The Duke Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Human Rights Archive at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library have named María McFarland Sánchez-Moreno’s book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia (Nation Books, 2018) as the winner of the 2018 Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America. McFarland visited Duke University during spring semester 2019 to accept the award.  You can read an interview with McFarland here.

There Are No Dead Here is a deep dive into key human rights cases that exposed the murderous nexus between right-wing paramilitaries, drug lords, and Colombia’s military and political establishment. Through dogged reporting, in part as a Human Rights Watch researcher, McFarland unravels the links that led to the murders of Colombian rights investigators by powerful interests that reached as high as military leadership and even the Colombian presidency.

When notified of the award, McFarland stated, “It was a joy and privilege for me to tell the stories of some of the many Colombians who stand up for truth and justice every day. So it’s tremendously satisfying that those stories are now getting the recognition they so deserve, thanks to the Mendez Award, which itself is named after a brave fighter for human rights.”

First awarded in 2008, the Méndez Human Rights Book Award honors the best current, fiction or non-fiction book published in English on human rights, democracy, and social justice in contemporary Latin America. The books are evaluated by a panel of expert judges drawn from academia, journalism, and public policy circles.

“Colombia is often portrayed as a place where violence is endemic and unstoppable,” said Robin Kirk, the Committee Chair and co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute, “McFarland’s riveting story shows that the truth is much more complex. Again and again, Colombians step up to fight for justice even though they face daunting odds. Their story is well told in her astonishing book.”

Holly Ackerman, Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a Studies at Duke University Libraries, who served on the Mendez book award committee commented, “McFarland’s’ book highlights a fundamental tool in the struggle for justice — people who will not look away. The determination and sacrifice of three individuals moved Colombia toward historical truth and a still-fragile peace. There Are No Dead Here demonstrates a clear linkage between individual courage and the collective awareness that creates the possibility for justice to triumph over impunity.”

James Chappel, Hunt Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, also offered praise: “McFarland does a wonderful job contextualizing the stories of these human rights defenders. As we focus so incessantly on the structure of unequal neoliberal globalization, human rights progress depends on incredibly brave men and women on the front lines.”

Other judges include Kia Caldwell, Associate Professor of African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill; and Kirsten Weld, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of History at Harvard University.