Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Arrest of Military Accused of Killings in El Salvador

February 17, 2016

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes El Salvador authorities' arrest of four retired military officers accused of the extrajudicial execution of six Jesuit priests and two women, on November 16, 1989, at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), in San Salvador. The arrests are important steps in a long search for justice.

According to media reports, in the context of a lawsuit in Spain, the international police agency Interpol requested the detention of 17 military officers accused of the killing of the Spanish Jesuit priests Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Armando López and Juan Ramón Moreno, as well as the Salvadoran Jesuit priest Joaquín López, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina Mariceth Ramos, a minor. Although previous efforts were not successful, on January 5, 2016, Interpol reissued the request, and the Civil National Police of El Salvador launched an operation to detain them.

The authorities reported that four officers have been arrested, including former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, who was accused of transmitting the order for the killing to the military unit, the Atlacatl Batallion; a former sergeant, Antonio Ramiro Ávalos Vargas; a former corporal, Angel Pérez Vasquez; and a former deputy sergeant, Tomás Zárpate Castillo.

The IACHR welcomes the statement made by President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, recommending the officers to “give themselves up”. According to media reports, President Sánchez Cerén said “There are people in hiding, we do not know if they left the country. But my recommendation is that they give themselves up so justice can decide if they will be extradited or not.”

“We congratulate the joint work of the Civil National Police of El Salvador with Interpol that made these arrests possible,” said the IACHR Country Rapporteur for El Salvador, Commissioner Margarette Macaulay. “This is an important first step towards justice. The IACHR will continue to closely follow the procedures,” she added.

On December 22, 1999, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights approved a merits report about this case. In the report, the IACHR concluded that the Salvadoran State, through agents of the Armed Forces, had violated the right to life of the Jesuit priests, and two women. It also concluded that the State had failed in its obligation to conduct a diligent and effective investigation into these violations, and in its obligation to prosecute and punish those responsible by means of impartial and effective procedures. According to the report, there was “evident abuse and misuse of power” in order to derail the investigation, resulting in a denial of justice, therefore the State had violated the right to judicial guarantees and to effective judicial protection. 

The IACHR Report also concluded that the approval of an amnesty law had violated rights protected by the American Convention, and that, as a consequence, the State of El Salvador had violated the right to justice and had failed in its obligation to investigate, prosecute and make reparations, to the prejudice of the victims' relatives and of members of the religious and academic community to which the victims belonged. Finally, the Report also established the Salvadoran State had violated the right to know the truth to the prejudice of the victims' relatives, the members of the religious and academic community to which the victims belonged, and Salvadoran society as a whole.

The Commission had recommended in the Merits Report of this case that the State of El Salvador conduct a full, impartial and effective investigation in an expeditious manner, consistent with international standards in order to identify, prosecute and punish all the material and intellectual authors of the violations determined, without reference to the amnesty that was decreed. Also, that it makes full reparations for the consequences of those violations, including the payment of fair compensation; and to render null and void the General Amnesty Law.

The IACHR considers it essential for the investigations to continue and to be completed in order to establish in national courts what happened and who is responsible. The progress made in this investigation is a step forward towards truth and justice and also towards the compliance by the State of El Salvador with its international human rights obligations.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 014/16