“What took place on September 21, 1976 is not just history but memory. The deaths of Letelier and Moffitt created a narrative that today we share – for comfort and strength.”
—E. Ethelbert Miller, IPS Board Chair

For 38 years, IPS has hosted its annual human rights awards ceremony to honor the memory of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt by celebrating new champions of the human rights movement from the United States and elsewhere in the world.

This year, IPS’ three exemplary awardees were recognized by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in a video shown during the ceremony:

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Amigas y Amigos, es un gran honor participar, aun a la distancia, en esta ceremonia. Les agradezco la invitación y lamento no poder estar con ustedes personalmente.

Durante casi 40 años, los Letelier Moffitt Human Rights Awards han mantenido viva la memoria de Orlando Letelier y Ronni Karpen Moffit, que han contribuido significativamente a la lucha por los derechos humanos universales de todos y todas, en un mundo donde la intolerancia, el odio y el desprecio por los valores de la vida y la paz siguen estando, lamentablemente, muy extendidos. Orlando y Ronni fueron, como cada uno de los que han recibido este premio desde su creación, héroes de los derechos humanos.

Para nosotros en Chile, la lucha por la justicia de la familia Letelier constituyó una señal pionera. Era la apertura de un camino que mostraba que era posible derrotar a la dictadura, incluso en los propios tribunales de justicia intervenidos y manipulados desde el poder. Supimos, gracias al empeño de años, que era posible hacer pública la verdad y desentrañar la maraña del terrorismo de Estado que se batió sobre miles de chilenos y chilenas solo por pensar distinto y por haber defendido un gobierno democrático y legítimo.

Hoy, cuando Chile avanza en un camino que busca abrir nuevos horizontes al progreso social y a la justicia removiendo las trabas para la libertad y la democracia que heredamos del autoritarismo, la figura de Orlando Letelier sigue teniendo una tremenda vigencia. Primero, porque seguimos trabajando por más verdad, justicia, y reparación para todas las víctimas de violaciones a los derechos humanos y sus familiares. Segundo, porque es imperativo que cada política pública se articule precisamente desde un enfoque de derechos. Así ocurre por ejemplo, con la reforma a la educación. En el año 2012 estuvieron en Washington recibiendo este mismo premio, Camila Vallejo y Noam Titelman en nombre del Movimiento Estudiantil Chileno. Hoy, estamos trabajando para hacer realidad una educación que sea un derecho social y no un bien de consumo que se transa en el mercado. Y en ese sentido, el espíritu y la memoria de Orlando Letelier siguen siendo un fermento activo entre nosotros. El entendió muy bien que la organización de la economía según el dogma neoliberal implicaba una substancial rechison de los derechos de la persona, una lección que el mundo empezó a comprender recién con la crisis del año 2008. Los derechos humanos, incluido el derecho a la salud, a la educación, los derechos de la infancia, de las personas mayores, de las mujeres, de los pueblos indígenas, no pueden estar sujetos a los vaivenes del Mercado. Ello es dañino para la democracia y atenta contra la justicia y la inclusión.

Finalmente, quiero felicitar a quienes reciben hoy este premio que lleva los nombres de Orlando Letelier y Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Robin Reineke, del Colibrí Center for Human Rights, a la MesoAmerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders y a Juan Méndez, Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre la Cuestión de la Tortura. Tengo la certeza de que todos ellos, tanto personas como organizaciones, ven en este premio un estímulo para continuar su lucha por un mundo donde los derechos humanos sean universalmente promovidos y respetados. Un mundo donde cada niño y niña, cada hombre y mujer sepan que pueden construir una vida en comunidad sin temor y en libertad. Muchas felicitaciones y muchas gracias.
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Dear friends, it is a great honor to participate, even at a distance, in this ceremony. Thank you for the invitation and I regret not being with you personally.

For nearly 40 years, the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards has kept alive the memory of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, both of whom have significantly contributed to the struggle for universal human rights, in a world where intolerance, hatred and contempt for the values of life and peace are still, unfortunately, widespread. Orlando and Ronni were, just like all of the awardees who have received this award since its inception, human rights heroes.

