UNITED STATES, August 22nd. 2017 – Yesterday, Judge Terrence Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina dismissed the petition for habeas corpus filed by former Salvadoran colonel Inocente Orlando Montano. Col. Montano’s petition represented the last legal obstacle to his extradition to Spain where he faces charges of murder and terrorism for his role as a commander in the killing of six Jesuits priests, their housewife and her daughter in 1989 at the University of Central America in San Salvador. He may appeal the dismissal but experts give such an appeal little chance of success.
Previously, in February 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Swank had certified Montano’s extradition to the Secretary of State. She concluded that the evidence presented was sufficient to show that Montano, as the Deputy Minister for Public Security in El Salvador and member of the Military High Command at the relevant time, contributed to the planning of the killing of the Jesuits: “In short, the government’s evidence shows (Montano) was a decision-maker and member of a group of officers who collectively ordered the unlawful killings of Jesuit priests.”. The filing of Montano’s petition for habeas corpus stayed the execution of the judicial decision, though Judge Terrence Boyle denied Montano’s request for conditional release from jail in May 2017 and he remains in prison.
The killing of the Jesuits priests and their employees constituted a landmark in the long and tragic civil war in El Salvador. The killings generated international outrage and led to the negotiated resolution of the conflict a few years later.
Five of the victims were of Spanish nationality, which provided the Spanish courts with a jurisdictional basis to investigate the events and determine Montano’s responsibility for the commission of these crimes. In November 2008, international attorney Almudena Bernabeu while working at the Center for Justice & Accountability with pro bono assistance of attorneys and Professors Carolyn Patty Blum and Manuel Olle Sesé filed a criminal case on behalf of the families before the Spanish National Court. Since that time, Almudena Bernabéu co-founded the Guernica Group, an innovative legal group specializing in international criminal accountability with chapters in London, Madrid and the US and continues to represent the families in the criminal case before Spanish Courts. In 2011, Judge Eloy Velasco issued an indictment against twenty Salvadoran individuals, including Colonel Montano, and requested their extradition to Spain to face trial. Although many of the defendants remain in El Salvador, which has refused their extradition, Colonel Montano was apprehended by US authorities and his extradition granted.
Almudena Bernabéu, stated: “We are thrilled with this decision, it has been a long wait for the families, the Jesuit community and most importantly, for El Salvador. Colonel Montano’s extradition to Spain will finally provide the long awaited opportunity to have a trial and with it, lead to truth and justice for this terrible crime. We are honored to have been able to lead the victims’ efforts pursuing justice and accountability before the Spanish National Court and we look forward to doing so at the trial.”
Patty Blum, Guernica Board Chair stated: “The US government attorneys from Boston and North Carolina have tirelessly pursued Montano’s extradition. We hope that these efforts lead to the trial the Salvadoran people have long awaited.”
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