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C h a p t e r 1 Dignity and Suffering: Why Human Rights Matter We accord a person dignity by assuming . . . they share the same human qualities we ascribe to ourselves. —Nelson Mandela, speech, Cape Town, South Africa, May 10, 2004 Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. —Eleanor Roosevelt, speech, United Nations, New York, March 27, 1958 I graduated from law school with an Echoing Green Foundation Fellowship to bring human rights cases from Mexico to international tribunals and treaty monitoring bodies.1 One of the first cases I worked on involved the annihilation of nearly an entire family. Francisco Quijano Santoyo was allegedly engaged in drug trafficking and was involved in a shootout that resulted in 26 Starting Points the death of a police officer. The next day, antinarcotics agents from the Federal Judicial Police (PJF, according to the acronym in Spanish), the Mexican equivalent of the FBI, surrounded the family’s house in Mexico City and exterminated two of three other brothers: Jaime and Erik. In human rights language, that kind of murder by state agents is referred to as “extrajudicial execution,” a rather technical term for the bloodbath that occurred in this case. Another brother, Héctor, was injured and detained after the shootings and eventually tortured to death. It was a particularly brutal torture; the PJF agents cut out Hector’s tongue with a small knife and attached electrodes to various parts of his body. Eventually he died of cardiac arrest. But what made Héctor’s torture almost unimaginably horrendous to me was that the PJF forced his mother and sister to listen to and watch parts of it, which is of course a torture in and of itself. Six months afterward, Héctor’s father, Francisco Quijano Garcia, who had been campaigning publicly for an investigation into the deaths of his sons, was himself disappeared; his body was found months later at the bottom of an unused well. The police accused an associate of Mr. Quijano Garcia, but the man, who was convicted of homicide in the case, stated he had confessed under police coercion.2 I got to know Héctor’s sister, Rosa, quite well. We were about the same age. We’d both just gotten married. I felt like my adult life and career were just beginning. Her life as she knew it had just ended; her world had been shattered. I learned from Rosa something that I have heard repeated by torture victims too many times to count in the intervening years: the most awful thing about torture is not the physical pain, as intense and unbearable as that can be; the most awful thing about torture is that it destroys a person’s sense of herself and her world. Elaine Scarry has described the “unmaking of the world” that occurs through torture.3 Focused on the effects of the physical pain, Scarry explains that “as in dying and death, so in serious pain the claims of the body utterly nullify the claims of the physical world.”4 Anyone who has experienced it knows that intense pain makes us small; rather than feeling our bodies in space, space and time are limited by our bodies. The physical pain experienced by torture victims destroys the world they project as well as the one they know. “This unseen sense of self-betrayal in pain, objectified in forced confession is also objectified in forced exercises that make the prisoner’s body Dignity and Suffering 27 an active agent, an actual cause of his pain.”5 Pain, as Scarry writes, is a central part of that destruction of one’s world. But, as I learned from Rosa, personally experiencing physical pain is not always a prerequisite. Seeing a loved one being tortured and being impotent to stop the pain can also unmake one’s world. In Prisoner Without a Name...


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