María Julia Hernández Chavarría – El Salvador (1939 – 2007)

She was one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Member of Executive Committee Marie Hernandez died 30 March 2007 … She was Director of the Office of Tutela Legal of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, and Member of the Executive Committee of Pax Christi International. (full text).

She said: “The situation of the Salvadorian people is terrible; all their rights are violated. There is a direct violation against the human person, a violation of rights that is endemic in society” … and: “I get my energy from my faith in God. God is my rock. He gives me the energy to fight for humanity, for peace in the world. The most important things are men and women, but ironically, they are the most aggrieved in our society. I am driven by my mission to help the Salvadorian people, who live in a defenseless and precarious state. I know that, from a religious point of view, defending human rights is also a labor of evangelism because it is the defense of human dignity, of men and women in the image of God. It is a choice of love, a choice of faith. I shall never give up”. (1000PeaceWomen).

She said also: “The situation of the Salvadorian people is terrible; all their rights are violated. There is a direct violation against the human person, a violation of rights that is endemic in society”. (full text).

Galería de Imágenes, (picture gallery).

María Julia Hernández Chavarría one.jpg

María Julia Hernández Chavarría – El Salvador (January 30, 1939 – March 30, 2007).

She worked for the Legal Tutelage of the Archbishops of San Salvador.

Comunicado de Fallecimiento de Dra. María Julia Hernández: Dra. María Julia Hernández, nació el 30 de enero de 1939 en Francisco Morazán, Honduras, de padres salvadoreños, por lo que era salvadoreña de nacimiento. Era Doctora en Derechos Humanos y Licenciada en Filosofía. Falleció en la ciudad de San Salvador, a los 68 años. “Nuestro profundo desafío y compromiso, nuestra razón de ser, son las víctimas, que en su mayoría son los pobres de El Salvador”. (full text).

Brussels, 20 April 2007March 30, 2007, by Eileen M. Purcell: Maria Julia Hernandez – sister, human rights advocate, advisor, friend — loved her people, her church, and the body of human rights law that affirmed human dignity and the fundamental right to freedom, life and security of all people.

She stood alongside other giants in Salvadoran history – Archbishop Romero, the Jesuits of the Catholic University of Central America, and, above all, the thousands of martyred Salvadorans — demanding an end to the violence of war, poverty and impunity. Her unwavering faith in the social gospel and a liberating God of love and justice anchored her as she faced generals, presidents, ambassadors, death squads and international courts of law, politics and public opinion.

Tutela Legal: Enlisted by Archbishop Oscar Romero in the late 1970s to document human rights violations sweeping El Salvador, Maria Julia continued the painstaking and dangerous work after his assassination in 1980. In 1982, Archbishop Rivera-Damas appointed her Executive Director of the San Salvador Archdiocesan Tutela Legal.

Housed in the Chancery Offices of the Salvadoran Archdiocese, Tutela Legal became the safe harbor where victims of political and military repression could turn to relate their stories without fear of retribution. Maria Julia and her staff created the space, the expertise and the trust for survivors of massacres, relatives of “the disappeared,” and families of political prisoners to recount their experience and seek legal recourse at a time when the Salvadoran government and Armed Forces along with the United States government denied human rights violations were occurring.

Maria Julia and her staff meticulously documented, dated, and corroborated first hand testimony of war crimes, while at the same time offering compassion and support to the families who turned to her in their grief. She shared her findings in courts of law, before the United States Congress, at the European Union and in the court of public opinion. She met with congressional, religious and community delegations from around the world and painted the picture of systematic state-sponsored terror with the dossier of personal stories of tragedy. She lifted up the tenets of international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions and called for accountability and an end to impunity. (full text).


Read: the victors, see also on third world traveler.

She was good with a camera since her childhood. As a young girl, she wanted to be a member of a religious order, but gave it up to study and to teach philosophy. She is an untiring traveler and reader, directing her profound compassion and sense of justice towards the defense of human rights in El Salvador, where impunity prevails. María Julia Hernández, honest, sensitive and stable as a rock, works persistently to discover and reveal the truth, to build peace upon justice, and to expand the work of recovering Historical Memory.Her motto is ‘Victims should come first’.

María Julia Hernández (born in 30/1/1939) persists in discovering and revealing the truth, in building peace based on justice. She persists, as well, in preserving the Historical Memory of the people for posterity. A tireless traveler and reader, of a deeply aesthetic and sensitive nature, she was good at using the camera since her childhood. She never imagined that she would be the one to take photos of the Jesuits murdered on November 16th 1989, or that she would be the one to untangle the intricate threads of that case.

