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The Duke Human Rights Center at Franklin Humanities Institute, the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library announce the shortlist for the 2024 Juan E. Méndez Book Award.

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.  

This year, we had a record number of nominations for the prize. Below are the five books that have been selected for the 2024 Méndez Book Award shortlist. 

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Dictators and the Disappeared: Democracy Lost and Restored

Edited by Russ Davidson and Leslie Blaugrund Kim
Museum of New Mexico Press

Marking the fiftieth anniversary of Chile's coup d'état--which was led by Augusto Pinochet and ushered in seventeen years of repression, Dictators and the Disappeared is a timely look at a tumultuous period in Latin American history. Essays by Maryam Ahranjani, Francisco Letelier, Nancy Morris, Michael Nutkiewicz, Alicia Partnoy, and Natasha Zaretsky represent a range of topics and perspectives considering political events and what it means to live and struggle today with the legacies of past dictatorships. 

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Fear is Just a Word: A Missing Daughter, A Violent Cartel, and a Mother's Quest for Vengeance

By Azam Ahmed
Random House

Fear Is Just a Word begins on an international bridge between Mexico and the United States, as fifty-six-year-old Miriam Rodríguez stalks one of the men she believes was involved in the murder of her daughter Karen. Woven into this deeply researched, moving account is the story of how cartels built their power in Mexico, escalated the use of violence, and kidnapped and murdered tens of thousands. 

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The Force of Witness: Contra Feminicide

By Rosa-Linda Fregoso
Duke University Press

In The Force of Witness Rosa-Linda Fregoso examines the contra feminicide movement in Mexico and other feminist efforts to eradicate gender violence. Drawing on interviews, art, documentaries, and her years of activism, Fregoso traces the micro and macro scales of misogyny and the patterns of state complicity with gender violence.

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Reunion: Finding the Disappeared Children of El Salvador

By Elizabeth Barnert
University of California Press

In 2005, medical student Elizabeth Barnert traveled to El Salvador to build a DNA bank for reuniting families forcibly separated during the Salvadoran Civil War. Based on fifteen years of interviews and field notes, Reunion chronicles families' experiences with military attacks, child disappearances, family separations, joyful reunions, and arduous processes of reintegration. Barnert worked alongside Jesuit priest and Pro-Búsqueda founder Father Jon Cortina, former guerrilla fighters, and reformed gang members. Told through the voices of activists and survivors, the book accompanies young adult children seeking biological kin, including a young woman returning to El Salvador twenty years after her adoption abroad to meet her mother and brother. This groundbreaking ethnography illuminates the cycles of poverty and violence driving immigration and ongoing separations around the world. 

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Still Life with Bones: Genocide, Forensics, and What Remains

By Alexa Hagerty
Crown

In Still Life with Bones, anthropologist Alexa Hagerty learns to see the dead body with a forensic eye. She examines bones for marks of torture and fatal wounds—hands bound by rope, machete cuts—and also for signs of identity: how life shapes us down to the bone. Working with forensic teams at mass grave sites and in labs, Hagerty discovers how bones bear witness to crimes against humanity and how exhumation can bring families meaning after unimaginable loss. She also comes to see how cutting-edge science can act as ritual—a way of caring for the dead with symbolic force that can repair societies torn apart by violence.

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To learn more about the Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America, click here.