Salvadoran Supreme Court Releases High Commanders Indicted in Spain for 1989 Jesuits Massacre

On August 7, 2011, nine former Salvadoran military officials responsible for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and two women, including the former Defense Minister Rafael Humberto Larios and Air Force General Rafael Bustillo, were handed over to a Salvadoran civilian criminal court after a Spanish Court issued international arrest warrants.  The former military officials, who have been indicted in Spain for crimes against humanity and state terrorism in connection with the Jesuits Massacre, had surrendered themselves to avoid being detained by the National Civil Police.  The indictments were issued by the Spanish National Court in the context of the Jesuits Massacre Case which was initiated in 2008 by CJA.

At approximately 10:00pm on Sunday evening, after the arrest warrants arrived in El Salvador, the defendants went to a military facility outside of San Salvador to turn themselves into military officials, undoubtedly expecting to have their case handled by the military courts.  Instead, the Ministry of Defense turned the defendants over to civilian authorities who held the defendants in custody at the former headquarters of the National Guard. 

However, on August 24th, 2011, the Supreme Court of El Salvador ordered the release of defendants, who had been held pursuant to arrest warrants and INTERPOL Red Notices issued by the Spanish National Court. 

Spain obtained INTERPOL Red Notices for the nine defendants in El Salvador, after issuing arrest warrants in May, 2011.  The closest equivalent to international arrest warrants, INTERPOL Red Notices are treated as requests for “arrest or provisional arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition.”

But the Supreme Court, sitting en banc, ordered the defendants’ release on the theory that El Salvador had not received a formal extradition request.  In the Court’s view, INTERPOL Red Notices authorized only locating, not arresting wanted subjects.  Spain has requested that El Salvador clarify the defendants’ legal status.  Commentators have noted that the Salvadoran Court’s decision may conflict with treaty obligations to comply with INTERPOL rules, which state that Red Notices secure the “location and arrest” of suspects, prior to a formal extradition request.

CJA International Attorney Almudena Bernabeu, lead counsel on the case, said: “It is our hope that those who surrendered remain in jail until their extradition or prosecution is decided.  We have great confidence in the Salvadoran  institutions and it is our hope that the Civil Courts will continue to work in a rigorous manner and in strict observance of the laws to achieve and deliver the justice all Salvadorans deserve.”

About the Murders

On the morning of November 16, 1989, in the midst of a bloody civil war, El Salvador and the world woke up to the news that six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter had been brutally murdered.  A Truth Commission report released by the United Nations in 1993 revealed that the Salvadoran military planned and committed the crimes against the priests, who were outspoken critics of the military dictatorship.  Nonetheless, for the past 21 years, all efforts to obtain justice in El Salvador have been thwarted.  Among the victims: Fathers Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Amando López, and Juan Ramon Moreno, who were born and ordained in Spain; and Father Joaquin López y López, Elba Ramos, and her 15-year-old daughter Celina Maricet were Salvadoran.