To us, in Chile, the struggle for justice for the Letelier family constituted a pioneering signal. It was the opening of a road which showed that it was possible to defeat the dictatorship, even in the courts of justice operated and manipulated by those in power. We learned, through the efforts of years, that it was possible to publish the truth and to dismantle the state terrorism that affected thousands of Chileans only for thinking differently and for defending a democratic and legitimate government.

Today, when Chile moves forward in a way that seeks to open new horizons for social progress and justice by removing obstacles to the freedom and democracy we inherited from authoritarianism, Orlando Letelier’s figure continues to have a tremendous influence on us. First, because we continue to work for more truth, justice, and reparations for all victims of human rights violations and their families. Second, it is imperative that every public policy is articulated precisely from a human rights perspective. This is the case, for example, with the education reform. In 2012, Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman were in Washington to receive the same award in the name of the Chilean Student Movement. Today, we are working to make education a social right, not a commodity that is traded on the market. And, in that sense, the spirit and memory of Orlando Letelier remain active among us. He understood very well that the organization of the economy according to a neoliberal dogma implied a substantial rejection of human rights, a lesson that the world began to realize with the 2008 crisis. Human rights, including the right to health, education, rights of children, older people, women, and indigenous peoples, cannot be subject to the ups and downs of the market. This is harmful for democracy and undermines justice and inclusion.

Finally, congratulations today to those who are receiving this award that bears the names of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Robin Reineke, from the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders and Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture. I am certain that both individuals and organizations see in this award a stimulus to continue their fight for a world where human rights are promoted and respected universally—a world where every girl and boy, every man and woman, know they can build a community without fear and with freedom. Congratulations and thank you very much.
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Awardees

Special Recognition

Juan Mendez accepts his Letelier-Moffitt award

 Dr. Juan E. Méndez became a political prisoner in Argentina because of his legal defense of those threatened by torture and arbitrary arrest in the 1970s. Since being released and exiled as part of an international campaign, he has spent 15 years with Human Rights Watch, acted as Director of the Inter-American Institute on Human Rights, and is now a professor of International Human Rights Law at American University.

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Thank you very much. I am gratified and honored – and humbled as well – by your gesture in naming me for a special human rights recognition. It is especially exciting to share this year’s honors with Robin Reineke of Colibri Center for Human Rights and the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders. I join all of you in congratulating them for these highly deserved awards.

I hope tonight gives us a chance to renew our commitment to a torture-free world. In my present task for the United Nations I am obsessed with the ground we have lost lately in the universal condemnation of torture and I am convinced that we need to regain that universal consensus if we are to conceive of effective abolition, in law as well as in deed, of torture in our life time. Some years ago we did have that consensus, but nowadays the culture prompts us to believe that torture is inevitable, that it may be ugly but “someone has to do it.”

We are conditioned to think torture works, or to think of it euphemistically as “enhanced interrogation” so we don’t have to insist on its absolute prohibition. I hope tonight we can renew our insistence that every single act of torture must be investigated, prosecuted and punished.

But this event is sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies, which prompts to talk about solidarity. My family and I are beneficiaries of the selfless acts of support and expressions of concern that for me are the practical manifestations of solidarity, and we experienced them first- hand at IPS from the moment we came to the US as exiles and relocated to Washington in the late 1970s.

If I was able to leave relatively early from a prison in Argentina it was because my American brother, John Hutchison, his wife Jean and his three Hutchison brothers relentlessly mobilized all contacts among policy-makers to put pressure on the Argentine military dictatorship to let me go into exile. John had the precious help of Bill Wipfler, then at the National Council of Churches, to help him learn the secrets of effective lobbying for generous causes while using the telephone and letter writing as tools. If I later became a human rights activist it was because I learned, as soon as I was allowed to leave my country, that – as they say in Uruguay –“la solidaridad no se agradece; se retribuye.” You don’t say thank you for solidarity, you return it.

