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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigaberta Menchu on the Romero Trial

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    ~~~~ Nobel Peace Prize winner write about the Mons. Oscar Romero verdict in the New York Times. This article was written just before the historic verdict was
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2004
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      ~~~~ Nobel Peace Prize winner write about the Mons.
      Oscar Romero verdict in the New York Times. This
      article was written just before the historic verdict
      was handed down in the civil suit, a verdict which
      held the defendant responsible for the assassination
      of Romero. CISPES-LA~~~~~

      Justice Comes for the Archbishop

      Guatemala City Nearly 25 years after Archbishop Oscar
      Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass in San
      Salvador, a chance for justice has finally appeared. A
      judge is expected to rule on Friday in a landmark
      lawsuit brought against a man accused of being an
      accomplice in the murder. The venue, however, is not a
      Salvadoran tribunal but a federal court in Fresno,
      Calif., where a longtime United States resident,
      �lvaro Saravia, faces civil charges for helping carry
      out orders to have Archbishop Romero killed.

      Mr. Saravia, a former Salvadoran air force captain and
      close associate of Roberto d'Aubuisson, the founder of
      El Salvador's ruling right-wing party, is accused of
      obtaining the assassin's gun, arranging for his
      transportation to the chapel, and paying him
      afterwards. The suit, filed on behalf of a relative of
      the archbishop by the Center for Justice and
      Accountability, a human rights group, seeks damages
      for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity.
      Evidence was presented last week, and although Mr.
      Saravia has gone into hiding and is being tried in
      absentia, if the judge finds him liable he will face
      monetary damages.

      This case is being watched closely throughout Central
      America, where fragile new democracies suffer the
      lingering effects of unpunished wartime crimes. The
      failure to bring human rights violators to justice
      encourages more violence, as the killing of Archbishop
      Romero and the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan
      Gerardi in Guatemala sadly illustrated. The lack of
      arrests in the Romero murder was a signal that
      Salvadoran armed forces and paramilitary groups
      enjoyed impunity for their crimes, quickening the
      country's descent into a brutal 12-year civil war that
      left more than 75,000 civilians dead.

      Countries emerging from civil conflict must reconcile
      the dual needs of consolidating stability and pursuing
      justice, a difficulty easily exploited by those intent
      on protecting their own interests. In El Salvador, a
      sweeping amnesty law rendered the 1993 findings of a
      United Nations truth commission legally irrelevant.
      That commission found Mr. d'Aubuisson (who died in
      1992) and Mr. Saravia responsible for Archbishop
      Romero's murder, but neither man could be prosecuted
      in his homeland.

      Thus the best chance for justice stems from the
      coincidence of Mr. Saravia's residency - he has been
      in America since at least 1987. Through the Alien Tort
      Claims Act of 1789, the United States allows foreign
      citizens to sue people living within American borders.
      Fortunately, this summer in a case involving the
      kidnapping of a Mexican doctor, the Supreme Court
      decided against the Bush administration and affirmed
      the applicability of the act in human rights cases.

      The Saravia trial, while an inspiring exercise in
      American law, does raise disturbing questions about
      United States policy. How did Mr. Saravia come to live
      in California in the first place? Declassified State
      Department and Central Intelligence Agency documents
      reveal that the government was aware of Mr. Saravia's
      alleged involvement in the Romero assassination as
      early as May 1980. The trial also represents an
      opportunity to examine, albeit obliquely, the
      responsibility of the Salvadoran government and its
      closest ally, the United States, in the events that
      led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Salvadoran

      It is a sort of redemption, then, that the first trial
      in this murder is taking place in an American court.
      Let us hope that justice will be served at last in the
      case of ?car Romero, and that it will inspire the
      governments of the United States, El Salvador and
      other nations to prosecute the many human rights
      abusers who live openly among us.

      Rigoberta Mench?Tum was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
      in 1992.

      Committee In Solidarity With The People of El Salvador
      8124 West 3rd Street L.A. Ca. 90048
      Founded: 1980 - 23 Years of Solidarity

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