On the morning of November 16, 1989, an elite battalion of the Salvadoran Army entered the grounds of the Jesuit University of Central America, with orders to kill Father Ignacio Ellacuría—an outspoken critic of the Salvadoran military dictatorship—and leave no witnesses. When it was all over, the soldiers had killed six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter in cold blood. The Jesuits Massacre is one of most notorious crimes of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, which left over 75,000 people dead. CJA is seeking to ensure those responsible for the slayings are brought to justice.
Lucia Cerna, an employee of the university who was hiding in her room, saw the soldiers enter the campus and overheard the massacre. She heard the last words of one of the priests, Father Ignacio Martín-Baró, who yelled “this is an injustice!” before he was silenced. She has always wondered if he called out so she could hear and tell the truth.
For decades, the perpetrators of this violent crime enjoyed impunity at home due to a blanket amnesty law issued in El Salvador shortly after the peace accords were signed in 1992.
In 2008, in their quest for justice outside El Salvador, CJA and the victims’ families filed a criminal case before the Spanish National Court under the doctrine of universal justice, which allows a court in one country to prosecute egregious atrocities committed in another. The Spanish court indicted 20 perpetrators, including the leadership of the Military High Command.
In 2012, CJA helped track down one of the key perpetrators: Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, a former senior commander accused of orchestrating and then covering up the massacre. For over a decade Montano had been living quietly in the outskirts of Boston when, as a direct result of CJA’s investigation and the Spanish case, he was discovered and arrested by U.S. authorities.
The U.S. government charged Montano- not for the massacre- but for committing immigration fraud and perjury by lying about his military past on his immigration forms. After serving a 21-month prison sentence, a magistrate judge approved Montano’s extradition to stand trial in Spain.
CJA continues to closely follow the extradition process, which could see Montano in a Spanish court facing charges of terrorism, murder and crimes against humanity.