A former World Council of Churches (WCC) official from Brazil, Rev. Charles Harper, has been honoured with the Order Comendador de Mayo, a high decoration of the Argentine government for his emblematic legacy of struggles for human rights in the ecumenical movement. Harper, was WCC’s director of the Human Rights Resource Office for Latin America from 1973 to 1992. He received this honour in a ceremony held on 16 September in Geneva, Switzerland. Harper, born to an American missionary father working in Brazil, joined the anti-colonial struggle through the Committee for Assistance to Evacuees (CIMADE). At CIMADE, he worked with young people and Algerian immigrants in Marseille, France, in the early 1960s. With CIMADE and later as director of the John Knox International Reformed Centre, Harper supported church leaders persecuted in Mozambique, Angola and Cape Verde. Many of those become key actors in the independence struggles of their countries. At the WCC, Harper coördinated a number of systematic international initiatives denouncing human rights violations in Latin America. He created strong networks to protect the persecuted, imprisoned and tortured people in the region.
Accompanying human rights movements in the 1970s, the WCC was able to respond to the calls for solidarity at regional and global levels. Harper’s work at the WCC was initiated by the WCC member churches in Latin America, following a dialogue held with the WCC’s Commission on International Affairs, chaired then by the renowned jurist Dr Theo van Boven, who also received an honour from the Argentine government in 2012.
In his speech Harper pointed out the current global challenges that a new generation of human rights advocates has to deal with. “Thirty years later – today – the challenges facing the world community of nations, both as international and ecumenical family, not only persist but become more intense: The World Council of Churches, an instrument of unity and service to humanity, strives to accompany churches and groups related to them in critical situations to defend human rights and human dignity, fighting impunity, demanding punitive justice, and building just and peaceful societies.”
At the ceremony, Ambassador Alberto D’Alotto said, “Protestant churches have played an important role in defending human rights and in starting movements for human rights in my country. They helped in founding human rights organizations and sponsored their consolidation, and managed international financing much needed in the beginning…..The churches helped to find ways to overcome the information blockade imposed by the military authorities, giving international visibility to what was happening in Argentina and denouncing the military repression in international forums,” he said.