She was born in a wealthy family. When she went to the School of the Sacred Heart she already felt the impulse to help the needy. But it was after her first trip to the United States and thanks to the reflections of a friend of hers, that she began to understand the complexity of the situation of the Latin American people. And that situation cried out to her for help. ‘I thought, at first, that I could help through my religious vocation, but I realized that it wasn’t the way’.

Back in El Salvador in 1970, she studied Philosophy in the Centro American University and she worked as a professor in the Law School of the University of El Salvador.

In 1977, Para-military forces murdered a Salvadorian priest: Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit, who had made the choice to work for the poor. A group of university students, among them María was present at the public mass celebrated in his honor by Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador. “I was searching for a way to help my people who were in circumstances that were then becoming critical”, she says. But, Monsignor’s words ‘Help me’ and his profound

humility, had a powerful impact on María. The result was that she began, at once, to work for him as a volunteer, realizing that this was the mission she had been waiting for.

At that time, she began to record Monsignor Romero homilies (speeches given by Mons. Romero, from his pulpit, where he denounced the abuses suffered by the people of El Salvador, through the hands of the State. He required them to stop those inhuman policies. His homilies were for a long time “the only way to save lives and to humanize the conflict”). She asked him to publish them but he refused. One day his secretaries were ill and they called a few volunteers to help with the reading and replying of letters sent to him by the people. “They gave me a packet of letters and after reading them, I observed that all of them asked for copies of his homilies. I felt a great strength and went directly to his office. Without preamble, (he was writing at his desk), I placed all the letters in front of him and told him: “Monsignor: It is not me who is asking for the publication of your homilies, it is your people”.

For the first time, I saw him confused. Calmly he said: “we’ll see, we’ll see”. A few weeks later he said: “we are going to publish them when the time of Advent comes, as a celebration of Christmas for the people who asked. And then I was able to transcribe, edit and publish them. If I had not done this, we would have no record of his thoughts and ideas because he was a man of the spoken word”.

In 1982, two years after Romero’s murder, the new archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Arturo Rivera y Damas, offered her the post as Director of the newly created Tutela Legal del Arzobispado (Legal Tutelage of the Archbishops) and she did not hesitate to accept. “I felt that it was given to me by the grace of Monsignor Romero. I fully realized that from that moment on, I would be putting my life at risk because we were in a period of war. In spite of that, I put my security in God’s hands and opted to worry about the security of others. That gave me a great strength, a great calm”.

Since then, she has been in conflict with the Salvadorian Justice Department. She remembers her first experience, “When I found corpses of people who were captured, threatened or tortured”. She maintained her stance against the military authorities only with her faith in Christ and her belief in the defense of human rights.

Her views were hardened in 1983, when she confronted the cultural prejudice of the nations that were offering to receive political prisoners, freed as a result of the amnesty of that year. Some of the prisoners were discriminated against because they were illiterate. “I protested. The governments replied that they were concerned about the chances of those people learning the language in this new country. A delegate from the Swedish government arrived at that moment and I explained the matter to him. Looking deeply at me he said: ’send them to me’. It was about 100 families, and he accepted the people that other nations had been treating like scrap.

All the families went to Sweden where they learned to read and write, first in Spanish, and then in Swedish. They were integrated into the Swedish society”.

Other events like the massacre of San Sebastián (21/11/1988), in the San Vicente province, perpetrated by the Jiboa Battalion, demonstrated once more the defenseless situation of the Salvadorian people, as well as the necessity to redouble the efforts to stop the abuses. “I saw the corpses of people in the soil and a numerous groups of small, barefoot children, with their eyes fixed on the bodies of their parents, kicking their legs against a wall”.

In those days, she was not able to use scientific methodology in her work. “It didn’t exist at that time and I had to invent it”. She used her studies of philosophy for help. “The most immediate problem was to humanize the conflict and to make sure that both parties in the conflict obeyed the laws that we were applying on international human rights”.

Later on, she not only took courses on human rights, criminality, forensic medicine and ballistics, but also decided to continue with her studies and get a degree in Law.

The murder of six Jesuits and two of their employees by the Salvadorian army had a tremendous impact on her. It happened on November 16th 1989. Three of them were her professors at the University and all of them were her personal friends. In spite of this event, she gathered all her strength and wisdom and managed to take the perpetrators of the crime to court.

In 1994, she had to abandon her career in Law because she had open-heart surgery. The choice of opting for solidarity with her people and working for the defense of human rights had never undermined her moral strength, but in the end, it resulted in a blow to her health.

In spite of this, she continued her work. The signing of a Peace Agreement in 1992, not only brought hope for the building of peace, but also gave her hope that the memory of the true events of El Salvador could be preserved (Historical Memory).

