brief argued that the certification of extraditability would not be overturned if there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was a reasonable ground to believe that the individual was guilty of the crime in the foreign country and that there was such evidence in this case. On June 10 the U.S. submitted its reply to the petitioner’s opposition to the dismissal motion; it argued that the response raised no issues needing further rebuttal.[7]

Montano Morales, however, was not finished. On July 21, he submitted another brief arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the certification order’s probable cause conclusion. He also asserted that the court should consider certain declassified U.S. government cables with respect to the probable cause conclusion. On August 10, the U.S. again rejected Montano’s arguments, emphasizing that the habeas review was “limited to ascertaining ‘whether there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was reasonable ground to believe the accused guilty of the asserted crimes’” and that there was such evidence.[8] (Emphasis added.)

The matter is now submitted for decision by U.S. District Judge Terrance W. Boyle.

According to Patty Blum, senior legal adviser with the Center for Justice and Accountability, which filed the original complaint in the Jesuit case with the Spanish court in 2008 and which supported the request for extradition of Montano, the habeas corpus application is unlikely to “get much traction substantively” as the order granting extradition already rejected the core arguments of the new petition and the Magistrate Judge “did a thorough job of reviewing the record and giving a reasoned, detailed opinion.”[9]

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[1] Prior posts covered the marvelous ministries of these Jesuit priests and their university (University of Central America or UCA); the circumstances of their horrible murders; the Salvadoran military’s attempted cover-up of their involvement in these crimes; the flawed Salvadoran criminal prosecution of a few of the military personnel so involved and their absolution by a Salvadoran amnesty law; the investigation and report on these crimes by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; other legal proceedings regarding these crimes; the Spanish criminal case over these crimes; El Salvador’s 2012 denial of Spain’s request for extradition of most of the suspects in the case; and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in November 2014. These posts are identified in reverse chronological order of posting in a computer-generated list.  They also are identified in logical sequence in “The Jesuit Priests” section of my manually prepared List of Posts to dwkcommentaires—Topical: El Salvador. There also is extensive discussion of the Spanish case in the website of the Center for Justice and Accountability, the U.S.-based human rights organization that is involved in that case.

[2] Spanish Judge Re-Issues Request for the Arrest of Military Officials, CJA (Dec. 2015); Dalton, Spain calls for arrest of 18 soldiers accused of killing priests in El Salvador, El Pais (Dec. 23, 2015); Reuters, El Salvador will cooperate in arrest of 17 former soldiers accused of killing priests, Guardian (Jan. 6, 2015); Labrador, Spain orders again capture Jesuit Salvadoran military case, El Faro (Jan. 5, 2016).

[3] Human Rights Ombudsman asks extradition slaughter of Jesuits, El Mundo (Nov. 16, 2015).

[4] Labrador, Arauza & Zabiań, Court refuses to extradite Colonel Benavides, but agrees to send him to prison, El Faro (Aug. 17, 2016); Melendez, Supreme Court Decides Not To Extradite Jesuit Case, LaPrensa Grafica (Aug. 17, 2016); Reuters, El Salvador Court Denies Extradition of former Colonel to Spain, N.Y. Times (Aug. 17, 2016).

[5] The Salvadoran trial was covered in a prior post as was the release of Colonel Benavides under the Amnesty Law.

[6] Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2241, et seq, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 1, 2016).

[7] Memorandum in Support of Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 26, 2016); Response in Opposition to Federal Respondents’ Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (May 18, 2016); United States’ Reply to Petitioner’s Response in Opposition Regarding Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (June 10, 2016).

[8] Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Write of Habeas Corpus and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (July 21, 2016); Government’s Response to Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (Aug. 10, 2016).

[9] Cooper & Hodges, Extradition appeal among setbacks in Jesuit massacre, Nat’l Cath. Rep. (April 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Ex-Salvadoran colonel fights extradition in Jesuit killings (Apr. 1, 2016).

