Salvadoran Military Officers May Face Justice for the 1989 Massacre of the UCA Jesuits
“The murder of the Jesuit Priests and their employees is one of the most abominable and unfortunate crimes of this era, that joins a long list of murders and violent massacres making the armed conflict one of the darkest periods in our country… Truth is the essential prelude to national reconciliation.” Excerpt from a press release made in the name of dozens of civil society organizations, including families of the disappeared, after former Salvadoran military officers sought refuge in a military base to avoid extradition to Spain.
In the early hours of 16 November 1989, US-trained members of the Salvadoran armed forces entered the University of Central America and the Jesuit residence there, brutally murdering the six Jesuit Priests and two women.
It is for this crime that 20 former members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces have been indicted by a Spanish court. While the international press has reported that nine of the twenty named in the Interpol Red Alert have “turned themselves in,” there is no such clarity as to their legal status in El Salvador. While President Funes argues that they are in custody, the police have reported the contrary to Interpol, and the Defense Minister has preferred silence. It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the nine men are, in fact, in custody, and if so, what to do with them next.
Detained, or Under Protection?
According to an El Faro report, the nine former military men sought refuge at the military base on Sunday August 7th at the same time that the police were dispatched to detain them: “The order for their capture had reached the hands of the Salvadoran police on Thursday the 4th. No one in the government, not even Funes, has been able to explain why they took so long to carry out the detentions.”
This detention would be the first step in a chain of events leading to an extradition to Spain. Once in detention, the formal extradition process begins under an agreement made between El Salvador and Spain in 1998. Once the accused are in official custody, the Salvadoran Supreme Court must then name Judge to oversee the extradition process to Spain.
However, the Salvadoran Supreme Court has now met on three consecutive days and has been unable to make a decision regarding the case.
Two of the twenty people identified in the Interpol Red Alert have been identified as living in the United States; one is currently in federal custody for unrelated charges.
Facing this situation, families of the disappeared, church leaders and members of civil society gathered this morning, August 24th, in front of the former National Guard base, where it is widely believed these nine war criminals remain. Amongst chants of “They took them alive, We want them alive!” and “Neither forgive nor forget, Justice for the Guilty!” people came to demand justice. Watch a thirty-second clip of the sit-in here.
Mothers of the disappeared held posters with the faces and names of their children and others held photos of the six slain Jesuits and two women. This is the second in what may become ongoing sit-ins; last week, people gathered in front of the Supreme Court to demand the extradition of those responsible for these horrendous crimes. The next target may be President Funes himself; as commander-in-chief, he has the power to order the military to hand over the nine men to the police.