Editor's Letter: Human Rights

By June Carolyn Erlick

During the day, I edit story after story on human rights for the Fall issue of ReVista. During the evening, I work on my biography of Irma Flaquer, a courageous Guatemalan journalist who was disappeared in 1980 (Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced, Seal Press, Fall 2004).

The two activities feel disconnected, almost frustratingly so. I move from the process of polishing the informed words of Harvard professors, students, and human rights activists about the latest in human rights to the recereation of the life of an outspoken journalist.

It's not that my book isn't about human rights. With her column "What Others Don't Dare Write," Irma Flaquer refused to remain silent in the face of terror. In Guatemala, as in most of Latin America during the 1980s, human rights by necessity had to focus on survival, on political and civil rights. The present democratic evolution on most Latin American countries has meant an accompanying emphasis within the human rights field on economic, social and cultural rights. As I begin the process of creating RevistaI initailly see human rights past and present as distinct—two different periods wth distinct challenges.

My days and nights are disconnected, that is, until I began to read the eloquent article by Dr. Paul Farmer on health and human rights. He tells us about an exhibit "Structural Violence: A View From Below" at Harvard's Holyoke Center. He recounts the censorship of a photograph, a modern-day polite censorship—not like the kind that cost Irma her life. It's a subtle form of censorship that feels more like a slightly wounded mutual agreement, a desire not to offend. The not showing of a disturbing image to an intellectual middle-class audience results from a desire to acert our gaze from things that should make us uncomfortable, Farmer tells us.

And then I realize that the casting out of silence is the thread that holds the articles in this ReVista together. It is the thread that connects my editing days and my writing nights.

That is what Salomón Lerner is telling us in his moving presentation of the findings of the Peruvian Truth Commission. that is what Marifeli Pérez-Stable is telling us in her call for Cuban reconciliation. That is what Jacqueline Bhabha is saying in her compelling piece on children and asylum rights. And it is what James Cavallaro is telling us in his vivid account of one court case that will alter human rights history.

Today's human rights challenge is to break the silence.

See also: Human Rights