MADRID – A Spanish judge on Monday ordered the arrest of 20 soldiers from El Salvador over the 1989 murders of six Jesuits priests, five of them Spanish, and two women who worked with them.
The order was the latest development to an action started in 2008 when two rights groups denounced Alfredo Cristiani, El Salvador’s president at the time, and 14 senior military figures for the killings.
Judge Eloy Velasco had already ruled in January 2009 that there was a case to answer.
On November 16, 1989, Salvadoran troops shot dead the Jesuits at the Central American University. They also killed a women who worked there as their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter.
The victims included Ignacio Ellacuria, the rector of the university, and his deputy, Ignacio Martin Baro.
In San Salvador rights groups hailed the move as an important step towards justice.
The judge’s decision “gives us encouragement to continue the fight against impunity,” Miguel Montenegro, director of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES), told AFP.
Ten Salvadoran soldiers were convicted of the killings in 1991, but a amnesty for crimes committed during the country’s 1980-1992 civil war meant they were set freed in 1993.
Abraham Abrego, deputy director of the Foundation for the Application and Study of Law, an independent human-rights organization, also welcomed the “positive” development in the case, hailing the possibility of it being brought before an international court because the Salvadoran judicial system had not properly probed the killings.
Spain’s ambassador to San Salvador at the time, Fernando Alvarez de Miranda, had said the killings were backed by “the highest levels” of the military.