Assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero

Doe v. Saravia





It was one of the most heinous and shocking political murders of the late 20th century. In 1980, right-wing assassins shot and killed El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero while he was giving Mass. Two decades later, on behalf of a relative of the Archbishop, CJA brought a civil suit against one of the architects of the assassination. In 2004, a U.S. federal court found Captain Alvaro Saravia liable for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity and was ordered to pay $10 million in damages.

“In the name of this suffering people, whose cries rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I order you, in the name of God, stop the repression.”

On March 23, 1980, Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, a leading figure in the struggle for human rights in El Salvador, delivered this sermon over national radio. The very next day, the Archbishop was assassinated.

Officers of the Salvadoran military and leaders of right-wing paramilitaries conceived and coordinated Archbishop Romero’s assassination. But protected by a broad amnesty law, they evaded justice for over two decades.

In 2003, CJA filed a civil suit against former Captain Álvaro Rafael Saravia for his role in the assassination. The suit was filed on behalf of a relative of the Archbishop, whose name was withheld for security reasons.

Saravia was served with the complaint at his home in California but he failed to respond and went into hiding. In 2004, Judge Wanger of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California held a hearing on damages. CJA presented evidence that tied Saravia to the assassination, including testimony from Saravia’s former driver who transported the assassin to and from the crime scene.

In 2004 Judge Wanger issued an historic decision holding Saravia responsible for his role in the assassination and ordered Saravia to pay $10 million to our client. Until this ruling, no one had been held responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero.

The published decision, cited internationally, exposed the groundbreaking theory that the assassination of one person could be considered a crime against humanity. Judge Wanger argued that this assassination could be considered a crime against humanity because of its impact on the Salvadoran people.
Although Saravia went into hiding, he remains on the Department of Homeland Security’s wanted list.

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