Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN, Receives Posthumous Prize from the United Nations for Outstanding Work in Human Rights
Belmont, CA, December 8, 2008 — Sister Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and NDNU alumna, who advocated for indigenous rights before her murder in Brazil three years ago, is among seven recipients of a prestigious United Nations prize awarded for outstanding work in human rights.
The UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights, awarded by the General Assembly every five years, will be presented this year at a ceremony in New York on December 10 to mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This year’s winners include Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Ramsey Clark, ex-Attorney-General of the United States; Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director and co-founder of Jamaicans for Justice; Denis Mukwege, co-founder of the General Referral Hospital of Panzi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and Human Rights Watch. Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister, and Sr. Dorothy are being posthumously honored. Previous recipients include Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Jimmy Carter.
Sr. Dorothy was murdered in February 2005 by hired gunmen in the Amazon state of Para, Brazil, where she spent 39 years working as a missionary to bring about social and ecological change. Originally from Dayton, OH, the 73-year-old nun was a passionate defender of the poor, committed to promoting social justice in an area marked by violence and the murder of poor people who had been given land by the government.
“As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we acknowledge the tireless work and invaluable contribution of these individuals and organizations that have fought to see the rights and freedoms embodied in this historic document become a reality for people in all corners of the world,” said Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto.
“These awardees constitute symbols of persistence, valour and tenacity in their resistance to public and private authorities that violate human rights. They constitute a moral force to put an end to systematic human rights violations,” D’Escoto added.
Sr. Dorothy joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1948, taking her vows in 1956. As a conventional nun in the pre-Vatican era, she developed a keen social conscience and a deep, mystical commitment to the integrity of creation. Shortly after graduating from NDNU with a liberal studies degree in ‘64, she was sent to work as a missionary in Brazil helping peasants make a living by farming small plots and extracting forest products without deforestation. Sr. Dorothy became a naturalized Brazilian citizen and staunchly continued her work to oppose illegal loggers who used intimidation to run poor farmers off their land. She received numerous death threats over the years from loggers and land owners.
The gunmen who were hired to murder Sr. Dorothy asked her if she was carrying a weapon before they shot her at point-blank range, and then shot her body another five times. According to a witness, she read from the Bible, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.”
Sr. Dorothy’s death was broadcast all over the world. Thousands of memorials took place to remember the 73-year-old nun who was a passionate defender of the poor. The President of Brazil sent two thousand troops into the area to quell any violence that was threatened against the poor. They stayed in the area for nearly five months, as the killing did not end with her death.
Prior to her murder, Sr. Dorothy was honored by the state of Para for work in the Amazon region. She also received an award from the Brazilian Bar Association for her work ministering to the poor as she helped encourage sustainable agriculture. NDNU and three other universities posthumously awarded Sister Dorothy with Honorary Doctorate Degrees of Humane Letters. In 2006, Sr. Dorothy was inducted into the National Freedom Railroad in Cincinnati which honors leaders who have fought against slavery. She was also honored by the United Nations and the U.S. Congress for her work with the poor and oppressed.
Sister Roseanne Murphy, NDNU’s Executive Director of Planned Giving and Professor Emerita, was approached by fellow Sisters from Stang’s order in Ohio to write her biography “The Martyr of the Amazon,” shortly after her death. Sr. Roseanne spent time researching, writing, and traveling to Brazil in the summer of 2006 to talk with the farmers Sr. Dorothy gave her life for.
“Dorothy embodies the qualities of the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and models the hallmarks of NDNU,” said Sr. Roseanne. “Her spirit lives on in the hearts of the people who have found their rights and are determined to continue her work for justice and peace in that troubled area.”