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University of Dayton to Honor Human Rights Activists for Investigating, Prosecuting State-Sponsored Killings in Latin America

Central figures in the investigation and prosecution of one of the largest state-sponsored killings in Latin America in the 20th century — the El Mozote Massacre — will be the recipients of an international human rights award from the University of Dayton.

David Morales from Cristosal and Ovidio Mauricio Gonzalez and Wilfredo Medrano from Tutela Legal will receive the University's Romero Human Rights Award for their efforts to seek justice and accountability for current and past violence in El Salvador.

Cristosal advances human rights in Central America through rights-based research, learning and programming. Morales was previously the human rights ombudsman for the government of El Salvador and now leads Cristosal’s Observatory on Forced Displacement by Violence covering El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Tutela Legal, originally associated with the Archdiocese in San Salvador during Saint Romero's tenure as archbishop, was one of the key human rights agencies that archived and collected stories and evidence during El Salvador's civil war from 1979 to 1992. Tutela Legal continues to promote transitional justice and accountability for contemporary issues of state violence.

On Dec. 11, 1981, soldiers in the Salvadoran army's Atlacatl Battalion, some of them trained at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, massacred nearly 1,000 civilians in El Mozote, El Salvador, as part of the military’s "scorched earth" campaign. Official data released by the Salvadoran government in December 2017 revealed 553 of the victims were children, 80 percent of them younger than 12 years old. For more than two years, Morales, Gonzalez and Medrano have been fighting in the Salvadoran courts to hold accountable those who ordered the massacre.

The honorees, selected by the University of Dayton Human Rights Center, will receive the award from University of Dayton President Eric Spina during a ceremony starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 11, in the Kennedy Union Boll Theatre on the University of Dayton campus.

Created in 2000, the award is presented to an individual or organization promoting the dignity of all human beings and alleviating human suffering. It honors the ministry and martyrdom of Saint Romero, a Salvadoran archbishop slain while officiating at a 1980 Mass because of his vocal defense of the human rights of the poor and disenfranchised. Click here to see a list of honorees.

In addition to the award ceremony, the Human Rights Center will host a free, public symposium discussing the links between past and current violence in Latin America and the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in the United States from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. in the Kennedy Union Boll Theatre. Speakers include Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migrant and Refugee Services; Linda Rivas, executive director and managing attorney for the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center; Craig Hovey, director of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence and University of Dayton Human Rights Center visiting scholar; and Dayton activist and artist Gabriella Piquett.

A reception will follow the ceremony nearby in the Keller Hall atrium. The reception will feature the premiere of the "American the Borderland" exhibit by University of Dayton students in the Moral Courage Project of the Human Rights Center. The students traveled to El Paso, Texas, in May 2018 to interview and photograph human rights advocates, community leaders and faith leaders about their daily struggles for the  rights of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. See a video about the Moral Courage Project in El Paso here.

For more information or interviews, contact Shawn Robinson at 937-229-3391 or [email protected] 


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