We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Pilar Coll, a longtime friend and colleague of WOLA and the first Executive Secretary of the National Coordinator of Human Rights in Peru (Coordinadora Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDDHH), on September 15. She will long be remembered for her unflinching dedication to social justice through the darkest hours of Peru’s internal armed conflict and up to the last day of her life. Her persistence and hope for peace, justice, and truth will continue to serve as an example for those who come after her.
A lawyer by training and a lay missionary, Pilar moved from her native Spain to Peru in 1967 to advocate for human rights and social justice. She became known for her work in Lima’s prisons and with their female populations. In addition to her work at the CNDDHH, Pilar was a founding member of the Center for the Study and Promotion of Peace (Centro de Estudios y Acción para la Paz, CEAPAZ); head of the Human Rights Division of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action (Servicio de Derechos Humanos en la Comisión Episcopal de Acción Social, CEAS); a researcher at the Bartolomé de las Casas Institute (Instituto Bartolomé de las Casas); a volunteer with Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, CVR); and most recently an advisor to the National Reparations Committee (Consejo Nacional de Reparaciones).
However, it is Pilar’s role in establishing the CNDDHH that stands out most in our minds. When the CNDDHH was founded, Pilar was working to support Christian base communities in the El Agustino neighborhood of Lima. It took some convincing to get her to take on the CNDDHH’s Executive Secretary position, but she finally agreed and proved to be the perfect person for the job. She was committed to working at the grassroots level, yet had no qualms about standing up forcefully to government and military officials. Her keen political savvy guided her—and the human rights movement—through difficult times in Peru. Her unassuming manner was key in bringing together human rights groups from around the country. The CNDDHH became one of the most effective country-based human rights networks in the region, if not internationally, thanks in no small part to Pilar’s vision and dedication. Throughout her life, Pilar’s commitment to human rights and socioeconomic justice guided her work, and her courage and commitment inspired all who had the good fortune to meet her.
Pilar was not only a colleague but a dear friend to WOLA. We offer our deepest condolences to Pilar’s family and friends. She will be sorely missed.