Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigaberta Menchu on the Romero Trial
- ~~~~ 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
By RIGOBERTA MENCHU TUM
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
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
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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