Inocente Orlando Montano Morales

18.10.2016 ( Last modified: 09.07.2019 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Facts

Inocente Orlando Montano Morales was born on 4 July 1943 in San Vincente, El Salvador. In 1989 Orlando Montano held the rank of Colonel in the Salvadoran army and served as Vice Minister of Defense and Public Safety.

From 1980 to 1992, El Salvador was torn apart by non-international armed conflict between the rebel Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the Government, led by the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA).

In this context, on 16 November 1989, six Jesuit priests, a cook and her 16 years old daughter were killed at the Pastoral centre of José Simeón Cañas Central American University in San Salvador (UCA). The victims were identified as Fathers Ignacio Ellacuría, Rector of the University; Ignacio Martín-Baró, Vice-Rector; Segundo Montes, Director of the Human Rights Institute; Armando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno, all teachers at the UCA; and Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina Ramos.

These murders were investigated by the Truth Commission, established in 1992 following the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords. According to the findings by the Truth Commission, Colonel René Emilio Ponce ordered Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides to kill Father Ignacio Ellacuría and to eliminate potential witnesses.

On 16 November 1989, a group of soldier from the Atlacatl Battalion entered the Pastoral Centre of the UCA. These soldiers attempted to force their way into the building, until the priests opened the doors to them, allowing them to enter. The priests were then forced to lie face down in the garden, while the soldiers were searching the residence.

Lieutenant Guerra allegedly gave the order to kill the priests. A soldier called Grimaldi allegedly shot dead  Fathers Ellacuria, Martín-Baró and Montes, while Deputy Sergeant Antonio Avalos Vargas allegedly killed Fathers López and Moreno.

Subsequently, Father Joaquín López y López was reportedly killed by Pérez Vasquez, while Deputy Sergeant Tomás Zarpate Castillo shot dead both Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina Mariceth Ramos. Subsequently, a soldier named José Alberto Sierra Ascencio returned and shot them both again to make sure they were dead.

Finally, according to the Truth Commission, the soldiers fired soldiers fired machine guns, grenades and rockets at the front of the residence and left a sign saying: The FMLN executed those who spied on them. Victory or death, FMLN.

Legal Procedure

PROCEEDINGS IN THE USA

On 23 August 2011, the US authorities arrested Orlando Montano for federal immigration fraud. He was indicted on 10 February 2012 for false declarations to the US authorities regarding the date of his entry to the territory and his military training in El Salvador. In September 2012, he pled guilty, acknowledging that he had given false statements. His trial took place in August 2013 and he was sentenced to 21 months in prison on 27 August 2013.

 

PROCEEDINGS IN SPAIN

On 13 November 2008, the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE) and the Centre for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed a complaint before the Spanish National Court against former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani Burkard and 14 former military officers and soldiers for their alleged roles in killing of the 6 Jesuit Priests, their housekeeper and her daughter and the cover-up of these crimes.

On 13 January 2009, Judge Eloy Velasco, the judge of the Sixth Chamber of the Spanish National Court, formally charged 14 former officers with murder, crimes against humanity and state terrorism for their role in the massacre. Those indicted included Colonel Ponce, former head of the Armed Forces at the time of the murders, General Rafael Humberto Larios, former Minister of Defence, Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda, former Vice Minister of Defence, and Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, former Vice Minister for Public Safety.

On 31 March 2011, Spain issued an international arrest warrant against Orlando Montano and other former Salvadoran military officials for their involvement in the murders of 16 November 1989. Due to an amendment to the Spanish laws in 2014, the charges included in the 2011 arrest warrant were limited to terrorism and murder. Jurisdiction was justified on the ground that five of the murdered Jesuit priests were Spanish citizens.

On 30 May 2011, the Spanish National Court issued an indictment which added six new defendants to the original fourteen. The court also issued international arrest warrants against all the accused.

On 4 November 2011, the Spanish authorities issued a request for extradition urging the US authorities to allow the extradition of Orlando Montano from the United States to Spain to face trial for the murder of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter.

On 5 January 2016, a judge from the Eastern District of North Carolina approved the extradition request for Orlando Montano to Spain. On 1 April 2016, his lawyers filed a petition for a writ seeking habeas corpus to reverse the extradition order.

On 21 August 2017, the US Eastern District Court of North Carolina dismissed his petition for habeas corpus finding no irregularity in the extradition proceedings and no basis upon which the petitioner’s request for release could be granted.

On 15 November 2017, the Supreme Court dismissed Orlando Montano’s last request to halt his extradition to Spain.

On 29 November 2017, he was extradited to Spain and placed in police custody.

The case was also re-opened in Salvador.

On 12 July 2018, the criminal chamber of the National Court of Spain (Audiencia Nacional, Sala de lo Penal) partially allowed the appeal lodged by the accused and lifted charges of crimes against humanity  which the examining magistrate excluded from the proceedings in 2014.

Context

In January 1932, a peasant revolt against the regime was crushed and 30’000 civil, mainly indigenous people, were massacred by the military. After this event, the Salvadoran military dominated the government and the conflict between the left and the right wings became a commonplace.

On 15 October 1979, moderate officers overturned the dictator Carlos Humberto Romero and formed the Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG). In January 1980, right-wing violence broke out, including attentats against government newspapers, kidnappings and murders.

On 24 March 1980, Archbishop Romero who denounced the death squad slaughters and preached for justice was assassinated. On the day of his funeral, about 250’000 persons gathered in the cathedral where the ceremony was taking  place. Snipers attacked the crowd and killed 42 persons  and wounded about 200 others. This massacre triggered civil war which lasted for 12 years.

In December 1980, four American churchwomen were raped and murdered, allegedly by military and paramilitary forces. Despite these outrageous crimes, the US President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, reasserted his support to the Salvadoran military government

Throughout the 1980s, the US-backed Salvadoran military forces and paramilitary forces kept fighting against the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, created in September 1980 by five major leftist revolutionary organizations. Systematic human rights and humanitarian law violations including torture, mutilation, forced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and rape, were committed.

The horror at the Jesuit Massacre in Novembre 1989 led to a creation of a special investigative task force by the US Congressman Joseph Moakley. Its findings revealed that the high command of the Salvadoran army was responsible for the murders.

The same report also introduced an international process to end the conflict and to reduce the US support to the right-wing Salvadoran government which had reached approximately US$ 4 billion, including money, weapons and training of El Salvador’s military during the conflict.

It is estimated that 75’000 people died during the civil war, which ended with the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Agreements on 16 January 1992. The UN-backed Truth Commission was established to investigate the violations committed since 1980s. The Commission presented its final report on 15 March 1993, documenting thousands of killings, disappearances and acts of torture. The experts also named individuals allegedly responsible for those human rights as well as humanitarian law violations and attributed the overwhelming majority of the violations to the Salvadoran armed forces and the paramilitaries. The Commission included a series of recommendations, calling for investigations to be carried out and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

On 20 March 1993, five days after the release of this report and recommendations, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly adopted a blanket amnesty law, preventing prosecutions of wartime crimes. In 1999, the Inter-American Commission considered that El Salvador’s amnesty law violated international law by foreclosing further investigation of the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and the two women.

On 14 July 2016, the Constitutional Court judged that the 1993 amnesty law is unconstitutional and violates El Salvador’s international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions. It also ruled that the statute of limitations does not apply to crimes against humanity. The ruling states that the government has an obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes” and to provide reparations to victims.

The annulation of this blanket amnesty will hopefully lead to investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the 12 years long civil war.