CELEBRATE ROMERO! CELEBRATE THE RIGHT TO TRUTH!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
On March 24th 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was brutally gunned down while celebrating mass in his native country of El Salvador. For several years, Romero was very vocal in denouncing human rights violations which were perpetuated on the most vulnerable sections of his country. He was a fierce critic of the Government and the military junta of his times. He did everything within his means to promote human dignity, protect the lives of innocent people and to oppose all forms of violence.
It was no secret therefore, that it was the Government of his day and other vested interests who decided that he had to be done away with.
Today, March 24th (thirty one years after his assassination), the United Nation observes his anniversary as the 'International Day for Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims'.
There is great significance to this day. Apart from honouring and recognizing the important work played by Romero, the day is intended:
· to honour the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and promote the importance of the right to truth and justice;
· to pay tribute to those who have devoted their lives to, and lost their lives in, the struggle to promote and protect human rights for all
The observance of such a day could not have come at a more propitious moment. Only last month, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders Ms. Margaret Sekaggya visited Ahmedabad and several other cities of India to assess the ground reality. The report she presented at a Press Conference on the conclusion of her visit was indeed alarming! Today, in Gujarat and other parts of India, several of those who take a stand for truth, human rights and justice are subject to intimidation and harassment by vested interests. RTI activists and other whistle blowers have even been killed. The powerful go to any length, to buy up people, co-opt them or even 'put them in their place'.
Truth, today, has become inconvenient to many. And of course, Gandhiji's 'Satyagraha' was a great source of discomfort to many. The easiest thing is to do away with such people: it doesn't matter if one is a Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero or for that matter an Amit Jethwa.
In a message for the Day, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says 'as we inaugurate this new international observance, let us recognize the indispensable role of the truth in upholding human rights – and let us pledge to defend the right to the truth as we pursue our global mission of human rights'.
On a day like this, we need to celebrate Oscar Romero but we also take a stand on behalf of those who work relentlessly for the right to the truth concerning gross Human Rights Violations and for the dignity of victims.
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
24th March, 2011
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052