The following article appeared in the Duke Chronicle on September 22, 2014. 

By Sydney Sarachek

FHI-7521Human rights lawyer, activist and scholar Juan Mendez reflected on the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s Nunca Mas report in Smith Warehouse Friday.

Méndez was the first speaker in a yearlong series titled “Commissioning Truths: Thirty Years after Nunca Mas,” sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. Submitted to the Argentine people Sept. 20, 1984, Nunca Mas marked the first time a government authorized an independent entity to investigate those responsible for its decisions.

“Juan Mendez is the perfect person to start our series on Commissioning Truths, to mark the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s ‘Never Again’ report,” said Robin Kirk, faculty co-chair of the executive committee of the Duke Human Rights Center at FHI. “He was a political prisoner, suffered torture and then went on to work for human rights.”

In addition to presenting his speech, Mendez placed his papers in the Human Rights Archive at Duke’s Rubenstein Library Friday. The majority of his donated records are digital, focusing particularly on his work as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

“Public programming is an important aspect of the Human Rights Archive, helping the Duke community learn about the resources available to them for studying and researching human rights and also introducing our archival partners to the dynamic human rights community here at Duke,” said Patrick Stawski, human rights archivist at Rubenstein Library. “We look forward to this year-long discussion on truth-telling, justice and memory.”

Currently a visiting professor of law at American University, Mendez has served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Special Advisor on Prevention to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; and UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. He worked with Human Rights Watch for 15 years, and he has served as the President of the International Center for Transnational Justice.

“It was fascinating to hear about how much progress has been made regarding human rights in Argentina and how it can inspire countries like the United States to be held accountable for torture,” said sophomore Natalie Markowitz, who attended the speech.

The majority of records from Mendez’s early career in Argentina were lost when he was expelled in 1977, but Duke acquired many of the remaining papers several years ago. Part of the Rubenstein’s collection of papers on Rabbi Marshall Meyer—who played a key role in constructing the Nunca Mas report—these files provide a glimpse into the Nunca Mas commission, the challenges they faced, the choices they made, and how their work evolved into the final report issued in 1984.

“I commend Duke University for remembering that Sept. 20, 2014 is the 30th anniversary for the groundbreaking appearance of the… report,” Mendez said.