Historic trial against Salvadoran Colonel seeks to bring justice for murdered Jesuits

Read the press release from The Guernica Centre for International Justice:

Madrid, 4 June 2020 - The trial for the killings of Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Amando López, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón Moreno, Segundo Montes, and their housekeeper and her daughter, Elba Julia Ramos and Celina Maricet Ramos has begun. The trial is scheduled to be concluded in the course of two consecutive blocks: the first taking place from June 8 through 10, 2020; and the second scheduled later in the summer, starting July 8 and ending July 16, 2020. Following Spanish criminal procedure, at the outset of the trial (on Monday, 15.00 hours Madrid), the criminal charges will be read out loud, and then the evidence will be presented, starting with the testimonies of the defendants and witnesses.

The principal defendant is former colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, who at the time of the events was Vice-Minister of Public Security, and was extradited from the United States of America to Spain on 29 November 2017. 

Considering mobilization limitations derived from the COVID-19 pandemic and the international relevance of this trial, attorneys for the private and popular prosecution ‒exercised by the Spanish Pro-Human Rights Association (APDHE), the family of Jesuit assassinated Ignacio Martín-Baró, and the San José Jesuit School of Valencia Alumni Association‒ filed a petition to have the trial live streamed in an effort to promote the principle of publicity that should regulate criminal trials. The online transmission of the trial aims to promote the possibility of having victims and other stakeholders in El Salvador and the Salvadoran society, at large, engaged in this momentous event. The decision regarding online streaming is pending.

The assassination of the Jesuits priests and the two women they employed shocked the entire world and forever tainted Salvadoran history with atrocity and injustice. This heinous act was carried out in the early hours of 16 November 1989 by the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Army. The events were so significant that they are said to have forced the end of the civil war in El Salvador and catalyzed the victims’ quest for truth, justice, and accountability, after an era of state-sponsored terror and repression against the civilian population.

The trial against Montano comes at a time when Salvadoran civil society is struggling to promote meaningful accountability for the atrocities committed in that country since the late 1970s. Guernica Centre will continue to work with its national partners to combat impunity and promote accountability initiatives that respond to the ongoing quest for justice that victims continue to lead.

This case is also significant as it demonstrates the need to reinstitute rules that will allow the effective exercise of Universal Jurisdiction to combat impunity of international crimes, particularly when they correspond to state-sanctioned behavior.