35,000-MILE ODYSSEY ENDS IN BUENOS AIRES : Final Bow for ‘Human Rights’ Tour

Times Staff Writer

As a shooting star tumbled through the night sky, Amnesty International ended its 35,000-mile odyssey in which some of the world’s best rock musicians served as troubadours for human rights.

Bruce Springsteen reminded the 70,000 dancing, waving fans of the tour’s goal: “A world without leaders who govern with the blood of their people on their hands.”

The 20th and final concert of the six-week “Human Rights Now!” tour combined the virtuosity of Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’Dour of Senegal with odes to the missing, the tortured and the persecuted in Argentina, Chile and South Africa.

The finale in River Plate Stadium on Saturday night brought the total audience to over 1 million for the entire tour--aimed at raising consciousness about human rights abuses around the world and the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


“Let’s work for a world without oppression,” Springsteen declared. “A world without Somozas, without Pinochets,” referring to the late President Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua and Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

The penultimate concert on Friday in Mendoza, near the Argentina-Chile border, became a celebration of Pinochet’s defeat in a plebiscite Oct. 5. Thousands of Chileans attended, and two Chilean bands, recently returned from exile, joined the international stars on stage.

In Buenos Aires, the final concert was in part a celebration of Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983 and the restoration of political rights since then. Organizers said they wanted the tour to end here because Argentina was an example for the rest of the continent.

But the banners strung around the stadium reminded the crowd that concerns persist in Argentina, especially over what amounts to an amnesty for all but a handful of senior officers accused of persistent human rights offenses during the military government of 1976-1983.


“No to Impunity,” one banner declared. Another read: “Judgment and punishment for all those who are culpable.”

Amnesty International is a private, nonprofit organization that has criticized human rights abuses in East-Bloc nations as well as nations with rightist military governments.

For the crowd here, Sting was the prime attraction. No newcomer to Latin American issues, the English singer speaks Spanish and his ballad, “They Dance Alone,” honors the widows and mothers in Chile and Argentina who continue to seek the truth about the “disappearances” of their husbands and sons. The state is accused of killing them.

During his set, Sting called on stage two dozen mothers and grandmothers who wore white kerchiefs that have become symbols of their search for the “disappeared,” with the pictures of their missing ones pinned to their blouses. Sting and Peter Gabriel danced with the mothers, while the audience held up candles and lighters.

In many a concert-with-a-theme, either the music or the message seems appended as an afterthought. But the finale to the “Human Rights Now!” tour was an exception. After concerts in 20 cities in 15 countries, the five principal acts had honed their performances. They evolved duets and group numbers, such as Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom.”

For nearly eight hours, the crowd responded ecstatically--to Gabriel’s rousing tribute to Steve Biko, the South African black consciousness leader who died in police custody in 1977; to Tracy Chapman’s ballad for imprisoned South African leader Nelson Mandela, “Freedom Now.”

The organizers distributed 1.2 million copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during the tour. “The future is in your hands,” said Gabriel, after singing his song in honor of Biko. “Let’s dream of a world in which all men, women and children have their rights protected.”