The Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) highlighted a growing awareness of the value of human rights on the continent but warned that "in spite of these advances, we have to note painfully that shameful situations of human rights violations persist."
These conclusions follow the 5th Continental Encounter on Human Rights Ministry that took place in San Salvador this week. The objective of the meeting was to produce a guide for human rights ministry. Sixty-five people from 22 different countries participated in the gathering.
In their concluding document, the conference participants state that "the existence of a socioeconomic system that is not centered on human beings and their rights has led to a degradation of the conditions of people who are excluded from any order. The continent has grown economically but that has not translated into more equity and social justice."
They decry the fact that "more than 200 million people live in unacceptable conditions on a continent with enormous natural wealth and biodiversity" and they also noted the "feminization of poverty". They stress that the lack of decent working conditions and inequality of access to resources -- both political and natural -- are a grave scandal that threatens the ability of the region to become economically integrated in the world.
The conference document makes special mention of environmental rights, particularly in areas where the exploitation of natural resources, especially in mining and petroleum, is taking place with no regard for the environment and in the absence of any laws or norms. It highlights the particular violations of the rights of indigenous people and those of African descent and says that those violations "are an offense against God and the entire human family." It also condemns drug trafficking and human trafficking, as well as the criminal mistreatment of migrants.
It states that "for many years impunity has been the common denominator in human rights violations caused by agents at the service of the state and powerful groups" and avers that judicial independence is still a challenge in the region's fragile democracies.
The gathering concluded with a mass celebrated in the crypt where Monseñor Oscar Romero is buried by Bishop Jorge Eduardo Lozano of Gualeguaychú, Argentina, who heads the Social Ministry Section of CELAM's Department of Justice and Solidarity. Mons. Lozano made a plea for commitment to a gospel path of love and nonviolence. “We can, however, be stupid and foolish and choose the inconsistency of war, hatred, revenge, greed, comfort, silence ... When the Word is not fruitful in our lives, we are covered by the shadow of indifference towards the fate of brothers and sisters, for whom we don't take responsibility because we don't feel responsible. But we can wake up from this negligence. We are called to overcome the pride of doing things 'my way'. Praying with the story of Moses has enlightened us over these days. We should grow in humility and generosity to commit ourselves to the liberation of the people according to God's "style."
Photo: Conference participants gather at Mons. Oscar Romero's tomb.