That duty of solidarity to all others became for me in due course a gratifying professional engagement. In Washington in those years and thanks to the friendship of Bill Wipfler, Amnesty, IPS, WOLA and Human Rights Watch, I learned how to make it effective and to get results.

There is still so much to do to relieve suffering and to afford justice to victims. We have come a long way, but our solidarity is no less required today than it was then.

Thank you again.

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Domestic Award

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Robin Reineke is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights
in Tucson, Arizona. The Colibrí Center maintains the most comprehensive dataset of missing persons last seen crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and assists families in their search for missing loved ones while informing the public of the human rights crisis on the border. Previously, Robin worked for the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, where she was part of a team which pioneered efforts to identify the remains of thousands of migrants who died in Arizona’s forbidding desert while crossing into the U.S.

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To everyone at the Institute for Policy Studies, thank you for honoring me and the Colibrí Center for Human Rights with the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. My gratitude goes especially to Joy Olson and the Washington Office on Latin America for the nomination, as well as for the constant support of Colibrí during these early years. We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with leaders like the Washington Office on Latin America and the Institute for Policy Studies. You are an inspiration.

The word for hummingbird in Spanish is Colibrí. In 2009, the remains of a man were found in the desert of southern Arizona. His body was one among hundreds of others discovered that year. Upon examination, investigators found a small, dead hummingbird in his pocket. We named the Colibrí Center for Human Rights for this man, the thousands of others who have died in the deserts of the American southwest over the past decade, and to honor the symbolism of the hummingbird—seen in many Latin American cultures as a symbol of hope, and a messenger between the living and the dead.

At Colibrí, we know that hope lives in dark places. We know that migrants, in the words of Padre Solalinde, shine a bright light on the things that need to change. We know that sometimes, the dead are the most powerful witnesses of truths we are reluctant to recognize. They force us to take a closer look at our own lives, to try to be better.

Dr. Bruce Anderson, my mentor and the forensic anthropologist at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, recently hosted a group of visitors at the lab. After viewing the decomposed remains of migrants who had perished near the border, Bruce said, “I’m sorry you had to see that. That is failed U.S. immigration policy in our lab.”

As painful as it is, I want more people to see it. To understand that this is what our border has become for many—a place of death, suffering, and fear. Over the past decade and a half, more than 6,000 bodies have been discovered on the U.S.-side of the border with Mexico. To put that death toll in perspective, in just 12 years, our wall has already been more than 40 times more deadly than the Berlin Wall’s near 30-year existence.

Thousands of children are growing up without a parent. Families are searching for the missing, and the skulls of the dead litter the deserts of the southwest. Along with countless others, I ask, “Cuantos mas?”

The dead call us to action. They call us to the highest task of simply becoming more fully human. To me, more fully human is to follow the example set by people like Bruce Anderson—to treat the dead the way we would want our own loved ones to be treated.

To follow the example of Emiliano, who, at 8 years old, sent a photograph of his missing mother to other families searching for their missing loved ones, and wrote on the back, “You are not alone.” To follow the example of my team member, Reyna, in the audience tonight, who came up to me after a presentation and said, “how can I help?”

The dead call us to action. Before we can heal our border, we must remember the humanity of migrants, or we risk losing our own. Thank you.

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International Award

IMD accepts their Letelier-Moffitt award.

The Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IMD) was created to respond to the alarming violence faced by women who promote social justice and human rights in the region. Founded in 2010 by six local, regional and international organizations, the Initiative brings together a range of women defenders — from journalists to LGBT activists, from mothers pursuing justice for family members to indigenous women defending their land against illegal mining.

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Muy buenas noches. Reciban afectuoso un saludo de las defensoras de derechos humanos que nos articulamos en la Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Defensoras y de las organizaciones que coordinamos este esfuerzo, todas ellas aquí presentes.

