The United Nations has proclaimed that every March 24 will be known as International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.
That date was chosen to pay tribute to the memory of Óscar Romero, Bishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, for boldly denouncing violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable individuals in El Salvador. Romero was canonized by Pope Francis in 2018.
This is a day to remember the countless victims of gross, systematic violations of human rights – crimes carried out every day in every corner of the world – and to promote the right to truth and justice. In this respect, Canada has, tragically, much to reflect upon, as with the Indigenous peoples, Chinese workers and immigrants, Jewish refugees, and others.
The day also honours those who, like Óscar Romero, have devoted their lives to promoting and protecting human rights for everyone. We have only to reach for a $10 bill to see the face of one heroic Canadian – Viola Desmond – who refused to move on the issue of equality at its most basic level.
While Desmond’s struggle around segregation in Halifax cinemas may not compare to the fight against horrific regimes in El Salvador, Germany and elsewhere, it’s those first small attacks on human dignity that can snowball if not nipped in the bud.
That’s why vigilance and unity must be our watchwords as we work to protect and extend human rights here and abroad. Today’s memorial serves as a powerful reminder of what happens when we choose to look the other way.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer