Human Rights

Having grown up in Ensenada’s Colonia Obrera, a working class neighborhood, and entering the workforce at the age of 8, I was exposed to inequality and injustice from a very early age. While studying ar the University of California at Berkeley at a tumultuous time, from 1970 to 1973, I was introduced to science, acquired an interest in consciousness, but also gained a political consciousness.

For the rest of my life, I pursued both my interest in science and engaged in efforts to bring about social change and promote human rights.

While working at UCLA as a research neuroscientist and teaching at the School of Medicine, I engaged in efforts to address environmental public health threats, like the aerial spraying of malathion over urban areas, the neurotoxic dangers of the gasoline additive MTBE, and the siting of toxic hot spots.

I worked with the United Farmworkers union, to bring attention to the health consequences of organophosphate pesticides.

In 1992, I participated in efforts to respond to the challenges raised by the civil disturbances of 1992 for a year, campaigning for a year for Latino victims of the riots.

In the Spring of 1993, I engaged in a 14 day hunger strike at UCLA with 6 students, through which we succeeded in preventing cuts to ethnic studies programs and creating a Chicano studies department. My view was that – when our society was being torn by tension, confrontation and violence-, such academic programs would allow university students to not only acquire the skills for their future profession, but to also gain a clearer understanding of the social realities they would face while practicing it. The hunger strike inspired thousands in Los Angeles and captured national attention.

On January 1, 1994, a rebellion broke out in the Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. The government responded by sending troops with tanks and helicopter to suppress it, causing thousands of civilian casualties. I formed a human rights delegation with notables from California and participated in successful efforts to stop the army’s actions. We documented and publicized multiple violations of human rights of the non-combatant civilian population.

On March 23, of that year, Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI’s candidate expected to be Mexico’s next President, was assassinated in Tijuana. A 24 year old young factory worker, Marion Aburto, was arrested and accused of being a lone assassin. His family, some in Los Angeles, and some in Tijuana, were persecuted and intimidated. In collaboration with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, I took up efforts to protect them, gained asylum for the family and learned key information about Mario’s activities in the period leading to the assassination, which suggested his actions had been part of a group effort. For two demanding and harrowing years, I worked to bring to light much of that information and campaigned for a public trial of Aburto as a way to shed light into the assassination.

Subsequently, I moved some of my activity into the policy and legislative arena, frequently working in collaboration with my good friend, Senator Tom Hayden. Moving to Geneva to focus on global health, allowed me to apply my scientific knowledge, skills and interests on efforts to advance a fundamental human right, the right to health.

Expert testimony before policy making bodies

have presented expert testimony on a variety of health and public policy issues, ranging from global health policy, human resources for health, Occupational Health, adverse health effects of neurotoxins such as malathion and other organophosphates, health effects of pesticides, neurotoxic effects of environmental agents, to air quality and the economy, human rights cases and status of Latinos in higher education, before public policy making bodies, such as:  

  • World Health Organization
  • International Labor Organization
  • International Congress of Occupational Health
  • OECD 
  • Rotterdam Convention – CIP
  • OAS Interamerican Commission on Human Rights
  • US Presidential Task Force on L.A. riots
  • US Department of Agriculture/APHIS 
  • Mexican Congressional Commission of inquiry on the Colosio assassination
  • Illinois House of Representatives and State Senate
  • California State Assembly and State Senate  
  • California Department of Health Services/MPHEAC
  • Southern California Air Quality Management District
  • L.A. County Board of Supervisors
  • Los Angeles, San Diego, Corona City Council