Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spanish Judge Continues Investigation into Jesuit Case

A few weeks ago, Spanish judge Eloy Velasco Núñez sought the assistance of the president of El Salvador's Supreme Court of Justice, Belarmino Jaime, in contacting fourteen soldiers accused of involvement in the murder of the six UCA Jesuits.  Jaime had recently met with two high ranking officials (René Emilio Ponce and Juan Orlando Zepeda) accused of having orchestrated their murders.

While I am not convinced that the accused will ever see a Spanish courtroom, I am somewhat hopeful that the Spanish investigation as well as Funes' election will help to restart a movement in El Salvador to deal with the human rights violations committed during the 1970s and 1980s.  Recently, there have been several hopeful signs that things are moving in this direction.  In the last few weeks, the government has announced that it will make a public act of atonment for prior mistakes by awarding the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado to the martyred Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter and that it will comply with the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights's ruling.  The ICHR recommended that

the State carry out a complete, impartial, and effective judicial investigation, expeditiously, so as to identify, try, and punish all the perpetrators, both the direct perpetrators and the planners of the violations established, notwithstanding the amnesty decreed; that it make reparation for all the consequences of the violations set forth, including the payment of fair compensation; and that it bring its domestic legislation into line with the American Convention, so as to render null and void the General Amnesty Law approved by Decree Nº 486 of 1993.

I have no idea whether Funes' intentions are to recognize previous administrations' culpability in these two crimes and leave it at that or to use these two cases to rally support for a repeal of the 1993 amnesty law and a more comprehensive reconciling of past acts.  However, the actions on the part of the Spanish judge might put pressure on El Salvador to pursue an accounting of the past similar to what happened to Augusto Pinochet in Chile.  While the attempt to extradite Pinochet from Britain to Spain to face trial failed, the movement to prosecute Pinochet in Chile gained momentum as a result.  President Funes' two acts and that of Núñez might start El Salvador down a similar path.

Pressure from the international community and civil society might provide Funes with political cover to backtrack on his campaign promise not to push the Legislative Assembly to revoke the amnesty law.

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