The Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America honors the leadership and legacy of Juan E. Méndez, a champion of justice who has devoted his life to the defense of human rights.
Méndez is the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and current Professor of Human Rights Law at American University. The award recognizes an outstanding book of non-fiction, including graphic works, published in English on human rights, democracy and social justice in contemporary Latin America. Méndez’s papers are housed at Duke University Libraries’ Human Rights Archive, one of the largest collections of human rights materials at any American university. The papers document Méndez’s work as the UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as well as his work with the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).
The award is co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at Duke University and is given in conjunction with the Human Rights Archive at Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Scholarly and popular books, including non-fiction graphic works, are eligible, either edited or authored. To be eligible, books must meet the following criteria:
An original, non-fiction book related to issues of human rights, the rule of law, social and/or economic justice, and democracy, as they are broadly understood, in contemporary Latin America. Books should pertain to events that took place in roughly the past 50 years.
Published in the English language by a commercial, university, or non-profit publishing concern. Books written originally in other languages and translated into English are eligible. Self-published books are not eligible.
Published in the two years before the date of the award, including the year of the award. In other words, books published in 2021 and 2022 are eligible for the prize awarded in 2023. Books published prior to 2021 and before are not eligible.
2023 Juan E. Méndez Book Award Winner
The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America (Yale University Press, 2022) by Francesca Lessa is the winner of the 2023 Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America. The judges were unanimous in their choice of the winner.
Lessa shows how networks of justice seekers transcended national borders to win justice for victims. Based on extensive fieldwork, archival research, trial ethnography, and over one hundred interviews, The Condor Trials explores South America’s past and present and sheds light on ongoing struggles for justice as its societies come to terms with the unparalleled atrocities of their not-so-distant pasts.
María McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, a Méndez judge, former winner, and acting deputy Program director and senior legal advisor at Human Rights Watch, commented that Lessa’s book “is a rare combination of deep research and engrossing, accessible writing that sheds new light on the Condor Program’s systematic management of transnational repression.”
Prof. Kirsten Weld, also a former winner and a professor of History at Harvard University, wrote, “The Condor Trials now stands as the authoritative English-language text on Operation Condor. Approaching the topic from a truly hemispheric perspective, Francesca Lessa’s book sheds light not only on Condor itself, but on the transnational mobilizations for justice which continue to this day.”
When notified of the award, Lessa stated, “It is the stories of people exactly like Juan E. Méndez who motivated me to write The Condor Trials. In the book, I recount the efforts of survivors, victims’ relatives, human rights activists, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and journalists in South America and beyond who tirelessly fought for truth and justice. Over the years, these justice seekers successfully transcended national borders and overcame apparently indestructible walls of impunity to finally achieve justice for the victims of Operation Condor's horrors. I would like to dedicate this award to all the justice seekers I met during the process of researching and writing The Condor Trials: this book would not exist without them.”
Robin Kirk (Chair)
Faculty Co-Chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Kirk is a senior lecturer in the Department of Cultural Anthropology and directs the Human Rights Certificate. Kirk has written five books, including More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs and America’s War in Colombia (Public Affairs) and The Monkey’s Paw: New Chronicles from Peru (University of Massachusetts Press) as well as a young-adult fantasy series.
The Hunt Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, Chappel studies modern European history. In Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church, Chappel traces the way that Catholics came to adopt a language of ‘human rights,’ and explores the limitations and opportunities of religious human rights language.
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno
An activist, writer, and lawyer, McFarland is the author of There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, a Méndez award winner. She is currently Senior Legal Adviser to Human Rights Watch. As the former executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Maria was at the helm of the leading organization in the US fighting to end the war on drugs. Previously, Maria held several positions at Human Rights Watch, including as co-director of its US Program.
Human Rights Archivist at Duke University Libraries, Stawski has acquired and opened research access to several important collections including the papers and records of Marshall T. Meyer, the Washington Office on Latin America, Global Rights, and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Mr. Stawski’s research interests include record-making regimes and their relationship to governance and state power, colonial archives, and digital records in the human rights field.
Kirsten Weld is a historian of modern Latin America. Her research explores 20th-century struggles over inequality, justice, historical memory, and social inclusion. Her first book, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala (2014), analyzes how history is produced as social knowledge, the labour behind transformative social change, and the stakes of the stories we tell about the past.