Óscar Romero Symposium Confronts Human Rights Issues

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By: Julia Hall – Online Editor-in-Chief

On March 28, a seemingly typical Tuesday, with campus bopping along at a normal pace, the Chapel bells marked a divergence of the usual. The time: 1:30 p.m. The cause of the pause: The University of Dayton Human Rights Committee bestowed The Pastoral Land Commission of the Brazilian National Bishops’ Conference with The Blessed Óscar Romero Human Rights Award and hosted a symposium in Romero’s honor.

This award, first presented in 2000, commemorates the death of Blessed Óscar Romero, an archbishop of San Salvador who was killed saying mass in March 1980. His murder is correlated to his active resistance to military abuses in Latin America, particularly to those that violated human rights.

“He kind of set the standard for the church becoming an important force in the defense of human rights at the grassroots level, but also at the national and international level-  k. ind of becoming a voice for human rights,” stated Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, executive director of The University of Dayton Human Rights Center.

Coinciding with the award ceremony, the University of Dayton Human Rights Center held a symposium that featured several experts from local and global grassroots organizations, institutions, and programs.

The groups represented include the Pastoral Land Commission, Catholic Relief Services, The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Welcome Dayton, The Human Rights Center Advisory Council and Ecclesial Network for the Pan-Amazon.

“We wanted to showcase issues related to Brazil itself that had to do with the work of those who were being honored, and, then, to connect that work to broader issues,” Pérez-Bustillo commented.

The layout of the symposium consisted of two distinct sessions with one entitled, “The Struggles of the Poor,” and the second named, “Solidarity and Accompaniment.” During the second session, six panelists provided insight into their work in agencies and institutions within the Dayton vicinity.

“We are doing this work in Brazil that has regional implications in Latin America, but involves these supply chains, as to specific products, that end up in the stream of commerce in the US. So, it is both US corporations and other corporations, based on the raw materials that are produced in Brazil, that market and trade products that sort of carry that burden that have been produced, at least in part, by slave labor,” Pérez-Bustillo explained.

The Human Rights Center has been conducting research over the last four years with community partners, both in Dayton and Brazil, that has examined the supply chains of U.S. companies in conjunction with Brazilian products with the intention of eliminating forced-labor from the creation of products purchased and consumed by the U.S.

“The things that we do politically in our culture affect the human rights of other people across the world based on our foreign policy, based on our practices of purchasing goods from different companies,” Alexander Mingus, political science and human rights double major, noted.

Kim Lamberty, Director of University and Mission Engagement with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), served as one of the panelists in the second session. In her presentation, Lamberty explained the actions that CRS is taking to prevent and remove products that reinforce slave labor from our markets.

While Lamberty admitted that Fair Trade is not a perfect movement, she did note that products featuring Fair Trade labels must abide by certain social justice practices, including agreeing to supply chains transparency.

“So, we have to think about the goods that we are purchasing from different companies, specifically those in Brazil, if we are talking about Brazil, from those companies that are on, it’s called the Dirty List. There is a list that all these companies have been found using slave labor. So, we are trying to understand how the U.S. companies have that in our supply chains,” Mingus urged.

“There are ways that you can make a difference just by your purchases,” Lamberty stated. She referenced a compiled list called CRS purchasing guide that provides a sort of map to follow in order to avoid the continuation of forced labor via our consumer purchases. Additionally, a store,

Peace on Fifth is a local Dayton shop dedicated to the making products that are ecologically and ethically sourced.

Another topic that the panel focused their attention on was immigration. Toni Stieritz, Director of Social Action in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and David E. Larson, Altick & Corwin CO., L.P.A. and Welcome Dayton, were two panelists that discussed the current state of immigration, refugee resettlement, current national policies and constitutional protections revolving around this human rights issue.

“We currently live in a country with about 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows, but many of those people live, worship, and are active in our Catholic ministries in the archdiocese of Cincinnati,” Stieritz declared.

“We consistently advocate that we need a comprehensive immigration reform so that there are more legal paths for people to get here to begin with,” Stieritz stated, “Right now if you are a citizen, a US citizen, and you petition for a married son to immigrate to the United States, it would take you more than twelve years to immigrate here legally.”

As a lawyer in the Dayton area, Larkin shared that, “Even if you are in the United States without permission or proper immigration documents, various sections of the U.S. constitution apply to you.”

“Then, if you are a person, then no state, including the federal government, shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Also, you have the right to sue, to defend a lawsuit in civil court, or, maybe more importantly for undocumented individuals, you have the right to a defense and a trial and all of the other criminal protections that citizens do,” Larkin elaborated.

The symposium brought forth violations of human rights and engaged in dialogue about the measures currently being taken to address them as well as the gaps in action that need to be filled.

To become involved in combating human rights violations, join the New Abolitionist Movement on campus and/or attend the on-campus event on April 11, 2017 titled, “Voices of the Immigrant Experience.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.