This work has encountered difficulties because an Amnesty ‘gives pardon to people who fought against the regime and strives to integrate them back into a more peaceful society’. This aim was distorted by the promulgation of the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of the Peace, on March 20th, 1993, which transformed the amnesty, ‘into a benefit for guilty people and effectively gave impunity to those who violated the law, with no possibility of reparation for the victims. That was terrible because it allowed people to escape from justice. The Peace Process was built on this, instead of focusing on the administration of justice, as would be expected’.

Up until now, it has not been possible to judge or prosecute people who violated human rights on Salvadorian soil.

Recourses must be taken to the international courts. This happened in the case of the murder of Monsignor Romero, in which only a judicial sentence against one of the perpetrators of the crime was obtained, and even that was through the Inter American Commission of Human Rights.

“That El Salvador shall administrate justice is still an impossible accomplishment. But one day, we will have politicians with the political will to judge the violators, because they have committed international crimes, crimes against humanity, war crimes. And they cannot be forgiven by an amnesty. They are crimes which never expire and, one day, those responsible will be judged”.

Currently, Doctor Hernández’s task is to work towards the country’s agreement to sign the Statute of Rome, so that the International Penal Court will have jurisdiction in El Salvador. “But the impunity is so strong, that the government refuses to open the door to international jurisdiction. They have signed a ‘pact of immunity’ with the United States, which we prefer to call a ‘pact of impunity’, that impedes the International Penal Court from prosecuting people of both citizenships who may be involved in crimes against humanity or war crimes.

“We must remember”, she says and her face turns serious, “that we live in a society where everything works totally against peace. In El Salvador, all the civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights, all the human rights, are violated, both on a structural and on a personal level. El Salvador is the country in Latin America with the highest violence index. There are more murders today, than during the last years of the war.

All the state organizations, which are supposed to guarantee social and economic rights, are been privatized. There is no public health care provision, no employment policies. There is huge rate of unemployment. There is illiteracy… The only wealth produced by the country is concentrated in a few hands and that crushes and undermines the rights of the majority.

Water is being privatized, electricity, public transportation and also telephones. Everything is privatized. After a war, the silencing of arms is not enough. Peace means respecting all rights. You can’t respect one of them and violate the others. When a society doesn’t respect the rights of its citizens, it undermines peace and leads it back to war”.

In 2003, María, along with a group of girlfriends with whom she went to university, created a place for reflection, the Círculo de Filósofas Salvadoreñas En Honor a la Verdad (The Circle of Salvadoran Philosophers in Honor of the Truth) and edited a bulletin called Espacio Filosófico, (Philosophical Space). In 2004 she began writing a bulletin called Romero.

-Political information about Maria’s work, context or situation
-Pax Christi International.

-Information on the nominee available on the net:
- Search in Google for: María Julia Hernández El Salvador (almost 400 pages)

-Information on the organization where she works
- Tutela Legal del Arzobispado (Legal Tutelage of the Archbishops):
- Asociación Mons. Oscar A. Romero (The Monsignor Oscar A. Romero Association) :

E-mail Asociacion Romero.

  • -More information on Salvadorian mass media
  • -Video made by the UCA about her life and work, when she obtained the title of Doctor Honoris Causa (15/11/2004)
  • -Interview on television on channel 33 (11/3/2005)
  • -Other interviews on television channel 12


Su Trabajo: Trabajó con Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero – compiló los escritos de las homilías que hoy se conocen, nombrada directora de Tutela Legal del Arzobispado por el arzobispo Monseñor Arturo Rivera Damas el 03 de Mayo de 1982.

Desde su equipo de trabajo de Tutela Legal investigó, documentó y abrió procesos judiciales en las masacres de El Mozote, El Sumpul, El Barrío, La Quesera y otros.

Documentó miles de violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidas durante el conflicto armado. Colaboró junto a Mons.

Rivera Damas a la humanización del conflicto armado y dio un aporte decisivo para la firma de los acuerdos de paz.

Denunció a nivel nacional e internacional las graves violaciones a los Derechos Humanos cometidas contra el pueblo salvadoreño por las estructuras de poder de este país. Fue pieza fundamental para que se diera con los responsables del asesinato de los padres Jesuitas en la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA) en 1989.

La falta de una pronta y cumplida justicia en el país, es decir el estado de impunidad, la llevó a buscar administración de justicia en instancias internacionales en casos como: Monseñor Romero, Masacre de El Mozote y otros.

No podía ser de otra manera, su vida se cruzó con la de Monseñor Romero, la de Ellacuría y tantos otros y junto a ellos se formó y trabajó emprendiendo el mismo camino: “Defender la dignidad de la persona humana, demandando verdad, administración de justicia, reparación de las víctimas y reconciliación”. (full text).


Pax Christi on wikipedia

Pax Christi Press Release;

Pax Christi Newsletter no 160, May 1, 2007;


Diario co Latino.

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