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Honoring Romero Award Winner Juan Guzmán Tapia, 1939-2021

The Human Rights Center pays tribute to the life of Juan Guzmán Tapia, Chilean jurist and human rights icon, who passed away on January 22, 2021. Guzmán was a trailblazing judge whose pursuit of accountability for human rights violations that took place during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile is unparalleled. As thoughtfully portrayed in a Washington Post obituary, Juan personally investigated thousands of disappearances, killings and acts of torture, interviewing hundreds of victims and pioneering new legal tactics. While Pinochet was never tried, the effort to overcome head of state immunity and bring him to justice galvanized Chile’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. It also set critical precedents in the field of global justice.  

In 2005, the University of Dayton recognized Guzmán’s work with the Romero Human Rights Award. As the fourth honoree, Guzmán exemplified Archbishop Oscar Romero’s courage and integrity under extraordinary circumstances to protect the rights of all people. Much like Romero, Guzmán’s legacy will continue to resonate and inspire human rights defenders and advocates to come. Associate Professor Mark Ensalaco of Political Science, former Director of Research at the Center and author of Chile under Pinochet: Recovering the Truth, has said of his friend: 

"Judge Guzmán demonstrated tremendous personal courage, the highest standards of judicial integrity and deep compassion for the victims of the Pinochet regime, especially the families of the disappeared. Guzmán had a difficult decision to make. He proved himself to be a courageous jurist who is committed to the rule of law. He was not swayed by political pressure. He ruled as his conscience guided him."

In Spring of 2021, the Center will bestow the Romero Human Rights Award on an environmental and climate justice defender.  

Photo courtesy of Tom Uhlman

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