May 22, 2009

Human Rights Pioneer Roberto Martinez Passes Away Peacefully Surrounded by His Family

Roberto Martinez was instrumental in human rights monitoring and documentation in border communities

Roberto Martinez, a lifelong Chicano civil and human rights advocate and former director of the US-Mexico Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in San Diego, passed away this morning in the presence of his immediate family. He was 72 years old.

Roberto was a fifth generation Chicano who witnessed blatant discrimination and racial intolerance as a young man. He became a prominent advocate for migrant communities in the late 1970s and early 1980s and worked with several organizations in order to confront law enforcement abuse of authority. In 1983, Roberto became the director of the AFSC’s US-Mexico Border Program, and he was instrumental in developing a human rights methodology that is now widely used by human rights organizations along the US-Mexico border. In 2001, Roberto retired as director of the AFSC because of complications with diabetes, after 18 years of service with the AFSC, and after a lifetime of advocacy for human rights in border communities.

Throughout the course of his life, Roberto participated in countless community forums, panel presentations, and testified before the US Congress on Border Patrol violence and the increasing militarization of the US-Mexico border. Roberto became an internationally recognized advocate of the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, and those relegated to the margins because of immigration policies. In 1992, Roberto became the first US citizen to be honored as an International Human Rights Monitor by the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch for his pioneering human rights advocacy in border communities. Recently Roberto received the prestigious Ohtli Award presented to him by the Mexican Government, the highest honor granted to a non-Mexican national for their service to Mexicans abroad. He was also the recipient of the Quezalcoalt Award, presented to him by the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights.

Roberto is survived by his wife, Yolanda, nine children, 23 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Information about services for Roberto are forthcoming. Cards and letters of condolences for Roberto’s widow, Yolanda Martinez, can be sent to:

c/o Roberto Martinez
PO Box 126147
San Diego CA 92112

Financial support for the family can be made in the following ways:

1) Send checks made out to Yolanda Martinez, to:

c/o Yolanda Martinez
PO Box 126147
San Diego CA 92112

2) Send a tax-deductible contribution to made out to PIQE (with Roberto Martinez Donation on subject line):

4010 Morena Blvd, #200
San Diego CA 92117
(You will receive a receipt with PIQE’s non-profit tax ID.)

Roberto will surely be missed. He was a mentor to many, always worked with integrity and treated everyone with respect. Roberto’s determination in advocating for justice, peace, and dignity is an admirable legacy that should serve as an example for all.

Story submitted by Pedro Rios.

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