Rene Emilio Ponce

20.04.2016 ( Last modified: 10.06.2016 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Rene Emilio Ponce was born in El Salvador. He finished first in his class at the Salvadorian military academy in 1966 and pursued a career in the military. In 1989, he was the Colonel in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At dawn on 16 November 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 United Nations Salvadorian Truth Commission, Rene Emilio Ponce is to have ordered Colonel Guilermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno to kill the headmaster of the UCA on 15 November 1989. The minister of defence, General Rafael Humberto Larios, General Juan Rafael Bustillo and the Colonels Juan Orlando Zepeda, Inocente Orlando Montano and Francisco Elena Fuentes are also said to have been present at this meeting. Rene Emilio Ponce and Rafael Humberto Larios are also said to have had an audience with the president of El Salvador, Alfredo Cristiani a few hours before the massacre.

Since 1989, Rene Emilio Ponce has been promoted to the rank of General. He served as minister of defence between August 1990 and July 1993 but was forced to abandon this post shortly before the publication of the U.N. Truth Commission report that revealed his involvement in the Jesuit massacre. He resides in El Savaldor and is currently the president of the Association of Salvadorian Military Veterans (ASVEM). In this capacity, he led a protest against the proposed repeal of the 1992 amnesty law. The newspaper El Diario de Hoy quoted Rene Emilio Ponce as saying that El Salvador should choose reconciliation over bitterness and should therefore not reconsider this question of war crimes.

In March 2000, the UCA had asked the San Salvador prosecutor to open a new investigation into the murders of the Jesuit priests, including Rene Ponce’s involvement in the affair. No indictments resulted.

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 Rene Emilio Ponce, 13 other Salvadorian military officers and Alfredo Cristiani, the former Salvadorian president.


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 Rene Emilio Ponce, 13 other Salvadorian military officers and Alfredo Cristiani, the former Salvadorian president.

According to the complaint, Rene Emilio Ponce committed crimes against humanity, murders in the context of crimes against humanity, concealment of a crime and state terrorism.

Two months later, on 13 January 2009, the Spanish national Court opened an investigation on the case. The judge indicted Rene Emilio Ponce and the 13 other military officers, but he refused to indict former president Cristiani citing a lack of evidence and jurisdiction.

On 2 May 2011, Rene Emilio Ponce died due to his state of health at a military hospital in San Salvador.




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.


©2020 trialinternational.org | All rights reserved | Disclaimer | Statutes | Designed and Produced by ACW