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.

Past Winners


2021 Winner

The Water Defenders: how ordinary people saved a country from corporate greed by Robin Broad and John Cavanaugh

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2020 Winner

Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict Over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America by Theresa Keeley

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2019 Winner

What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché

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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.

The deadline for entries is November 18, 2022. There is no entry form. Publishers, authors or readers may send nominations and a single hard copy of the book to Corin Zaragoza at and the address below. Please use the subject line Méndez Book Award. We will contact you for additional copies if the book is included in the short list. The winner will be announced in early 2023 and invited to deliver a reading at Duke University in the Spring. There is an award of $1,000.

The 2022 address for copies is:

Méndez Book Award
Duke Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute
114 S. Buchanan Blvd.
Durham, NC 27708

The submission should contain a short description of the book and publishing details; no supporting materials or reviews are necessary. If books are short-listed, we will request copies for all judges. For books due to be published in 2022 but after the entry deadline, nominators may send a pre-publication copy, indicating the publication date.



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.

About Robin Kirk

James Chappel

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.

About James Chappel

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.

About Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno

Patrick Stawski

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.

About Patrick Stawski

Kirsten Weld

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 bookPaper 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. 

About Kirsten Weld