Prosecution of alleged intellectuals of the Jesuit masacre is coming

The process will go to the third criminal chamber and then to the Third Peace Court so that the accused are notified of the process and an initial hearing is convened. The Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado reported yesterday that the Criminal Chamber declared inadmissible the appeals filed by those accused of the massacre of Jesuit priests Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín Baro, Segundo Montes Mozo, Joaquín López y López, Amando López and Juan Ramón Moreno, and the collaborators Julia Elba Ramos and her youngest daughter Celina Mariceth Ramos.

«The appeals filed by the defendants Juan Orlando Zepeda Herrera, Francisco Elena Fuentes, and Rafael Humberto Larios López are declared inadmissible,» the resolution details. According to a ruling by the Third Peace Court and the Third Criminal Chamber, these retired high-ranking military chiefs should be prosecuted together with former President Alfredo Félix Cristiani Burkard, Juan Rafael Bustillo, and Inocente Orlando Montano for the crime of the murder of the six Jesuits and two collaborators.

In November 2020, the previous Criminal Chamber admitted the appeals and decreed «absolute nullity», with which the case was closed in the face of criticism from the families of the victims and the UCA. However, the ruling has now been reversed, and the current magistrates have declared the inadmissibility of the appeals that sought to close the process.

Now this case will go to the Third Criminal Chamber and then to the Third Peace Court so that the accused are notified of the process and an initial hearing is convened. The date for developing this hearing will be defined by the aforementioned court, which is the one that hears the process against those accused of being intellectual authors of the massacre perpetrated on November 16, 1989.

In the appeals presented by the military, they had requested to annul the resolution that ordered the reopening of the case, considering it a violation of fundamental rights of legal certainty and the principle of legality, since the criminal actions, — according to them — were already prescribed.

However, this massacre, like others that occurred in the civil war, is considered a crime against humanity and therefore does not prescribe, although after the peace agreements (signed in 1992 by those who participated in the war) they created a General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace (LAGCP), which protected possible intellectuals from this and other massacres for more than three decades.

Background and retroactivity

The resolution of the previous Criminal Chamber indicated that by the date the crime occurred, the 1983 Constitution was in force in the country, which established the prohibition of retroactivity of the unfavorable law. The current magistrates clarified that this rule could not be applied in this process, since retroactivity was incorporated on April 20, 1998, when the Code of Criminal Procedure came into force, so it is applicable.

On April 16, 2018, the Third Peace Court of San Salvador ordered the Prosecutor’s Office to present a new accusation against the alleged intellectuals who were definitively exonerated.

In 1991, only nine soldiers were prosecuted, of whom only Guillermo Benavides and Yusshy Mendoza were sentenced to 30 years in prison, but Benavides regained his freedom two years later, when the Amnesty law came into force. However, he was recaptured in July 2016, when the Constitutional Chamber annulled the amnesty.

The other person convicted of the massacre is Inocente Montano, who is serving a 133-year sentence in Spain. The rest of those involved remain at large, with the exception of the deceased René Emilio Ponce (2011) and Francisco Elena Fuentes (January 2022).