El Salvador’s Supreme Court Invalidates Salvadoran Amnesty Law

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador decided, 4 to 1, that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional. This post will examine that decision and a subsequent post will discuss the impact of that decision on the pending criminal case in Spain regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

 The Court’s Decision.[1]

The Chamber held that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional because it was “contrary to the access to justice” and the “protection of fundamental rights” as impeding the state from fulfilling its obligation to investigate, try and punish grave violations of those rights. Indeed, the court said the government has an obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes” in its civil war and to provide reparations to victims.[2] The court also suggested that prosecutors begin with about 30 cases highlighted by a U.N. Truth Commission in March 1993.[3] The cases include massacres, assassinations and kidnappings by combatants from both the armed forces and the guerrilla army called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). One of the most prominent was the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.

The court’s announcement of its decision stated that the 1992 Peace Accords ending the civil war had contained no provision for an amnesty; that the country’s National Assembly had no power to grant an amnesty to persons who had committed crimes against humanity or war crimes constituting grave violations of human rights and that its constitution and international law of human rights required the conclusion of invalidity.

The court also stated that the crimes against humanity during the civil war were not individual and isolated acts, but the result of guidelines and orders issued by organized apparatuses of power with hierarchies of command.  This implies criminal responsibility of the direct actors, those who gave the orders for the crimes and those commanders who failed to countermand the orders and thereby failed to exercise control over the hierarchies.

Much to the surprise of this blogger as a retired U.S. attorney, one of the Chamber’s four judges in this very case, Florentine Menendez, made a public statement about the decision. He said, “We’re not raising hatred or reopening wounds,” but rather emphasizing “the strength of the constitution and the right to life and justice” for the victims. The decision rescues “the jurisprudence of the Inter-American system of human rights protection to heal the wounds of the past and finally close the page and get a national reconciliation.”

Positive Reactions to the Decision.[4]

The next day the decision was celebrated at a ceremony in San Salvador’s Cuscatlan Park, the site of a 275-foot granite wall etched with the names of 30,000 civilians killed in the country’s civil war and the locations of nearly 200 massacres committed between 1970 and 1991. Below are photographs of David Morales,El Salvador’s human rights ombudsman, who made remarks that day, and of part of the granite wall.

David Morales
David Morales
Cucatlan Park
Cucatlan Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this celebration, David Morales said, “If prosecutors and judges are willing to comply with the ruling, it will generate for the first time in El Salvador the first glimmers of reconciliation.” He added that many Latin American countries have already abolished their amnesty laws and begun to prosecute crimes dating to the civil wars and military dictatorships of the late 20th century.

Benjamin Cuellar, former director of the human rights institute at the University of Central America (UCA) and one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, said, “This is the first step that will take El Salvador to true reconciliation; so that the institutions work and bring to justice those who commit crimes, regardless of who they are.”

UCA, the home of the murdered Jesuit priests, stated, “The majority of the victims are more noble than the victimizers.   They do not want vengeance, they want the injustice to be recognized.   And the State is obliged to honor them.  It is time to put the victims in the center.   The new phase that is opened for the country is positive, it means an advance for democracy and justice, and constitutes a late but just recognition for those who had been disrespected in their memory and in their pain.”

The Center for Justice and Accountability, which has been involved in various Salvadoran human rights cases, including the Spanish case regarding the murder of the Jesuit priests, said, “Today’s decision marks a moment many of us have hoped for, for a long time, as we struggled by the victims’ side. The victims have been demanding justice since the peace was signed and the brave truth commission report was published. The amnesty law passed only seven days after was a betrayal to the victims’ hopes and the whole peace process. With it, justice was excluded forever. Today’s decision brings back hope for investigation and prosecution both inside and outside the country.”

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts declared: “This historic decision for the country brings hope to victims and confidence in the legal system…. More than twenty years after the end of the conflict, this decision will restore the fundamental rights of victims to justice and full reparations.”

Amnesty International praised the decision: “Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador. By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past.”

Another voice of support for the decision came in a New York Times editorial calling it “ a remarkable ruling that opens the door for relatives of victims of war crimes to hold torturers and killers accountable.” “However,” the editorial continued, “there appears to be little political will in El Salvador to revisit a painful chapter of its history in courtrooms. Politicians across the political spectrum have questioned the viability of war crimes tribunals at a time when the country’s judicial institutions are overwhelmed by endemic gang violence.”  Nevertheless, the Times suggested that El Salvador should create “a prosecution unit and gives it the tools and independence to pursue the most emblematic cases of the conflict” like the El Mozote Massacre,” which has been discussed in prior posts.

Negative Reactions to the Decision.

