El Salvador: María Julia Hernández Chavarría

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.

— María Julia Hernández Chavarría

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.

“Please help me,” asked the archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero (he was murdered in 1980), to a group of university students in the end of the 1970s. María Julia Hernández (born 1939) was struck powerfully by these words in a public mass for priest Rutilio Grande (a priest murdered by paramilitary forces, in 1977) and immediately volunteered to help with the labor of the prelate. “Then, I realized that was the opportunity I had been looking for, since I was a girl. It summed up everything for me.” A few years before, when she lived in the United States, she began to understand the complex social problems of the Latin America people. She felt that they needed her help. María Julia Hernández decided to give up her religious vocation. “That was not my path,” she says. Back in El Salvador, she studied philosophy at the Centro American University. After that she went on to work as a professor in the Law School of the El Salvador University. In the 1980s, she worked in collaboration with Monsignor Romero, convincing him to publish his homilies (speeches denouncing the abuses suffered by the people, through the hands of the state), arguing that it was his people who demanded it. She went to his personal archive of records, transcribed and edited them. Since 1982, when she accepted the post as Director of the Legal Tutelage of the Archbishops of San Salvador, which she still occupies, her motto was: “God is my rock.” She has sacrificed her family, health (in 1994, she went through open-heart surgery). She has never ceased to demand peace and full human dignity, in spite of the constant death threats she has received due to her fight against impunity. Her most recent success was obtaining a judicial sentence, from the International Commission for Human Rights, against one of the people responsible for Monsignor Romero's murder.

Legal Tutelage of the Archbishops of San Salvador