Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Pérez Esquivel was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1931. Despite family poverty, he attended school and trained as an architect and sculptor—his large-scale murals and other work reflect his faith in humankind and foundational belief in God. He was also a professor of architecture for 25 years. But he worried about human rights abuses in his country, especially the treatment of those who fought for peace and democracy. So, in 1974, he left his career in order to coordinate nonviolent organizations and coalitions in the region as secretary-general of the newly formed Servicio Paz y Justicia (Service for Peace and Justice, or SERPAJ).

In 1976, a military dictatorship took power in Argentina, and their “dirty war” imposed a brutal crackdown on democratic rights, targeting artists, teachers, journalists, activists, and intellectuals. Pérez Esquivel began a campaign to convince the United Nations of the need for a Human Rights Commission. He sent a record of all the breaches of human rights in Latin America that SERPAJ could uncover. Argentinean authorities jailed Pérez Esquivel without charge in 1977, subjecting him to torture and holding him without trial in Buenos Aires for 14 months. It was his third arrest in as many years, each in a different country. After his release, he faced restrictions and was closely monitored by the police. By 1980, the limits eased, and he was able to continue his important work with SERPAJ—work that to this day includes assisting rural workers in their struggle for land and trade unions in their struggle to protect the rights of their workers.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel was awarded the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership and courageous defense of human rights and democracy for the people of Latin America and for serving as an inspiration to oppressed people all over the world. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he noted his continued belief in “a change based on justice, built with love and which will bring us the most anxiously desired fruit of peace.”