Geneva, October 15, 2009 -- The Rev. Dr. Emilio Castro, World Council of Churches General Secretary from 1985 to 1992, was decorated Wednesday by the government of Chile for his defense of human rights in Chile during the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
The Orden de Bernardo O'Higgins, is Chile's commendation for non-Chilean citizens. It was bestowed on Castro by the Chilean representative to the international organizations in Geneva, Ambassador Carlos Portales.
Bernardo O'Higgins, a central figure of Chile's fight for independence in the 19th century, is considered the nation's founding father. Castro is a Methodist pastor from Uruguay.
Pinochet led the September 11, 1973 coup against democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende and continued as dictator until March 1990. He died in December 2006.
Reports indicate that 2,279 persons who disappeared during the Pinochet years were killed for political reasons or as a result of political violence, and approximately 31,947 were tortured and 1,312 were exiled.
Pinochet said he believed these operations were necessary in order to "save the country from communism."
Castro was the fourth general secretary of the WCC. Now retired in Switzerland, he studied with Karl Barth in Basel and earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of Lausanne.
He has been a parish pastor and held offices in several Latin American and ecumenical agencies before joining the WCC staff as director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.