Human Rights Activist Maria Julia Hernandez

Associated Press
Saturday, March 31, 2007

Maria Julia Hernandez, 68, a renowned human rights activist who aided victims of El Salvador's civil war, died March 30 after a heart attack in a San Salvador hospital, where she had been hospitalized since March 9.

Ms. Hernandez was best known as director of the Roman Catholic Church-sponsored group Legal Protection, which aids impoverished victims of El Salvador's 12-year civil war, and she had formerly worked alongside the late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

"She was and will forever be a mother to victims, a fighter for the truth," said Benjamin Cuellar of the Central American University's Human Rights Institute. "She gave us dignity, hope, sacrifice."

She worked with Romero on some of the conflict's first rights cases, said Jose Roberto Lazo, a lawyer for Legal Protection. Romero was assassinated in 1980 after he urged the military to halt the death squads that killed thousands of suspected guerrillas and leftist opponents of the government.

Born to Salvadoran parents in the Honduran town of San Francisco Morazan in 1939, Ms. Hernandez and her family moved to El Salvador days later. She dedicated her life to social work in the church and never married.

Ana Julia Escalante, director of El Salvador's nongovernmental Human Rights Commission, called Hernandez "a fighter, a person who spent her life giving all to the center and never staying quiet amid the human rights violations that were being committed."

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