The Supreme Court of El Salvador on Wednesday ordered that a criminal investigation into the massacre of six Jesuit priests should be reopened.
There have been attempts to prosecute those behind the killings — during the country’s civil war — since a 1993 amnesty was declared unconstitutional in 2016.
However, these efforts have so far been deflected by legal maneuvers. The decision came after an appeal was filed by the country’s attorney general, Rodolfo Delgado.
What happened at the time?
An elite commando unit killed the six priests — five Spaniards and one Salvadoran — in the priests’ residence along with their housekeeper and her daughter.
Soldiers carried out the killings — early morning of November 16, 1989 — amid the largest guerilla offensive of the 1980-1992 Salvadoran civil war on the campus of the Jesuit Central American University (UCA), in San Salvador.
While nine members of the military were initially put on trial, a court absolved seven of them. Two of the officers served short sentences but were released under the 1993 amnesty, which meant proceedings were shelved.
When the Supreme Court found the amnesty had been unconstitutional, a judge ordered one of those officers, Colonel Guillermo Benavides, to return to prison, where he remains.
Why is there only a probe now?
After the amnesty was lifted, a lower court allowed an investigation into a group of military officers and former President Alfredo Cristiani in connection to the killings.
However, the probe was ended when the officers appealed the case to the Supreme Court in 2019.
The Criminal Chamber ordered “that those identified as the intellectual authors of the massacre not be investigated.”
The latest ruling pointed out that “the right of access to justice of the victims” had been “violated.” Accordingly, the Constitutional Court, demanded that the Supreme Court’s Criminal Chamber “modify” a 2020 resolution in which it closed the case.
Attorney General Delgado tweeted to confirm that “the case will be reopened.”
En noviembre pasado, presenté una demanda de amparo ante la @SalaCnalSV para que anulara una decisión emitida por la Sala de lo Penal donde se archivaba el proceso contra los asesinos intelectuales del #CasoJesuitas.
— Rodolfo Delgado (@FiscalGeneralSV) January 5, 2022
“We will pursue those responsible to achieve justice in the face of these vile murders,” he added.
A Spanish court in 2020 sentenced former Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano to 133 years for the killings of the Spanish priests. The court branded the massacre “state terrorism” carried out at the behest of figures including the former President Cristiani.
Cristiani has denied any involvement or knowledge of the plan to kill the priests.
The Salvadoran civil war pitted the US-funded national army against the then-guerrilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). It left 75,000 dead and some 8,000 missing.