A Spanish judge has agreed to investigate 14 Salvadoran military officers, and possibly former Salvadoran president Alfredo Cristiani, for the murders of six Jesuit priests and two women at the Central American University (UCA) in 1989. The ruling was in response to the Center for Justice and Accountability's (CJA) lawsuit against Cristiani and the former military officers filed in November 2008.
Although far from an indictment, for many, the judge's decision already feels like a victory for the cause of justice in El Salvador. In 1992, El Salvador's government passed an amnesty law that provides amnesty to all perpetrators of war crimes during the country 12-year Civil War. Spain is able to prosecute the perpetrators of the Jesuit case under a legal principle called "universal jurisdiction," through which Spain has pursued other high profile cases, including an attempt to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for torture.
The Hartford Courant reports that Benjamin Cuellar, director of the Human Rights Institute in San Salvador, said his group "doesn't oppose the prosecution but believes justice can be achieved only in Salvadoran courts." However, it does not seem that the amnesty law will be lifted in El Salvador anytime soon. With the presidential election quickly approaching, neither of the two candidates have agreed to lift the law. Mauricio Funes, the FMLN presidential candidate, has stated, "We cannot change the past of hate, of confrontation. The future, we can build differently." Almudena Bernabeu, an attorney for CJA, cites the impunity of war criminals as sources of El Salvador's current "crime-ridden status." She asserts, "When a society develops the idea that they will never be punished no matter what they do, it perverts the society."
To read the Hartford Courant's article, click here.
To learn more about the Jesuit murders case, click here.
- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator