President Michael D. Higgins has welcomed a decision by a court in Spain to sentence a former Salvadoran army colonel to 133 years in prison for the murder of five Spanish Jesuit priests in the Latin American country in 1989.
Inocente Orlando Montano, 77, was found guilty of “terrorist murder”.
The killings happened during El Salvador’s civil war, when Catholic priests were often accused by the government of collaborating with left-wing paramilitaries.
The president recalled how he travelled to the country in 1982 with the overseas development agency of the Church in Ireland Tróciare. “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 US government.
“The court’s verdict is an encouraging development for all those who support international law, universal jurisdiction and multilateral cooperation,” the president said.
Mr Higgins (79) said “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.
“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’,” Mr Higgins said.
Col. Montano – who was extradited from the US – had denied wrongdoing. However, the court found him responsible for eight murders.
But it could not convict him for the killings of three Salvadorans – the priests’ housekeeper and her teenage daughter, and a sixth Jesuit priest – because his extradition to Spain did not cover these cases.