Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Some important new stories have been lost in the midst of the media frenzy of the Presidential primary. One of interest to MOJ readers involves an important step toward justice regarding the 1989 massacre of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter
It has been over 25 years since Salvadoran soldiers brutally murdered Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J., Segundo Montes, S.J., Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J., Joaquín López y López, S.J., Amando López, S.J., Elba Ramos and her 16 year old daughter, Celina Ramos. In the intervening years, we have seen cover ups, trials, amnesties, complaints, arrests, extraditions, and numerous other events. To this day, however, complete justice for these victims has never been achieved.
However, as the National Catholic Reporter states, "[t]he impunity enjoyed for 25 years by the killers of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador began splintering Feb. 5 after a U.S. judge ordered one of the suspects who'd fled to the United States to be extradited to Spain to stand trial for one of the most notorious crimes of the country's civil war."
The main recent litigation in this case has been occurring in Spain through a criminal complaint filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability against former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani Burkard and several former military members (five of the victims were Spanish citizens). This legal proceeding has resulted in indictments for 20 individuals and triggered many legal disputes. (A complete summary of the case may be found here). But on February 5, 2016 U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Swank issued what has been called a historic ruling when she ordered United States Marshals to take custody of Col. Inocente Orlando Montano for extradition to Spain.
This is remarkable for many reasons, but two important aspects of this immediately emerge. First, she issued a lengthy 23 page ruling in which she made detailed factual findings regarding Montano's role and the events surrounding November 16, 1989. Secondly, this seemingly minor procedural event in the magistrate court of the Eastern District of North Carolina seems to have triggered further arrests of suspects in El Salvador. Hours later, Salvadoran authorities arrested four former members of the military and the President called for the others to turn themselves into authorities.
Again, in the words of the National Catholic Reporter,
Sources familiar with the case said that the historic ruling by U.S. Magistrate Kimberly Swank in the Montano case likely provided Salvadoran authorities the cover they needed to begin arresting former high-ranking officers in a country where the military still holds enormous power.
Montano is the highest-ranking official in recent history to be ordered extradited from the United States for human rights violations. At the time of the massacre, Montano served as the Vice Minister of Defense for Public Safety, in command of the National Police, the Treasury Police, and the National Guard.
While there are no doubt many more legal battles to be fought, accountability is essential in this case and all cases. This is indeed a step forward by a magistrate judge which has implications throughout the world.