Spanish trials hope to bring justice for the priests who were victims of El Salvador’s civil war


El Salvador’s civil war’s most famous victims were six priests, five of them Spanish. Ignacio Martin-Baro was killed a day after he talked to his family back in Spain and told them all was okay. The Jesuit, academic, and psychologist asked his parents to not worry as the army was all around. Martin-Baro was murdered along with his Jesuit colleagues, housekeeper, and her 15-year old daughter by a military death squad on November 16, 1989.

The 12-year long civil war in the country is marked by the conflict between the US-backed military and the left-wing guerillas of Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) that led to the loss of over 75,000 lives. The US government and Salvadoran military fought to wipe out the “communist uprising”. The Jesuits who worked at Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador looked for a peaceful arrangement.

Today after almost three decades, Ignacio’s brother Carlos is hopeful of justice for his brother and the seven others killed in what known as the most atrocious part of the civil war.

The principle of universal jurisdiction which allows human rights crimes committed in one country to be tried in another will be used for these proceedings. A former colonel in the Salvadoran army who was a security minister has been accused to be involved in “decision, design and execution” of the killings of priests and others. He is under trial in Madrid under the universal jurisdiction principle. Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano has appeared in nine sessions during June and July in Madrid courtroom and has argued his innocence. He has agreed to be a part of La Tandon, a group of corrupt and violent senior army officers whose members also rose to be El Salvador’s top military and political elite. But he has maintained that he had nothing to do with the killing of Jesuits or that he was a part of meetings that led to the planning of the murder.

His side was contradicted by another former Salvadoran soldier Yusshy Rene Mendoza who appeared as a prosecution witness. Proceedings against were dropped after he showed remorse and cooperation. Mendoza told the court that many high command members, including Montano, had met and decided on the drastic measures to tackle FMLN guerillas, their allies, and others.

The verdict is expected to arrive this month. Carlos stresses that the trial isn’t about hate or revenge but about putting an end to impunity.

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