UN declares international day with very long name

This is a real mouthful, but important: the UN General Assembly last week adopted, without a vote, a resolution declaring March 24 to be the International Day for the Right to Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

What is especially notable about this resolution, however, is explicit reference in its opening clauses (they’re known as preambulatory ones, if you want to be technical about it), to the assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. I have previously blogged about him, and am particularly inspired by his example of bearing Christian witness to the Gospels, and he is very much at the center of this declaration:

“Recognizing in particular the important and valuable work of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, who was actively engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in his country, and whose work was acknowledged internationally through his messages, in which he denounced violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable populations,

“Recognizing the values of Monsignor Romero and his dedication to the service of humanity, in the context of armed conflicts, as a humanist dedicated to defending human rights, protecting lives and promoting human dignity, his constant calls to dialogue and his opposition to all forms of violence to avoid armed confrontation, which consequently led to his death on 24 March 1980,”

By coincidence, this week also marked the anniversary of the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter by death squads in San Salvador, on Nov 16, 1989. But two decades on, a full accounting of this massacre, as well as that of the assassination of Archbishop Romero and thousands of others in El Salvador’s civil war, remains absent – hence the ultimate purpose of this newly-declared UN day, to highlight the “right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of enforced disappearances, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person.”

Last year, the 20th anniversary of the Jesuit massacre, brought a flurry of articles marking the date, such as this one from the LA Times about the continuing search for truth and efforts to open up classified government archives:

“Their killings provoked outrage worldwide; the pictures of the priests sprawled face down on the lawn of their modest home after being shot by soldiers were among the most haunting images of the war.

“It was a bookend atrocity, in some ways, to the 1980 slaying of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot by an assassin as he said Mass. His death is often seen as a marker of the start of the civil war, and the Jesuits’ killings the beginning of the end…

“…There is widespread suspicion in El Salvador and among U.S. officials that Roberto D’Aubuisson, one of the founders of the right-wing Arena party that ruled El Salvador until this year, ordered the Jesuits’ killings during a meeting with other party officials in November 1989.

“A lawsuit filed last year in a Spanish court is attempting to bring senior military and civilian officials to account.

“Next week, attorneys and witnesses on behalf of the Jesuits’ families will present evidence based on hundreds of pages of declassified U.S. documents from the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

A ‘truth and reconciliation process’ of sorts is often a vital issue in post-conflict societies facing the challenges of a transition to a stable peace and civilian rule. The dignity of victims, in this regard, depends on some sense of closure about what exactly has happened to the ‘disappeared’ and who was responsible, if the fractures in society are to be healed over time and confidence rebuilt in the governing authorities. So the struggle goes on – and as investigative researchers are finding with regards to disappearing US archival documents, the effort to uncover the truth can sometimes go backwards rather than forwards.

(hat tip: the Tablet’s daily news feed)

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