Queremos en primer lugar expresar nuestro agradecimiento al Institute for Policy Studies por habernos otorgado el Premio Internacional de Derechos Humanos Letelier- Moffitt.

Dedicamos este reconocimiento a las más de 39 defensoras asesinadas en México, Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador entre 2011 y 2014, a todas las defensora de derechos humanos que han sido encarceladas o enjuiciadas injustamente por el gobierno y a todas aquellas que son agredidas y amenazadas por su labor, pero también por vivir en una región marcada por el machismo y la violencia contra las mujeres.

Con este premio honramos su vida, su trabajo, y recordamos que es gracias a la determinación de mujeres como ellas que este mundo sigue albergando la esperanza de un futuro mejor.

De manera especial queremos aprovechar esta ocasión para expresar nuestra solidaridad y sumarnos a la exigencia de justicia de las madres y familiares de los 3 estudiantes de la Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa que fueron ejecutados extrajudicialmente y de los 43 estudiantes detenidos por policías municipales el pasado 26 de septiembre y que a la fecha continúan desaparecidos en el estado Guerrero, México.

Actualmente, son en gran medida las defensoras de derechos humanos quienes están enfrentando la emergencia humanitaria y las violaciones a derechos humanos generadas por la creciente violencia en México y Centroamérica. Son las familiares de víctimas de desaparición forzada o ejecución extrajudicial que buscan justicia, son las que denuncian los casos de feminicidio y demandan acciones frente a la impunidad; son las que proveen ayuda humanitaria a las personas migrantes, son las que defienden territorios ancestrales del saqueo y la devastación ambiental y las que defienden derechos no reconocidos o incluso penalizados en algunos países de la región, como es el derecho servicios de aborto legal y seguro.

Por denunciar la impunidad y las violaciones a los derechos humanos, pero también por salirse de los roles tradicionales asignados a las mujeres, las agresiones contra defensoras de derechos humanos son una realidad preocupante en nuestra región. Entre 2012 y 2013, la Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Defensoras registró 1,356 agresiones en México, Honduras, Guatemala y El Salvador. De estas agresiones al menos un 40% presentaba un componente de género, es decir, tenía como objetivo inhibir la participación política de las mujeres y mantener la discriminación.

Frente a esta situación, defensoras de derechos humanos de cinco países de la región mesoamericana, hemos decidido cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y sumar fuerzas para cuidar a las defensoras que se encuentren en riesgo. Para ello, hemos construido alianzas y redes entre más de 360 defensoras de derechos humanos que nos respalden siempre que suframos una agresión, que necesitemos un espacio de descanso o que requiramos reconocimiento público a nuestro trabajo.

Recién estamos iniciando el camino y todavía nos queda mucho por aprender, no obstante nos sentimos orgullosas de lo logrado por la Iniciativa Mesoamericana de su fundación en 2010 a la fecha. En estos casi cuatro años:

  • Hemos impulsado la creación de 4 redes nacionales de protección a defensoras que contribuyen a superar la soledad y el poco apoyo que muchas veces las mujeres tenemos cuando nos enfrentamos a la violencia. Sabemos que es responsabilidad de los Estados asegurar condiciones de seguridad las personas que defendemos derechos humanos, sin embargo, en las actuales condiciones de impunidad y falta de acceso a la justicia, la supervivencia de nuestro trabajo en favor de los derechos humanos, depende en gran medida de la protección y cuidado que logremos entre nosotras.
  • Además, hemos sido pioneras en la documentación de la violencia que enfrentan las defensoras tanto por el trabajo que realizamos como por la discriminación de género existente y
  • Hemos creado tres centros de refugio y autocuidado especiales para defensoras y sus familias y acompañado a más de 100 defensoras que han requerido algún tipo de protección.

En estos años hemos aprendido que la protección no es solo un asunto de tener guardias de seguridad o cámaras de vigilancia, sino que se trata de contar con redes de apoyo, de advertir y evitar el desgaste, de enfrentar la discriminación y la violencia en nuestras propias familias y organizaciones y de aumentar el reconocimiento social del trabajo que las mujeres hacemos por los derechos humanos.

