Spanish judge indicts 20 Salvadorans in 1989 killings of Jesuits


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After two years of investigation, a Spanish judge today issued an indictment and arrest order against 20 former military officials in El Salvador for the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter during this country’s civil war.

The Nov. 16, 1989 slayings were among the most infamous wartime abuses attributed to the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military, which was locked in battle with leftist rebels known as the FMLN.


Judge Eloy Velasco’s ruling (link in Spanish) included warrants against two former defense ministers — Rafael Humberto Larios and Rene Emilio Ponce — and other ranking military officials. Ponce died in El Salvador this month at the age of 64.

The criminal case filed in Spain also included the former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani, but Velasco did not indict him. Velasco ruled according to a legal doctrine, used by other Spanish jurists, that allows prosecution for certain crimes committed in other countries.

‘This an order for an international arrest through international systems like Interpol. It is only the first phase and the investigation continues, but the judge’s resolution confirms an important part of our allegations,’ Almudena Bernabéu, a lawyer for the Center for Justice & Accountability, told Salvadoran television from San Francisco.

The group was one of two that filed suit in Spain on behalf of relatives of the victims because some of the accused officers were shielded from prosecution at home by an amnesty law in El Salvador that was part of the accord ending the war in 1993.

Velasco opened the investigation in 2009. His ruling ran 77 pages (link in Spanish).

The indictment is largely symbolic since the officers are protected from prosecution in El Salvador. But rights activists hailed the ruling as important.

‘It is a powerful and symbolic message against impunity and sends a clear message to the military that were involved in human rights abuses and crimes against humanity,’ said Abraham Abrego, deputy director of the Foundation for the Application and Study of Law, an independent human-rights organization.

‘It restricts the possibility of these military officers fleeing to other countries, because if they try to escape, other countries that have judicial cooperation with Spain can arrest and send them to a tribunal in Spain,” Abrego said.

-- Alex Renderos, reporting from San Salvador