Trial Date Set for the Jesuits Massacre Case
The murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter on 16 November 1989 by the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Military ultimately led to the end of the civil war in El Salvador and catalyzed the victims’ quest for truth, justice, and accountability. After 30 years of seeking justice and 10 years of active litigation, the Spanish National Court will try former Colonel and Vice-Minister of Public Security, Inocente Orlando Montano, starting on 8 June 2020. Montano is charged with murder and terrorism for his alleged involvement as one of the key decision-makers behind the Jesuit killing. The Guernica Centre for International Justice—part of The Guernica Group—and Spanish co-counsel Ollé & Sesé Abogados will lead the prosecution on behalf of the victims. This trial represents a key moment for universal jurisdiction, accountability as a crucial element of transitional justice for El Salvador and international criminal law. From 1979-1992, the Salvadoran Military carried out a reign of state terror and repression against the civilian population even as they fought a bloody ten-year civil war with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). The Jesuit priests at the University of Central America (UCA) advocated for the end of the civil war through a peaceful and negotiated solution. They condemned openly and repeatedly the human rights violations committed by the Salvadoran Armed and Security Forces. Following the 1989 massacre, the Jesuit community and the relatives of the victims began searching for a way to establish truth and justice. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights investigated, at the request of Salvadoran groups, as did a highlevel U.S. Congressional commission; and at the end of the conflict, the United Nations sponsored a Truth Commission mandated to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed during the armed conflict. Although the Truth Commission Report reminded El Salvador of its duty to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law, in 1993, the Salvadoran legislature passed a General Amnesty Law, which operated as an instrument of impunity and prevented all investigations and prosecutions of violations committed during the war. Despite the Amnesty Law, efforts to pursue justice never ceased. The then Director of the Human Rights Institute at UCA (IDHUCA), Benjamin Cuellar, brought a case in the Salvadoran courts on behalf of the victims, which, despite a positive ruling in the Salvadoran Supreme Court, regrettably never went to trial.
Image: Robert Lassalle-Klein, "'Blood &Ink'-UCA Martyrs Photo Archive," personal files, January 16, 2020.