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El Salvador amnesty dismays activists and church leaders.

WASHINGTON -- Religious leaders and justice advocates have expressed disappointment in the March 31 release of two army officers who were serving 30-year sentences for the 1989 murderers of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador.

Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides and Lt. Yusshy Mendoza are the first to be freed under a new Salvadoran law, providing a blanket pardon for political crimes committed during El Salvador's 12-year civil war. The measure will prevent prosecution of military officers who, according to the United Nation's Truth Commission Report, ordered large-scale massacres of civilians and ran death squads.

Enactment of the law, passed by the Salvadoran National Assembly, follows the March release of the report, which claims that the Salvadoran military had been responsible for the majority of crimes during the war.

According to a recent report in The Washington Post, amnesty will also likely result in the pardons of national guardsmen who were jaile for the 1980 rape and murder of four North American churchwomen: Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missioner Jean Donovan.

"The ink was barely dry on th Truth Commission's report." Maryknoll Sister Marie Moore said recently, "when President (Alfredo) Cristiani proposed an amnesty, saying |if we really want reconciliation, we won't be doing any good wasting our time on the past."

Moore said this contempt for memory, for the truth of the past, precludes any genuine reconcilliation. "Any amnesty which effectively grants impunity for human rights violators invites repetition of these same crimes, rather than reconciliation," she added. "Revealing the truth is only the first step."

Likewise, Marist Father Ted Keating, justic and peace director for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, said that granting amnesty was premature and contributed to maintaining a weak judicial system in El Salvador. "We are not seeking vengeance, but we do want accountability," Keating said.

An official of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby, said the group deplored the Salvadoran government's disregard for international law governing human rights violations and war crimes. "It is unconscionable that the government chose to use the release of the Truth Commission Report as an excuse to justify its actions," said Mercy Sister Kathy Thornton, Network national coordinator.

The publication of the 200-page U.N. report (not yet released in English translation) was seen by many as a first step in developing a process of accountability from the governments of both El Salvador and the Unite States.

"The work of truth-telling has but begun," said Father William Callahan, codirector of Quixote Center, a Central American human rights group. "It must not be short-circuite by a premature amnesty which attempts to cover up further revelations of wrongdoing. This includes complicity by the U.S. government in the death squads and the pattern of violence used by the Salvadoran soldiers trained and advised by the U.S. military."

On Capital Hill, Cristiani's grant of amnesty was called a "mistake" by Jim McGovern, press secretary for Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.). Moakley headed the 1989-92 speaker's task force on El Salvador, charged with monitoring the investigation of the murders of the Jesuits.

"It was disappointing and irresponsible for the Salvadoran National Assembly to sweep the crimes under the rug," McGovern said. "We must find constructive ways to prevent this from happening again."
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Author:Vidulich, Dorothy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Apr 16, 1993
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