Rafto Prize goes to bishop in Mexico

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A Mexican bishop who’s been called “a fearless defender” of Mexico’s most vulnerable people has been awarded this year’s Rafto Prize for his struggle for human rights and social justice.

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez has been called "a fearless defender" of the poor and vulnerable in Mexico. PHOTO: Rafto Foundation

The Bergen-based Rafto Foundation called Catholic Bishop José Raúl Vera López of Saltillo “one of the most courageous critics of human rights violations in today’s Mexico.” Foundation officials said that López also “speaks out loudly and without fear” against corruption, abuse of power and the absence of the rule of law, often endangering his own security.

López is an advocate of migrants, indigenous peoples and other groups at risk in Mexican society, according to the foundation, especially the poor who often find themselves at the mercy of Mexico’s infamous drug cartels. In addition to defying the cartels, López also has accused the Mexican police and representatives of the National Migration Institute of being part of a criminal network that kidnaps and tortures migrants passing through Mexico from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and demands ransom from their families, according to the Rafto Foundation.

It noted that Mexican Felipe Calderón’s war against drug trafficking and crime has led to increased militarization and the cartels’ counteroffensive that has resulted in more than 20,000 deaths and a rise in human rights abuses.

The prize, awarded annually by the Rafto Foundation, is one of the world’s most prestigious in recognizing champions of human rights. Many of its winners have gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, including Aung Sang Suu Kyi of Burma, Kim Dae-jung of South Korea and Shirin Ebadi of Iran.

The Rafto Foundation was established following the death of Norwegian Professor Thorolf Rafto in 1986, to honor his work to help the oppressed and prosecuted and ensure that it continues. The Rafto Prize for Human Rights will be awarded in Bergen on November 7.

Views and News staff