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 honors 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).

This award began in 2008 as the WOLA-Duke book award, a collaboration between the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Duke, in recognition of WOLA’s decision to deposit its institutional papers at Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. The award honors the best current, 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.



Scholarly and popular books, including 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 2018 and 2019 are eligible for the prize awarded in 2019. Books published in 2017 or before are not eligible.
There is no entry form. Publishers, authors or readers may send nominations and a single copy of the book to 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 2021 and invited to deliver a reading at Duke University in February. There is an award of $1,000.

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 2020 but after the entry deadline, nominators may send a pre-publication copy, indicating the publication date.  Judges are drawn from Duke University as well as journalists, scholars, writers and others who have worked in human rights in Latin America.


Holly Ackerman: Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a Studies at the Duke University Libraries, Ackerman is a member of Duke’s graduate faculty in History. She is the author of The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty which established the demography and social history of Cubans who emigrate by sea. She publishes regularly on aspects of Cuban, Dominican and Haitian migration as well as issues of national reconciliation. She recently participated in an invitational project of the Social Science Research Council on the Implications of Normalization of U.S. Cuban Relations.  She serves as an advisor to Amnesty International USA on Cuban issues.Ackerman has curated archives and exhibits on the Puerto Rican diaspora as well as Haitian, Dominican and Cuban migration. Currently, she is working on a comparative study between Caribbean and Mediterranean Sea migration having completed field research in 2016 in Italy and Malta.



James Chappel: Hunt Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, James Chappel studies modern European history.  Chappel received his PhD in History from Columbia University. His first book will appear from Harvard University Press in the Spring of 2018: Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church. Among other things, the book traces the way that Catholics came to adopt a language of “human rights,” and it explores the limitations and opportunities of religious human rights language. He is generally interested in human rights, religion, and the welfare state.





Robin Kirk (Chair): Faculty Co-Chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Kirk is a founding member of the Pauli Murray Project, an initiative of the Center that seeks to examine the region’s past of slavery, segregation and continuing economic inequality. An author and human rights advocate, Kirk is a lecturer in the Department of Cultural Anthropology and directs the Human Rights Certificate. Kirk has written three 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). She is a co-editor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke University) and co edits Duke University Press’s “World Readers” series.




Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch. Previously, she served as the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading US-based organization fighting to end the war on drugs. Maria has also served at HRW as co-director of its US Program, guiding the organization’s work on US national security and criminal justice policy, and as deputy Washington director, working on a broad range of US foreign policy issues, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa during the 2011 Arab uprisings, and in South Asia. Earlier, as senior Americas researcher, she covered Colombia’s internal armed conflict and worked on the extradition and trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Maria is the author of the narrative non-fiction book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia (Bold Type Books, Feb. 2018), which won Duke University’s 2018 Juan E. Méndez Human Rights Book Award. She clerked on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and holds a law degree from NYU School of Law. A Peruvian-American, Maria did most of college at the Universidad Católica del Perú before graduating from the University of Texas at Austin.