Sr. Dianna Ortiz changed my life, opening my eyes to the needs, courage, and strength of those who have survived torture.
I met her in 1997 when she participated in a federal NIMH conference on the mental health consequences of torture, a gathering inspired by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, where she provided a moving testimony about her own experiences. When the conference led to NIMH developing a report for representatives of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who had asked for federal and scientific information on the mental health impact of torture to use as part of their work, Sr. Dianna was included as part of the committee developing the report, to make sure that the voices of torture survivors were loud and clear. Her participation inspired the scientists, clinicians, and others involved in this work, and she always included fellow survivors in the development of her own contributions. This report was delivered to the South African group, and then was developed into a book to help disseminate this information more widely. Her chapter, “The Survivors’ Perspective: Voices from the Center” was a cornerstone of the book.
Through this work, I came to know Sr. Dianna, her work with TASSC and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, and many other ways she influenced and inspired people from all areas of human rights, public policy, and advocacy.
Knowing her has inspired me to stand up for what is right even when it feels impossible – she was a model of generosity, courage, and kindness. There is no doubt her memory and her work will live on. I am grateful to have known her and will never forget what she has done for the world. (Ellen Gerrity)