Justice for the UCA Martyrs

Published date:
6 February 2021

On 11 September 2020, the hearing for the reading of the judgment for the trial of the massacre of the six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador on 16 November 1989 took place. The Court unanimously convicted the defendant, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, as bearing criminal responsibility for five crimes of murder as a terrorist act.

In the last edition of Romero News Francis McDonagh reported on the Madrid trial of one of the suspects of ordering the UCA massacre in 1989. Click HERE to read it (p.19). Here are the reactions to the verdict.

Montano (right) was sentenced to 26 years, 8 months and 1 day of imprisonment for each of the five crimes. In total he was sentenced to 133 years, 6 months, and 5 days in prison, of which he will serve a maximum of 30 years of effective punishment as mandated by Spanish criminal law.

The judgment cited the 1949 Geneva Conventions, applicable in situations of international and domestic armed conflicts, to enshrine the principle of civilian immunity, whereby the civilian population must not be subjected to any attack or violence. In this sense, the Court emphasised that the eight murders were committed with the purpose of causing terror among the civilian population in the context of the Salvadoran internal conflict.

According to the judgment, the reason why the members of the High Command decided to commit such a crime was the fact that killing the Rector of the University would destroy any remaining hope or path for dialogue and it result in social confusion and terror regarding the present and future of Salvadorean society.

The judgement stated that the High Command of the Salvadorean Armed Forces was the group which jointly took the unanimous decision to execute the Jesuit fathers and their women colleagues through the command unit of the Atlacatl Battalion.

Almudena Bernabéu (left), the lawyer leading the private prosecution on behalf of the Jesuits’ families and Director of the Guernica Centre for International Justice, said:

“This important judgment brings justice and hope to those who have not stopped looking, the families of the victims, and the Salvadorean people. Furthermore, it confirms something that those of us who believe in universal justice have been longing for: that it is fundamental that laws provide access to justice for victims of international crimes and human rights violations who, as in the case of El Salvador, have found all doors closed. With this judgment, once again, the Spanish courts are giving hope to thousands of people. We hope that this effort can be replicated in El Salvador and that it will be the beginning of a real transformation in the country so that events like this will never happen again”.

But Montano was the only defendant from the Salvadorean high command on trial in Spain. The rest of the high- ranking officers implicated as intellectual authors of the massacre have always been protected from extradition by the Salvadorean courts. In spite of this, the Jesuits in El Salvador and their lawyers have have made calls following Montano's conviction for a long-stalled criminal prosecution on Salvadorean soil to actually proceed. 

They state: ‘The Society of Jesus and the UCA will take the appropriate and necessary legal actions in favour of justice, social peace and reconciliation around the right to the truth. As Pope Francis affirms in his last encyclical, “the peace process is a constant commitment over time. It is a patient task that seeks truth and justice, honours the memory of the victims and opens, step by step, a common hope, stronger than revenge”. And justice in the case of the murders of Elba, Celina and the Jesuits is an important step to banish impunity and establish respect for the human dignity of all Salvadoreans, especially victims of any type of abuse.’ 

Click HERE for a short video of the case.

Memorial to the UCA Martyrs. For more on the UCA Martyrs, click HERE.