Estamos seguras que, solo si construimos organizaciones y movimientos capaces de desafiar y erradicar la violencia, podremos mantener vivos los ideales que Orlando Letelier, Ronni Karpen Moffiitt y miles de mujeres y feministas de todo el mundo nos dejaron como legado.

Muchas gracias…

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Good evening. Greetings from the women human right defenders who are part of the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative, and from the organizations that coordinate this effort. We are all here tonight.

First, we would like to express our gratitude to the Institute for Policy Studies for awarding us the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. This award makes the invisible visible and acts as a bright light shining on the often invisible contributions of many women towards the cause of human rights.

We dedicate this award to the more than 39 women human rights defenders murdered in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador between 2011 and 2014; to all the women human rights defenders that have been incarcerated or wrongly sentenced by their governments, and to all those attacked or threatened because of their work; and for surviving a region marked by machismo and violence against women. A region where it’s common to criticize a woman who actively participates in public life, calling her a  bad mother or questioning her “sexual morality”.

Who are women human rights defenders? They’re mothers seeking justice for disappeared family members, rural activists going up against corporations poisoning their water, feminists defending women who are abused by their intimate partners or incarcerated for abortion, trans women demanding the right to live a life free of discrimination, indigenous women who defend their communities from mining companies and journalists who defend their right to freedom of expression and their duty to report the truth.

Currently, it’s women human rights defenders who are confronting humanitarian emergencies and human rights violations resulting from the growing violence in Mexico and Central America.

We also want to take a moment to express our solidarity and join mothers and families in their call for justice for the extrajudicial killings of 3 students from the Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa, and the 43 students that were arbitrarily detained and disappeared by municipal police on September 26 of this year and who to this date, remain missing in the state of Guerrero, Mexico.

 By denouncing impunity and human rights violations, but also by breaking out of the traditional female roles assigned to them, women human rights defenders face a double risk of suffering violence. Between 2012 and 2013, the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative registered 1,356 attacks in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Of these attacks, 40% presented a gender dimension, which means, the objective was to prevent women from speaking out. Women human right defenders are more vulnerable to sexual violence, to stigmatization because they  challenge traditional gender roles.  They have less family and community support and sometimes a total lack of recognition from the organizations and movements to which they belong.

Confronted with this situation, women human right defenders from 5 countries in the Mesoamerica region have decided to protect ourselves and join forces to protect women human right defenders in danger. We have created alliances and networks among more than 360 women human rights defenders from different social movements—creating new connections between trade unionists, indigenous women, migrant women, feminists and many more. These networks seek an effective response for every woman human rights defender who suffers an attack, who needs a space to rest or who requires public recognition for her work.

We are only just getting started and there is still much to learn. We feel proud to have built the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative and in these past 4 years we have:

  • Helped women human rights defenders recognize themselves as such and as a result, recognize their value but also the possible risks they face.
  • Created 4 national women human rights defenders protection networks that function as self-defense mechanisms with protocols to respond to emergencies. The networks also remind women they are not alone in their struggle.
  • Pioneered documentation systems to register and track the violence women human rights defenders face as a result of their work but also as a result of gender discrimination in general;
  • Created 3 safe houses for women human rights defenders and their families; and
  • Accompanied more than 100 women human rights defenders who have needed some kind of protection.

In the past four years, we’ve learned that protection is not just an issue of security guards or cameras. We are building a holistic model that in its own way, is reconstructing a social fabric capable of facing violence while rebuilding state institutions. It’s a model that relies on supportive communities that catch and prevent burn-out, that confront discrimination and violence in our own families and organizations.

We are certain that if we build sustainable organizations and movements that are capable of challenging and eradicating violence, we will be able to keep the ideals that Orlando Letelier, Ronni Karpen Moffitt and thousands of women and feminists all over the world.

Thank you very much.

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For photos from the event, please visit our Flickr album.