The lack of political will referenced in the Times editorial can be seen in the country’s President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a member of the FLMN, asserted that his government had always been committed to the restoration of the victims of the war and to building a culture committed to human rights.   However, he said the court’s decision did not meet “the real problems of the country and far from solving the daily problems of Salvadorans, worsens them.  Judgments of the Constitutional Chamber ignore or fail to measure the effects on our living together in society, and do not contribute to strengthening institutionality.”

Another FLMN leader had a similar reaction. The former president of the National Assembly, Siegfried Reyes, said the decision was “surprising and seeks to weaken and hit the governance and hit the security plans that the government is implementing effectively.”

The country’s Minister of Defense, David Munguia Payés, asserted that the decision was a “political error” and would be a setback to the process of pacification which had occurred since the end of the civil war.”  He openly worried that the ruling would turn into a “witch hunt.”

Mauricio Ernesto Vargas, a retired general who represented the armed forces in the peace negotiations, said the court’s ruling could intensify political polarization in a country with no shortage of problems: a gang-violence epidemic, a migration crisis, crop failures and economic stagnation.

 The country’s Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, had a more nuanced view. He said, “We respect from the institutional point of view this ruling. We will do what we have to do, we will fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.”

The conservative political party ARENA (founded by a leader of the death squads in the 1970s and 1980s, and in control of the government when atrocities like the massacre of the Jesuits occurred and the authors of the amnesty law) published an official statement urging respect for the court’s decisions, but also noting that the decisions would present challenges for the process of reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy and institutions.

Now we will have to see whether this decision leads to any Salvadoran investigations and prosecutions for the serious human rights crimes of its civil war and to a resumption of Spain’s criminal case regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests. (The latter subject will be covered in a subsequent post.)

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[1] El Salvador Supreme Court (Constitutional Chamber), Press Release (July 13, 2016), http://static.ow.ly/docs/20.%20Comunicado%2013-VII-2016%20Ley%20de%20amnist%C3%ADa_50Yr.pdf; Post war 1993 amnesty law declared unconstitutional, Tim’s El Salvador Blog (July 13, 2016), http://luterano.blogspot.com/2016/07/post-war-1993-amnesty-law-declared.html; Malkin & Palumbo, Salvadoran Court Overturns Wartime Amnesty, Paving Way for Prosecutions, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2016); Maslin, El Salvador strikes down amnesty for crimes during its civil war, Wash. Post (July 14, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/el-salvador-strikes-down-amnesty-for-crimes-during-its-civil-war/2016/07/14/5eeef2ec-49bf-11e6-8dac-0c6e4accc5b1_story.html.

[2] Prior posts have discussed the Amnesty Law: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case, dwkcommentaries.com (June 11, 2011),  https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/11/international-criminal-justice-el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-and-its-impact-on-the-jesuits-caseEl Salvador’s Current Controversy Over Its General Amnesty Law and Supreme Court, dwkcommentaries.com (June 16, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/16/el-salvadors-current-controversy-over-its-general-amnesty-law-and-supreme-court; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case. It should be noted, however, that U.S. federal courts have held that the General Amnesty Law is limited to Salvadoran judicial proceedings and thus does not bar U.S. civil lawsuits for money damages against Salvadoran defendants. (El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law in U.S. Federal Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/14/el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-in-u-s-federal-court-cases.

[3] Prior posts have discussed the Truth Commission: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador, dwkcommentaries.com (June 9, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/09/international-criminal-justice-the-jesuits-case-in-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador; The Salvadoran Truth Commission’s Investigation of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen, dwkcommentaries (Dec. 19, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/12/19/the-salvadoran-truth-commissions-investigation-of-the-murders-of-the-four-american-churchwomen; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case.

[4] Thanks for Tim’s El Salvador Blog (http://luterano.blog spot.com) for much of the information on the reactions to the Chamber’s decision.  David Morales: The sentence “is a tool of greater scope to demand justice, DiarioCoLatino (July 14, 2016) http://www.diariocolatino.com/david-morales-la-sentencia-es-una-herramienta-de-mayores-alcances-para-exigir-justicia; Dalton, Declared unconstitutional the amnesty in El Salvador, El Pais (July 14, 2016) http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2016/07/15/america/1468541983_506876.html.

 

 

 

 

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.