AN extradition battle looms for the soldiers allegedly involved in a massacre which included five Spanish Jesuit priests 22 years ago during El Salvador’s civil war.
In total six priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter were murdered at their home. The defence ministry handed over nine of the 20 accused to a Salvadoran court who must now decide whether to extradite them to Spain. The soldiers who are all retired and include two generals presented themselves voluntarily to avoid being photographed in handcuffs, according to El Salvador daily El Faro.
Ten other suspects remain at large, while the last suspect in the case, Gen Ponce who ordered the killing of the priests according to a report by a UN Truth Commission, died earlier this year.
“These are crimes under international law,” said Esther Major, of Amnesty International’s Central America team. “We hope the court will pay regard to its international obligations when it rules on the extradition. We would expect them to allow this extradition and for justice to be sought in the Spanish courts, given that the amnesty law is such a huge obstacle to justice.” The case first went to court in El Salvador in 1991.
At this time only two officers – Colonel Guillermo Benavides and lieutenant Yusshy Rene Mendoza – were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to 30-years in prison, but were later freed under an amnesty law passed in 1993.
In 2008 the Spanish Human Rights Association and the San Francisco-based Centre for Justice and Accountability demanded that the 20 accused be extradited and considered the 1991 trial as a fraud. During the course of this judicial process, a witness confessed about his participation in the massacre and implicated the High Command of the Salvadoran Military as well as former president Alfredo Cristiani.
Cristiani was not included in the ruling against the 20 Salvadoran members of the military who were all found guilty on the counts of murder, terrorism and crimes against humanity.
The Spanish court ruling specified that the Jesuits who worked at the Central American University were murdered because they pushed for peace negotiations between the right-wing government and left-wing rebels (FMLN) and the security forces suspected them of sympathising with the FMLN.
Some 70,000 people were either killed or disappeared during the 12-year Salvadoran civil war which ended in 1992 following a UN-brokered agreement.
By Nicole Hallett