President Obama’s human-rights policy took an important step forward last week when he announced a ban on entry visas for anyone who is believed to have committed significant violations.
But what about alleged human rights violators who are already here? There are at least two Spain would like to meet, as they’ve been indicted for one of El Salvador’s most notorious war crimes.
It’s been almost 22 years since the November night when a cabal of Salvadoran soldiers stormed the University of Central America with orders from the top: Kill the rector, Ignacio Ellacuría, and don’t leave any witnesses. Rev. Ellacuría was viewed by the Salvadoran military as a leftist sympathizer, and the government did not like his efforts to broker peace with rebels.
Six Jesuit priests, including Rev. Ellacuría, were murdered, as was the housekeeper and her teenage daughter.
A trial riddled with irregularities later followed, but most of the suspects were acquitted or later set free under a widely criticized amnesty law that gave blanket pardons to everyone. Amnesty should not protect the wrongdoers who, in the role of government officials, approved their own pardons.
Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco is using his country’s authority under international and domestic law to order a trial in Madrid, because five of the victims were Spanish nationals. And Velasco is rightly going further than Salvadoran courts ever did: Acting on a lawsuit filed by the California-based Center for Justice & Accountability, he indicted the top military brass implicated in the murders. The indictment included two former ministers of defense, a vice minister and a handful of generals. They are still among the country’s most powerful men, and how the judiciary handles their fate tests the nation’s young democracy.
This week, nine of them, including a former minister of defense, turned themselves in at a military garrison in San Salvador. In a sign that things have changed in that Central American nation, the case was immediately turned over to a civilian court. That was the right thing to do.
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