Skip to main content

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.

This award began in 2008 as 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. In 2017, Duke University collaborated with Juan E. Méndez to reposition the book award in his honor.

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).  Méndez is well represented in the ICTJ records themselves, which are also housed at the Human Rights Archive along with the papers and records of noted human rights activists and organizations such as Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, Patricia Derian, Jerome Shestack, and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The Duke Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute, the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies cosponsor this award.


 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 2019 and 2020 are eligible for the prize awarded in 2021. Books published in 2018 or before are not eligible.

The deadline for 2021 entries is TBD. 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 2022 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.

Previous Award Winners

2021 Robin Broad and John Cavanagh, The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed (print)
2020 Theresa Keeley, Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America (print or ebook)
2019 Carolyn Forché, What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (print or ebook)
2018 María McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia (print)
2017 Matt Eisenbrandt, Assassination of a Saint, The Plot to Murder Óscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice (print)
2016 Chad Broughton, Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities (print or ebook)
2015 Kirsten Weld, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala (print or ebook)
2014 Oscar Martinez, The Beast: Riding The Rails And Dodging Narcos On The Migrant Trail (print)
2013 Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (print)
2012 Héctor Abad, Oblivion: A Memoir(print)
2011 Katherine Sikkink, The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics (print)
2010 Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes with Jorge Enrique Botero, Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerrilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs (print)
2009 Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, The Dictator's Shadow: Life under Augusto Pinochet (print or ebook)
2008 Francisco Goldman, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? (print)