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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 will accept the award and talk about her work on Wednesday, February 22, at 5 pm in The Garage at Smith Warehouse on the Duke University campus.

This is the fourteenth year of this prestigious award. The award is supported by the Duke Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscripts Library.

Through the voices of survivors and witnesses, human rights activists, judicial actors, journalists, and historians, The Condor Trials unravels the secrets of transnational repression masterminded by South American dictators between 1969 and 1981. Under Operation Condor, they kidnapped, tortured, and murdered hundreds of exiles. South America became a zone of terror and impunity for those who perpetuated the violence. 

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.”

First awarded in 2008, the Méndez Human Rights Book 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, human rights, and public policy circles.

For more information on the award, event, and previous winners, see

For more information about The Condor Trials, see

2023 Juan E. Méndez Award Shortlist

Bustamante, Celeste González de, and Jeannine E. Relly. Surviving Mexico: Resistance and Resilience among Journalists in the Twenty-First Century. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2021.

Corcoran, Katherine. In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022.

Gallagher, Janice K. Bootstrap Justice: The Search for Mexico’s Disappeared. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2022.

Lessa, Francesca. The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022.

Miralles, Pascale Bonnefoy. The Investigative Brigade: Hunting Human Rights Criminals in Post-Pinochet Chile. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2022.

Vonk, Levi. Border Hacker: A Tale of Treachery, Trafficking, and Two Friends on the Run. New York: Bold Type Books, 2022.