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El Salvador high court refuses to arrest soldiers accused of murdering priests

The Supreme Court of El Salvador [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday blocked the arrests and extradition of nine former soldiers accused of committing the 1989 "Jesuit Massacre," defying Interpol [official website] red notices for the suspects. The court said that Spain had not presented a formal extradition request in its attempts to prosecute the individuals through universal jurisdiction [JURIST news archive], stating that Interpol's warrant only required the suspects to be located, not detained or extradited for trial elsewhere. However, the court did deny a claim by defendants [El Faro report, in Spanish] that their arrest was arbitrary. The "Jesuit Massacre" occurred during El Salvador's 12-year civil war [PBS backgrounder], when right-wing soldiers murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter for allegedly aiding the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Charges that the Jesuits stood with the FMLN were never proven. Although two of the soldiers who committed the massacre were tried and convicted in El Salvador, they were released after a year due to an amnesty pact. Spain indicted [JURIST report] 20 soldiers for the attack in May, as five of the slain priests were Spanish. One of the suspects, former El Salvadoran defense minister Inocente Orlando Montano, was charged earlier this week for immigration fraud [Boston Globe report] in the US District Court of Massachusetts [official website]. It is unknown if the US will extradite him to Spain under the same international indictment.

Around 70,000 people were killed during El Salvador's civil war before a 1992 UN-brokered agreement brought peace to the country. In the past decade, the US has made significant strides in prosecuting those involved in the El Salvadoran civil war. In April, the Obama administration charged [JURIST report] General Eugenio Vides Casanova, former defense minister of El Salvador, for human rights crimes committed during the civil war while he served as the country's top military officer. The US was also seeking to deport [La Pagina report, in Spanish] Vides, who retired in Florida after completing his six-year term as defense minister. In 2006, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld a $55 million verdict [JURIST report] against Vides and his co-defendant Jose Guillermo Garcia for allowing torture and other human rights violations during the war. In 2005, a US federal court reached a verdict against Nicolas Carranza, top commander of El Salvador's security forces during the civil war, for $2 million in compensatory damages [JURIST report]. The case was brought by five Salvadoran citizens who alleged torture or had family killed by Carranza's soldier during the war. In 2000, however, the US lost the battle to seek justice for the murders of four American churchwomen [NYT report] during the civil war when both Vides and Garcia were acquitted. The ruling was grounded in the doctrine that the generals, although responsible for their soldiers, may not have had complete effective power to reign in the abuses of their troops.

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