"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."Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 24 March 2011
Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador (on the left) was assassinated on March 24, 1980 and Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, of Poland was tortured and assassinated on October 19, 1984.
On December 21, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 24 as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. According to the proclamation the purpose of this day is to:
- Honor the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and promote the importance of the right to truth and justice;
- 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;
- Recognize, in particular, the important work and values of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, who was assassinated on 24 March 1980, after denouncing violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable populations and defending the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence.
It also seems appropriate today to honor and pay tribute to Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, of Poland, who was kidnapped, tortured and assassinated on October 19, 1984 by sharing an excerpt from his February 28, 1982 sermon:
"The church always stands on the side of truth. The church always stands on the side of people who are victimized. Today the church stands on the side of those who have lost their freedom, whose conscience is being broken. Today the church stands on the side of Solidarity, on the side of the working people, who are often placed in one line along with common criminals. Dedication to freedom is tightly knit with human nature and with mature national awareness. This dedication is intertwined with the law and duty. It is intertwined with the law, and thus every man and every nation must experience the suppression of freedom as painful and unjust."
Both Archbishop Romero and Father Popiełuszko were victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and sadly over the past thirty years there have been many more:
- Scores of Germans were murdered trying to cross the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1989;
- In June of 1989 thousands of Chinese were massacred at Tiananmen Square for nonviolently defending human rights and freedom;
- In July 0f 1994 thirty seven Cuban men, women and children were massacred for nonviolently trying to seek freedom and in February of 1996 four men were murdered as they sought to save the lives of Cuban rafters in the Florida Straits;
- Since 1993 hundreds of women have been raped, tortured and murdered in Juárez, Mexico with impunity in what amounts to a femicide.
One year, one month and one day ago Cuban prison officials announced the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo at 3:00pm. He had suffered beatings, torture, and years added to his unjust prison sentence because Orlando continued to denounce human rights abuses in prison. He refused to look the other way and remain silent. The secret police and prison guards drove him to the last recourse of a non-violent activist: the hunger strike. Even there the regime sought to torture and humiliate denying a man on a water only hunger strike - water. It is believed that act of torture contributed to the failure of his kidneys and to his death. It has been said that he died for the dignity of all Cubans. Even today the dictatorship and its apologists continue to attack and smear this human rights defender. It is for that reason that especially on this day that Orlando Zapata Tamayo be remembered.
Human rights defender Orlando Zapata Tamayo imprisoned, tortured and finally denied water and murdered on February 23, 2010
The right to the truth and the defense of the dignity of the victims are crucial elements in the process of obtaining justice. In addition it is a long known truth recorded in history by the great Roman statesmen Marcus Tullius Cicero that "The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong." Exposing the truth about these crimes and defending the dignity of the victims while seeking to hold those responsible accountable both under the rule of law and by the judgment of history will provide the greatest amount of justice that humanity can provide limiting impunity and the repetition of these crimes.