News Article Explores Fact and Fiction in Red
Click here to read coverage of the Rothko Chapel's program "Fact, Fiction, and Interpretation: Conversations about Red."
Oscar Romero Awards Ceremony Honors Nassera Dutour, Algerian Mother and Champion of Missing Algerians
On Sunday, November 13, the Rothko Chapel, one of the world’s most celebrated twentieth century sacred spaces and an institution committed to advancing human rights and interfaith understanding, presented its Oscar Romero Award to Madame Nassera Dutour for her tireless efforts on behalf of the families of approximately 7,000 men and women who disappeared in Algeria in the 1990s. She initiated her quest for justice after her own son was kidnapped from the street near his home. Madame Dutour spoke about her work and was recognized in a public ceremony. Larry Cox, former executive director of Amnesty International USA, spoke about the global implications of human rights violations and their redress.
This award commemorates the martyrdom of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who was murdered in 1980 for his efforts to expose government corruption and to fight exploitation of the poor in El Salvador. Initiated by the Chapel’s founder, Dominique de Menil, in 1986, the Oscar Romero Award is given to individuals or organizations in recognition of their unsung, heroic efforts in the area of human rights. Madame Dutour was chosen to receive this year’s award by the board of the Rothko Chapel from 15 nominees selected by a national committee of human rights advocates. The award includes a cash gift of $20,000 to the recipient.
Juan E. Méndez, Chair of the 2011 Oscar Romero Award Advisory Committee, said, “Oscar Romero was a champion for the rights of the poor and was not afraid to confront a regime in El Salvador committed to silencing his voice. It is therefore fitting that this year the Rothko Chapel honors Nassera Dutour, a woman who has worked tirelessly to raise the voices of the families of Algeria’s disappeared despite pressure from the Algerian government to be silent, as the recipient of 2011 Oscar Romero Award.” Mendez is a Visiting Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law, and since November 2010, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Madame Nassera Dutour
In 1998, Madame Dutour founded the Collective for the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria and its partner organization SOS Disparus. What has become her life’s work was sparked by the disappearance of her own son, Amine, who was twenty-one when he inexplicably disappeared in January 1997. He had left home to buy pastries for the evening’s iftar (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) and never returned. Like the other thousands of civilian “disappeared,” he fell victim to the civil war and violence between government security forces and armed Islamist opposition groups that raged in Algeria between 1993 and 1997. For years, Madame Dutour followed every trace of a lead—searching prisons, police stations, and morgues around the country, and persistently pressed the government for information, yet like the thousands of others, the government has given no information or explanation of his fate.
Since her son’s disappearance, Madame Dutour has channeled the pain of her personal tragedy into building a human rights movement and to shattering the silence surrounding the disappeared. She has become a spokesperson and advocate for the families of the disappeared, pursuing truth and justice for a crime that denies the very existence of a person. Her organization has a Paris-based branch and an Algerian office and operates strategically both inside and outside of Algeria to generate public awareness of state abuses and to press the Algerian government to accountability. All of its activities are undertaken despite the risk of criminal charges and ongoing harassment by the government. In 2006 a decree that provided amnesty for many of the crimes committed during the war also created penalties of up to five years in prison for any statement or activity concerning “the national tragedy” which “harms” state institutions, the “good reputation of its agents,” or “the image of Algeria internationally.”
Fighting a powerful and well-resourced government that does its best to thwart activists at every turn, Madame Dutour frequently organizes discussion forums and seminars on forced disappearances and transitional justice. SOS Disparus provides legal support to an average of fifteen families per week requesting an official investigation into the disappearance of loved ones. She works directly with the families of the disappeared, informing them of their rights and helping them navigate bureaucratic obstacles designed to force those who seek information into retreat. In addition, since 1998, she has organized weekly demonstrations of women whose relatives disappeared during the war at the headquarters of the National Advisory Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. In June 2010, the Commission announced that future such demonstrations were forbidden. SOS Disparus is currently working on plans to open a center in Algiers to provide medical treatment, psychosocial support and legal aid to victims of torture.
