On August 27, 2013, a U.S. federal district court in Boston sentenced Salvadoran former Col. Inocente Montano to 21-months in prison for immigration fraud and perjury. The court found that Montano had lied on two applications for Temporary Protected Status in the United States by affirming that he had never been involved in the persecution of anyone because of political opinion or membership in a social group.
Col. Montano was a senior military commander in El Salvador before entering the U.S. in 2001. His military history was at the core of the government’s argument against him. Stanford University Professor Terry Karl, an expert for the government, testified that Col. Montano was among those responsible for killings of Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her 16-year-old daughter in 1989 at the University of Central America (UCA). Prof. Karl discussed Col. Montano’s military background and his involvement with many human rights violations during the 12-year-long civil war in El Salvador in her expert report.
The Boston immigration case was not the only judicial action against Montano. The Colonel was also among those named in a case brought in Spain by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) under that country’s universal jurisdiction law. The Spanish case names several former Salvadoran military commanders as responsible for the Jesuit killings.
The Spanish Government recently sent an extradition request for Montano to the United States Department of Justice. The Colonel is entitled to a hearing regarding this request. If the government responds positively to the request, however, it is quite possible that Montano could be extradited before his release date in the Boston case.
While in U.S. custody, Montano is particularly vulnerable to extradition to Spain. During his sentencing hearing, much of the testimony focused on alleged human rights violations, which had implications for the case against him in the Spanish courts. Another reason for Montano’s vulnerability is that, in contrast to other defendants in the Spanish case, Montano cannot take advantage of impunity by residing in El Salvador. Thus, Montano will most likely face extradition to Spain for alleged human rights violations. Both his vulnerability to extradition and the focus of the Boston case testimonies on alleged human rights violations lend significance to the U.S. immigration case against Montano.
Through the case of the Chilean former president, Augusto Pinochet, the world witnessed that the application of universal jurisdiction is not theoretical but practical. In the case of the former Chilean coup leader, Spain applied international law effectively in trying Pinochet for crimes against humanity. The Pinochet case is a milestone in the post-Nuremberg application of international human rights law. CJA and other human rights organizations believe that the Jesuit massacre case will be the second example of the effective application of universal jurisdiction. Perhaps foreshadowing this eventuality, during the Montano sentencing hearing Judge Douglas P. Woodlock referenced the Nuremberg trials, saying, “In El Salvador, there was a war, there are victims, and there has been a crime.”
Posted by PHRGE Post-Graduate Fellow, Duygu Sener and Kevin Murray
- Ex-Salvadoran colonel gets US prison sentence (nzherald.co.nz)
- Ex-Salvadoran colonel gets US prison sentence (boston.com)
- One (Small) Step Closer to Justice: The 1989 Jesuits Massacre in El Salvador (voxxi.com)
- Ex-Salvadoran Colonel Gets US Prison Sentence (abcnews.go.com)
- Salvadoran Facing Immigration Sentence – ABC News (abcnews.go.com)
- Death squad chief faces trial after 20 years (bbc.co.uk)