MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin last night led tributes to renowned Irish human rights champion, Pat Rice who died this week unexpectedly, aged 64.
Mr Rice spent 40 years in Latin America working in human rights education and campaigning on behalf of families of the “disappeared”. He himself was kidnapped and tortured while working as a missionary priest in Argentina.
Mr Martin described him as an “an extraordinary Irishman: a teacher, educator, activist and lobbyist who will be remembered for the profound impact he has made on Ireland, on Argentina, and on the international human rights arena”.
Professor of History, Dermot Keogh described his close friend as a “truly selfless man, of great personal and moral courage and also the most unaffected man you could meet”.
Born in Fermoy, Co Cork, in September 1945, Pat Rice joined the Divine Word Missionaries, studied at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and was ordained in 1970. He was posted to Argentina but dissatisfied with his pastoral role, left the Divine Word Missionaries in 1972 and joined the Little Brothers (Hermanitos) of Charles de Foucauld.
Over the following years in Argentina, he ran extensive human rights education programmes and helped form a union movement while working as a labourer priest. He also began on his life’s work, the investigation of the “disappeared”. The military viewed the Hermanitos’ work with suspicion and on October 11 1976, Mr Rice and a young Christian worker, Fatima were bundled into a car driven to a secret detention centre and systematically abused and tortured. Through the intervention of the Irish Embassy in Argentina and especially the then third secretary, Justin Harman, Mr Rice was set free two months later.
As he was being released, his captors asked him to write something positive in their records.
In the words of Professor Keogh, “he wrote, with characteristic understatement: ‘I might have been treated better’”.
On his release, Pat Rice was instrumental in the creation of the Committee for Human Rights in Argentina; the US Government hearing on the disappeared in Argentina; and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
He was a founding member and served both as the executive secretary (1981-1987) and as a senior advisor to the executive committee (1999-2010) of FEDEFAM (the Latin American Federation of Association of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees).
Pat Rice was re-united with his former co-prisoner Fatima in 1984 and a year later was laicised and they were married.
The couple were both united in a devotion to the poor and illiterate.
Pat Rice was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law from University College Cork in 2008.
He is survived by Fatima and their children Carlos, Amy and Blanca.
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