World

Will There Be Justice for the Victims of El Salvador's Jesuit Massacre?

El Salvador's President Funes has affirmed his commitment to seeking the full truth of the military's role in the massacre.

On the 20th anniversary of the Jesuits Massacre, the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), the international human rights organization which initiated the criminal case in Spain against those responsible for the massacre, brought a delegation of leaders from the human rights, legal and Jesuit communities, to show the new government that civil society in the US continues to stand in solidarity with the thousands of Salvadoran survivors from the civil war. CJA’s delegation echoed the victims demands for truth and justice and offered support to the government, encouraging them to take the victims into consideration, making possible a true reconciliation. We specifically requested justice and the truth in the Jesuits Massacre.

The recent election of President Mauricio Funes provides an unparalleled opportunity to turn the tide on two decades of impunity and to secure justice and healing for the victims. This opening, combined with the first actions taken in CJA’s criminal case in Spain, as acknowledged by some members of the Funes administration and the judiciary, creates possibilities to gain ground on the human rights front that have not existed for many years.

There are many hopeful signs. In a ceremony on Nov. 16th where the Jesuits were awarded El Salvador’s highest honor posthumously, President Funes reaffirmed his commitment to seeking the full truth concerning the military’s role in the massacre and justice for the survivors. “We pull back a heavy veil of darkness and lies to let in the light of justice and truth,” President Funes said.

El Salvador’s Defense Minister Gen. David Munguia Payes, who participated in the civil war, said that the military is willing to open its archives to investigators, something that CJA and other human rights advocates have long demanded, but the military consistently refused.

This historical moment is also marked by the return of many who fled El Salvador during the war, to work for justice and rebuild their country. CJA client and torture survivor, Neris Gonzalez, returned after eleven years in the U.S. “As a survivor, I have come to learn that a very important part of my healing has been my search for justice. I want to see justice for the family members of the Jesuits. For the first time, I have hope for my country and believe that justice and truth will finally prevail,” Gonzalez said.

Dr. Juan Romagoza, CJA client and torture survivor who served as Executive Director of La Clinica del Pueblo in Washington, DC since 1987, recently returned to El Salvador to open a series of clinics to treat low-income, rural communities. Now, he has been appointed by the new administration to be the General Supervisor for the Medical System in Usulutan, where he is from.

In meetings with President Funes, Vice President Sanchez Seren, Attorney General Romeo Barahona, Inspector General Zaira Navas, Director of the Human Rights Office of the Executive David Morales, and members of the judiciary, CJA’s delegation secured commitments that the rule of law will be honored. The delegation also offered the new government professional and technical support for their efforts to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses during the violent civil war.

The delegation encouraged the new government to support CJA’s Jesuits Massacre case in Spain. This week CJA’s International Attorney Almudena Bernabeu will present evidence in Madrid as part of the first investigative actions taken in the case. One of the legal team’s hope with this case in Spain is to galvanize national prosecutions in El Salvador. This investigation may carry arrest warrants and extradition requests for the defendants that the Salvadoran state, observing its international obligations, needs to honor by either extraditing the defendants or prosecuting them in El Salvador.

Although we are hopeful, there remain challenges. The Attorney General of El Salvador has not made a commitment to open an investigation into the massacre and other human rights abuses committed during the 12 year civil war. The Funes Administration has refused, until now, to support the revoking of the 1993 blanket Amnesty Law that has prevented all investigations and prosecutions. CJA will continue to partner with human rights organizations and engage in legal and advocacy efforts in El Salvador, and throughout the world, to secure justice and accountability for the victims.

CJA's El Salvador Delegation members included: Rev. Donald J. Monan, Chancellor of Boston College University, who traveled to El Salvador in 1989 immediately after the massacre and was an international observer at the 1991 trial which ended in a surprise acquittal despite overwhelming evidence; CJA clients Neris Gonzalez, Dr. Juan Romagoza and Carlos Mauricio, torture survivors who won their case in U.S courts against Salvadoran Generals Vides Casanova and Garcia; Javier Torrontegui, the Director General of the Basque Country Public Radio and former publisher of Rolling Stone Mexico; Mike Greco of K&L Gates LLP, and past president of the American Bar Association; Sandra Coliver of the Open Society Justice Initiative; Sara Dareshori, of Human Rights Watch; attorneys Justin Berger and Nico van Aelstyn, lead pro bono counsel in CJA’s civil suit for the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador; and human rights organization representatives Farah Brelvi, and Bonnie Abaunza.