Currently events in North African and the Middle East represent a rare opportunity for human rights activists to move their agenda forward, and Madame Dutour is a leading voice in the charge for reform in Algeria. Fostering broader public participation in activities challenging abuses of the regime has become a natural extension of the work of SOS Disparus, which has also played a constructive role both in helping other human rights organizations acquire the tools they need to better challenge human rights violations and in promoting greater collaboration between different segments of the human rights movement.
Since its inception, SOS Disparus has documented thousands of disappearance cases. Though many are still unsolved and the government remains an uncooperative and often hostile counterforce in their search for answers, the organization has compiled extensive records and will be in a position, when a more favorable environment is established, to provide the witnesses and testimonials needed to establish the truth. In 2010, SOS Disparus developed an “online memorial”—a website which serves both as a database with information on individual cases of disappearances and as a testament to the collective memory of the victims.
Efforts to educate European governments, non-governmental organizations, and communities about Algeria’s failure to provide information about the disappeared have resulted in regular coverage of the issue of disappearances by European media outlets. In addition, thanks in large part to shadow reports produced by the organization, the United Nations Human Rights Council, within the context of the Universal Periodic Review, the Human Rights Committee, and the Committee against Torture all have scrutinized Algeria's human rights record. In the last few years, the latter two bodies called on the Algerian authorities to take concrete measures to combat impunity; to investigate all cases of grave human rights abuses including forced disappearances, torture, and rape; to bring perpetrators to justice using methods that meet international standards for fair trials; to provide victims and their families with effective remedies and to bring national legislation in line with international standards. The UN Human Rights Committee has also made recommendations on specific cases of disappearances submitted by SOS.
Larry Cox executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) from 2006 until October 2011. A veteran human rights advocate, he came to AIUSA after serving 11 years as senior program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Human Rights unit, where he focused on the promotion of international justice and the advancement of domestic human rights. Cox also served as executive director of the Rainforest Foundation, an international organization that works with indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon to protect their rights. During his time at the Rainforest Foundation, Cox dedicated much of his time to the issue of demarcation of indigenous territories in Brazil.
While at the Ford Foundation, Cox co-edited and co-wrote the introduction to the report, “Close to Home: Case Studies of Human Rights Work in the U.S.” The report examines the traditional human rights tools—such as fact-finding, litigation, organizing and advocacy—that U.S. human rights organizations use to reduce poverty, promote workers’ rights and environmental justice, abolish the death penalty and end discrimination.
Texas Monthly Names Rothko Chapel to List of Ten Greatest Masterpieces on View in Texas
The October issue of Texas Monthly devotes a full page with photo to the Rothko Chapel in an article that examines the state's top ten works of art, or, as the magazine puts it, "the ultimate art tour of Texas." The magazine researched the topic by going to more than sixty museum directors, curators, gallery owners, critics, and historians throughout Texas to name the masterpieces.
Writings of Dominique de Menil Published by Yale University Press in Association with the Rothko Chapel
Dominique de Menil’s timeless words and inspired thoughts are presented together for the first time in The Rothko Chapel: Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine published by Yale University Press in association with the Rothko Chapel. The book includes forewords by Fariha de Menil Friedrich, a daughter of the Chapel’s founders, John and Dominique de Menil, and Christopher Rothko, son of the artist Mark Rothko, whose commission by the de Menils yielded fourteen monumental murals created specifically for the Chapel. Emilee Dawn Whitehurst, executive director of the Rothko Chapel, provides the introduction. The Rothko Chapel: Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine will be available for $20. At 124 pages, it includes 20 black-and-white photographs of the de Menils and from the life of the Chapel. The publication honors and commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Chapel’s founding in 1971.
GQ Magazine Names Rothko Chapel One of Ten Greatest Places to Experience Art
In its December 2010 issue, GQ magazine names the Rothko Chapel one of the "ten greatest places to experience art" and calls it a "meditative mecca." Writer Michael Hainey describes the Rothko Chapel as "a space that makes you feel like you're living in one of Rothko's paintings...The Chapel is infinity captured."