Three years now, and the pain still naws on him, fed by the memories of the bomb, of the car, of his bloodied, dead wife. Michael Moffitt quotes Lillian Hellman for a peculiar kind of solace: "As I finish writing about this unpleasant part of my life, I tell myself that was then, and there is now . . . and the then and now are one."

The grief stays with Chris Letelier, too, the young man who was 19 when his father was killed by Chilean terrorists. "The pain comes the morning of the 21st," he says, "The anniversary of the day it actually happened."

But last night, said the young Letelier, was "the exuberant part," the brighter spot in a bleak anniversary where awards are given in his father's name to honor those dedicated to the human rights struggle. "Every time I come to this," said Letelier, "I get really filled with emotion."

Alfred "Skip" Robinson, a black civil rights leader in Mississippi, and Ana Luisa Rojas and Sola Sierra, two women representing the Association of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Chile, received the awards last night.

Established by the Institute for Policy Studies here, the Letelier-Moffitt Memorial Human Rights Awards are named for Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean ambassador killed in the September 1976 car bomb explosion in Sheridan Circle. Ronnie Moffitt, the wife of Michael, also died in the blast.

Some 200 people, many of them from the Institute for Policy Studies and most of them avid enemies of the Pinochet regime in Chile, assembled in Howard University's Cramton Auditorium to hear the speeches and see the awards presentation.

The speakers, including Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), Peter Weiss of the board of directors of the Institute and Letelier's widow, Isabel, delivered emotional pleas as slides of the slain were shown on a giant screen.

Always, always, the plea was for human rights. "The Third World," said Isabel Letelier, "is full of Pinochets, Pinocchios and puppets who go beyond their maker's desires."

As she spoke a giant illumination of her husband's face appeared on the screen. Ronnie Moffitt's face had been there earlier. "I saw them both that morning," said Isabel Letelier, "and I kissed them goodbye."