Alfredo Cristiani Burkard

20.04.2016 ( Last modified: 10.06.2016 )
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Alfredo Cristiani Burkard was born in San Salvador on November 22, 1947.

Educated at the American School in San Salvador and at Georgetown University in the United States, Alfredo Cristiani was principally a businessman until the early 1980s. In 1985, he became the head of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), a right-wing political party founded by Roberto d’Aubuisson, the former director of the Salvadorian national intelligence agency. Alfredo Cristiani became president of El Salvador in 1989 and served in this position until 1994.

At dawn on November 16 1989, Salvadorian military troops invaded the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” (UCA) and brutally murdered six Jesuit priests, including the headmaster, as well as the university’s housekeeper and her daughter. According to the report of the Salvadorian United Nations Truth Commission and to the indictment issued by the National Court of Spain, Alfredo Cristiani is said to have been in contact with the headmaster of UCA and to have asked him to return to El Salvador from Spain a few days before he was murdered. It is also alleged that Alfredo Cristani was in daily contact with those who organized the crime. He is accused of being directly involved with the concealment of the crime and with the obstruction of the investigation that followed the murders.

On November 13, 2008, the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE) and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed a suit with the Spanish National Court against Alfredo Cristiani and 14 Salvadorian military officers and soldiers. Two months later, on January 13, 2009, the Court opened an investigation.


legal procedure

On 13 November 2008, the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE) and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed a suit with the Spanish National Court against Alfredo Cristiani and 14 Salvadorian military officers and soldiers.

Two months later, on 13 January 2009, the Court opened an investigation. On the same day, the examining magistrate refused to indict Alfredo Cristiani in this investigation because he considered that there was not enough information to indict him for direct participation in the murders. Furthermore, the judge found that universal jurisdiction did not apply for the crime of concealment. However, the judge left open the possibility of revisiting his decision.




El Salvador’s history has been shaped by numerous internal conflicts. Clashes occurred at the end of the 70s between the regular army, paramilitary far right groups, and armed groups from the far left. In an attempt to fight the rebel groups, the government set up death squads. In October 1979, a Revolutionary Government Junta came into power following a coup, and sought to conduct centrist policies to which the armed far right groups, the ‘ARENA’ (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista), and the far left groups, the ‘FMLN’ (Frente Martí Liberación Nacional) were opposed. Over the course of twelve years, trained by the United States, the Salvadoran army opposed the FMLN guerrillas. This led to the death of over 70,000 people and disappearances of an unknown number of people, as well as great financial loss.

Throughout the conflict, the regular army of El Salvador was responsible for acts of torture, enforced disappearances and the murder of civilians, most of whom were trade unionists, members of the clergy, farmers, teachers, students, journalists, human rights activists, and all those working for the greater good of the poor, or those suspected of collaborating with the guerrilla forces. Death squads terrorized the people by publishing lists of future victims, or by sending them invitations to their own funerals. In 1980, more people were killed in El Salvador than in all other Latin American countries combined.


The conflict ended in 1992 with the signing of the Chapultepec peace treaty negotiated by the UN. Thanks to the treaty, a civil police force was created and the FMLN became a political party. The treaty also put in place a Commission of Truth whose objective was to investigate the acts of violence committed since 1980, and to recommend methods that encourage national reconciliation. Over 22,000 complaints of serious human rights violations committed in El Salvador between January 1980 and July 1991 were recorded by this commission, who then published a report in 1993. The report outlined the responsibilities of various members of the Salvadoran army, the death squads and the FMLN.


However, 5 days after the Commission of Truth’s report was published, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly adopted an amnesty law that covered all crimes committed during the civil war. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights had already stated that it considered the amnesty laws of numerous Latin American countries to be incompatible with the American Convention in regards to human rights, that these laws have no legal effect, and that they should not represent a hindrance to investigations and the opening of prosecution of the alleged perpetrators of human rights violations, and the sentencing of those found guilty. In December 2012 the Court affirmed this view in the El Mozote massacre case and explicitly declared the Salvadoran amnesty law incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights.


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