Spanish Court Upholds Right to Investigate Jesuit Murders

Crime scene photos from November 16, 1989 show the Jesuits bodies on the lawn outside the Jesuit residence in San Salvador

Crime scene photos from November 16, 1989 show the Jesuits bodies on the lawn outside the Jesuit residence in San Salvador

BY ISN STAFFOctober 4, 2014

In a major reversal of recent legislation that curtailed Spanish jurisdiction over international crimes, the full Criminal Chambers of the Spanish National Court has decided unanimously that Spain has jurisdiction to investigate the November 16, 1989 massacre of the Jesuits and their two companions murdered at the University of Central America as crimes against humanity, according to a press release distributed by the Center for Justice and Accountability.

Earlier in 2014, after the conservative Popular Party of Spain approved the Universal Jurisdiction reform, Judge Eloy Velasco, who had previously indicted 20 Salvadoran military officials for murder, terrorism, and crimes against humanity, rejected the crime against humanity claim and decided to continue only with terrorism. The Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) and the Spanish Pro Human Rights Association (APDHE) filed an appeal, which led to the Criminal Chambers’s decision to uphold our arguments and unanimously order the crimes against humanity claim to be preserved and restated. The panel further explained that upon having asserted jurisdiction over a set of criminal facts that constitute the state terrorism crime, Spanish Judges have jurisdiction over all other crimes connected to the facts investigated, even if that crime is a crime against humanity.

The Jesuits Massacre Case was originally filed by the San Francisco-based CJA and APDHE, a Spanish human rights association, on November 13, 2008. CJA and APDHE represent the family of one of the Spanish priests who was killed, Ignacio Martin Baro.  More information on CJA’s work on the Jesuits’ murder case can be found here.

November 16, 2014, will mark twenty-five years since Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J., Segundo Montes, S.J., Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J., Joaquín López y López, S.J., Amando López, S.J. and their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her 15 year-old daughter Celina Ramos, were murdered at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador.  The Ignatian Solidarity Network, in part was formed out of the U.S. Jesuit’s response to the murders, which included bringing attention to the role of U.S. training of Salvadoran military involved with the murders at the former U.S. Army School of the Americas and significant arms funding of the Salvadoran military throughout the twelve-year civil war.

ISN delegates during a Feast of Ignatius Liturgy at the site of Archbishop Oscar Romero's murder.

ISN delegates during a Feast of Ignatius Liturgy at the site of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s murder.

Earlier this year, the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) organized a delegation to El Salvador in honor of the 25th anniversary year.  Forty-five delegates representing over 25 U.S. Jesuit institutions participated in the nine-day experience and included faculty, staff, students and alumni. Throughout the nine-day trip the delegates met with a wide array of individuals including Andrieu Olivia, S.J., president of the University of Central America, world-renowned liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, S.J., as well as non-governmental organization leaders and community leaders.  The group also spent a weekend staying with families in rural communities where the Jesuits had served prior to their murders.

During the trip Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network spoke with Catholic News Service about the continued need for justice related to the Jesuits’ murders.  “It’s disappointing that justice has not come yet, but we know who did it, we know what happened, and what’s good is that we are moving forward toward seeking justice,” said Kerr. “There will be a day when we do see a clear decision to seek justice.”

Loyola High School of Los Angeles students

Loyola High School of Los Angeles students during the 2013 Teach-In Advocacy Day.

ISN will coordinate the largest U.S. commemoration of the Jesuits and their companions during the 17th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice from November 15 to 17 in Washington, D.C.  The Teach-In is the largest annual Catholic social justice conference, attracting over 1,200 individuals from Jesuit institutions and the larger Church.  This year’s commemoration includes the national premiere of “Blood in the Backyard,” a documentary about the Jesuits’ murders produced by Loyola Productions.

On Monday, November 17, Teach-In delegates will visit Capitol Hill to advocate for a number of social justice issues, including human rights oriented U.S. policy in Central America and comprehensive immigration reform.  Keynote speakers include Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J., a Jesuit human rights activist from Honduras, Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, and Michael Lee, Ph.D., an associate professor of systematic theology at Fordham University and author of Ignacio Ellacuria: Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation.


The Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) is a national social justice network inspired by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola. ISN was founded in 2004 and is a lay-led 501(c)3 organization working in partnership with Jesuit universities, high schools, and parishes, along with many other Catholic institutions and social justice partners.

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