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Human rights groups praise indictments in Salvadoran Jesuits case

June 9, 2011

NEW YORK

Salvadoran and U.S. human rights groups are applauding indictments and arrest warrants issued by a Spanish judge in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, the clerics’ housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter at El Salvador’s Central American University.

Among the 20 former Salvadoran military officers named in Judge Eloy Velasco’s May 30 indictment is Rafael Humberto Larios, El Salvador’s then-minister of defense.

The decision shows that more than decades of efforts to achieve justice in a much-observed case were not in vain, said Benjamín Cuellar, who heads the university’s Institute of Human Rights.

Progress in the case is not merely for the families of the victims and for the university, the news agency DPA quoted Cuellar May 30 as saying, but also “for all the humble and anonymous victims of this country” — a reference to El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, in which as many as 75,000 civilians perished.

A notable characteristic of the conflict was the role of clergy and laity influenced by liberation theology, who became targets of death squads linked to the then-U.S.-backed Salvadoran government.

“This indictment represents justice for all Salvadorans, not only for the Jesuits, but for all the anonymous victims, for whom the Jesuits worked tirelessly,” Almudena Bernabeu, lead counsel on the case and an attorney for the San Francisco-based human rights and advocacy group Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), said in a statement.

Center Executive Director Pamela Merchant said, “It has been 21 years since the massacre and all attempts at justice to date have failed.”

“For now we celebrate this important step forward in the global movement for accountability,” she said in a May 30 statement.

CJA filed the case in Spain three years ago. Five of the six Jesuits killed were Spanish, and Velasco, a judge of the Spanish National Court, based the investigation of the case on a “universal jurisdiction” for crimes against humanity.

CJA has called the massacre — which prompted international outrage — “one of the great religious crimes of the 20th century and a major tipping point” that helped pave the way toward the end of the Salvadoran civil war.

In the indictment, Velasco said the assassinations at the university had been based on a conspiracy at the highest levels of the Salvadoran military.

Also indicted were General Rafael Bustillo; Colonel Orlando Zepeda, then-vice minister of defense; and Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, the former vice minister of public safety.

The Spanish priests killed were Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín-Baro, Segundo Montes, Amando Lopez, and Juan Ramon Moreno. The Rev. Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, housekeeper Elba Ramos and her 15-year-old daughter Celina Meredith were Salvadoran.

Ellacuria was the university’s rector.

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