Even after being tortured from Argentina’s military
dictatorship in the 1970s for advocating human rights, activist
Juan Méndez describes his career and life with modesty.

“I was just part of my generation. We all wanted to change
the world, and I decided to use what skills I had to help,”
Méndez said before an audience of 30 people in the
University’s Advanced Study Center yesterday. “It was a
time of great social upheaval, and I saw it not only as a
contribution, but a duty.”

Méndez spoke as a guest lecturer in a series intending to
raise awareness of international human rights issues.

As a legal advocate of political prisoners in Argentina 30 years
ago, Méndez was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for a year
and a half.

Since his release, Méndez has built an impressive resume,
exposing his dedication to human rights activism, including many
publications, awards and prestigious leadership positions.
Presently he is the director of the Center for Civil and Human
Rights at Notre Dame Law School.

Méndez’s lecture, “Achieving Justice While
Seeking Peace: Human Rights Violations and Social Change,”
focused on the difficulty confronting human rights movements in
ensuring worldwide justice.

Justice, Méndez said, includes bringing the entire truth
of past violations into the open for the victims, as well as
punishment for those responsible in the form of criminal
prosecution.

Méndez cited the importance of treating each
country’s situation as unique, but he added that he believes
there is a fundamental universality inherent to what he called the
human rights movement.

“I don’t think it is more important for my family to
know what happened to me while I was in prison than it is for a
mother in Rwanda to know who ordered the execution of her son and
why,” Méndez said.

Although the lecture attracted a diverse audience of faculty and
community members, student attendance was low. LSA senior Azhar
Majeed heard about the lecture from one of his graduate student
instructors, and said he found Méndez’s lecture to be
not only interesting, but also valuable.

“I thought it was enlightening. I think it’s
important for students to realize difficulties still faced by the
human rights movement, despite the remarkable progress of the past
20 years, especially if they are considering careers in law or
social work,” he said.

For students interested in any type of activism, Méndez
advised that students realize their advantages and talents.

“It is important to use your privilege of studying at such
a university by preparing to do the work of justice without the
threat of suffering repercussions,” Méndez said.
“But, if you do face danger in the future, be prepared, and
do not let violent ones dissuade you from pursuing justice. Because
that is their goal to intimidate and discourage.”

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