Skip to content Skip to navigation

Human Rights NGO director speaks on Central America work

Noah Bullock speaks with Center Associate Director Penelope Van Tuyl
Jan 17 2020

By Isabel Vasquez, Student Assistant.


Noah Bullock, executive director of human rights NGO Cristosal, recently spoke to a Stanford audience about the state of human rights in Central America’s Northern Triangle (encompassing the countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala). Before delving into a discussion of the regional context, Bullock first spoke of the importance of maintaining perspective reminding the audience that human rights violations are not unique to any country or any culture. “Human rights are never given freely,” he said, and their protection and advancement require effort from all of us.

Regarding the state of human rights in the Northern Triangle specifically, Bullock described the present situation as a “moment of setback.” He discussed three trends contributing to that setback: the employment of counter-terrorism responses to domestic security, the rise in hybrid democratic/authoritarian populism, and the power and influence of organized criminal groups. Throughout his talk, Bullock emphasized the interconnected nature of those three trends. Consequently, communities living under the authority of gangs are often targets of the counter-terrorism measures employed in response to “internal threats.” He explained that, “to be a victim of violence is also to be highly stigmatized,” as many people assume victims are caught up in violence because they themselves are engaging in criminal behavior. He contended that the stigmatization those communities experience erodes any expectation of justice.

Through his work with Cristosal, Bullock strives to foster such an expectation of justice within Northern Triangle countries. He spoke of the importance of giving victims a space to speak, believing that society transforms when they speak their truth because “the truth imposes.” When asked how forced migration affects the capacity for domestic mobilization and societal change, Bullock stated that migration—and migration caravans in particular—are in themselves a form of protest. He considers them a way of saying, “We have done our best to exhaust ways to effect change domestically, and as human beings we have a right to live somewhere in the world [without fearing for our safety].”

When discussing the role of the United States in this forced migration, Bullock returned to the idea of interconnectivity. He remarked that the best way to understand the history of U.S. involvement in Latin America is not as two separate histories, but as one interconnected story. Regarding current U.S. foreign policy, he believes the greatest danger comes when the U.S. pursues its interests in a myopic way: prioritizing one issue—such as a reduction in immigration—at the expense of all others. Such a narrow pursuit of U.S. interests has impacts, he remarked, but “when we [the U.S.] do things well, there’s [also] an impact.”

Watch the video for this event.

This event was co-sponsored by the Mills International Human Rights Clinic and the Center for Latin American Studies.