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President Higgins welcomes historic ruling on El Salvador murders

Leonard Moloney SJ, the Irish Jesuit Provincial, has warmly welcomed the statement made by President Michael D Higgins regarding the conviction of former Colonel Inocente Montano for his part in the assassination of six Jesuits in El Salvador, along with their housekeeper and her daughter. The massacre took place in 1989, and just last week, Friday 12 September 2020, Montano was sentenced to 133 years by a Spanish court for the murder of five of the Jesuits, all of whom were Spanish.

President Higgins said that the conviction came on foot of “painstaking effort” and would be welcomed by human rights supporters all over the world. “The court’s verdict,” he noted, “is an encouraging development for all those who support international law, universal jurisdiction, and multilateral cooperation.”

Fr Moloney said he was grateful to President Higgins, not just for his statement, but for his many years working as an advocate of human rights causes around the world, not least in Latin America.

He said that Michael D Higgins had met with one of the murdered Jesuits, Ignacio Ellacuría SJ, in 1982 and had spoken out about state violence and human rights violations in El Salvador at that time. “The President was also an outspoken advocate of justice for Ignacio and for those who were murdered alongside him,” the Irish Jesuit Provincial continued, noting that “In 2013 the President visited the university campus where the massacre took place. And when I met him some time ago he raised the issue with me. I don’t think either of us thought then that we would have this verdict last week. President Higgins never forgot these Jesuits and their housekeeper Julian and her daughter Celina. I want to express my gratitude to him, on behalf of the Irish Jesuit Province for his commitment to justice for them down the years.”

Read President Michael D Higgin’s full statement below.

President Higgins welcomes historic ruling on El Salvador murders

“The decision of the highest court in Madrid concerning Col. Inocente Orlando Montano for his part in the murder of five Jesuit priests who were Spanish citizens will be welcomed by Human Rights supporters all over the world.

Liberation Theologian Ignacio Ellacuría was working on the peace process in El Salvador with his colleagues Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juam Ramón Moreno Pardo, Armando López and Joaquín López y López when they were murdered by members of La Tandona, a cabal of military officers who felt they would lose out if the peace process succeeded. Julia Elba Ramos, who worked in the Jesuits’ house, and her 16-year-old daughter Celina Ramos were also murdered, in an effort to destabilise the peace process in El Salvador.

In 1982 Sally O’Neill Sanchez and I travelled with Ignacio Ellacuría, the Spanish-Salvadoran Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian, throughout El Salvador, to hear from the victims of the State violence – including the relatives of the massacre of El Mozote by forces who had the support of the U.S. government.

The court’s verdict is an encouraging development for all those who support international law, universal jurisdiction and multilateral cooperation. While for legal reasons the Spanish court was able only to convict for the pre-meditated murders of the five Spanish citizens, it considered Montano to be responsible for the deaths of all eight people killed.

The verdict has done a great service not just to the people of El Salvador, but to the country’s judicial system as it continues to try to shine the light of justice on the violence and brutality that sought to destabilise a fragile peace process.

The decision to extradite Col. Orlando Montano came after painstaking effort. I congratulate all those involved.

I welcome the court’s verdict and pay tribute to all those who continue to work for justice for all the victims of the violence.

It was a great honour for me, in 2013, to visit the university where the murdered six men, their cook and her daughter lived and worked, and to pay tribute to them, their colleagues and those who worked to keep their memory alive.

At the time, I stated that ‘the UCA Jesuits will be remembered, not only for their tragic deaths, but also, and foremost, for their deeply felt and passionately argued philosophy which contributed so much to the development of new paradigms for Latin America’s poor’.”

ENDS