Spain's National Court on Monday indicted 20 Salvadorans for their roles in the killings of eight people in November 1989. The group is composed of ex-military officials and even a former defense minister. A notorious episode of El Salvador's 12-year civil war [PBS backgrounder], the "Jesuit Massacre" saw six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter shot dead by soldiers at the prestigious Central American University in San Salvador. At the time, CNN had reported that for years the extreme right of the US-backed conservative government had accused the Jesuits of siding with the leftist guerrilla rebels [CNN report] of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) during the war, and that uniformed troops searched the residences at the University two days before the shootings. Shortly before he was killed, one of the Jesuits spoke to CNN about the war, saying that they had become accused to the violence. Five of the slain priests were born in Spain. The case was filed using Spain's universal jurisdiction [JURIST news archive] law, which holds that some crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere. The court issued international warrants to Spanish police and Interpol, ordering that the accused appear before the Spanish courts within 10 days. Around 70,000 people were killed during El Salvador's civil war before a 1992 UN-brokered agreement brought peace to the country.
In the past decade, the US has made significant strides in prosecuting those involved in the El Salvadoran civil war. In April, the Obama administration charged [JURIST report] General Eugenio Vides Casanova, former defense minister of El Salvador, for human rights crimes committed during the civil war while he served as the country's top military officer. The US was also seeking to deport [La Pagina report, in Spanish] Vides, who retired in Florida after completing his six-year term as defense minister. In 2006, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld a $55 million verdict [JURIST report] against Vides and his co-defendant Jose Guillermo Garcia for allowing torture and other human rights violations during the war. In 2005, a US federal court reached a verdict against Nicolas Carranza, top commander of El Salvador's security forces during the civil war, for $2 million in compensatory damages [JURIST report]. The case was brought by five Salvadoran citizens who alleged torture or had family killed by Carranza's soldier during the war. In 2000, however, the US lost the battle to seek justice for the murders of four American churchwomen [NYT report] during the civil war when both Vides and Garcia were acquitted. The ruling was grounded in the doctrine that the generals, although responsible for their soldiers, may not have had complete effective power to reign in the abuses of their troops.