The Condor Trials by Francesca Lessa wins Méndez book award

The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America by Departmental Lecturer Francesca Lessa has won the 2023 Juan E Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America.

The judges were unanimous in their choice of the winner.

First awarded in 2008, the Méndez Human Rights Book Award honours 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.

The Condor Trials was published in 2022 by Yale University Press.

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 perpetrated 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 100 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.”

Professor 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.”

Dr Lessa said, “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.”

Dr Lessa will accept the award at an event at Duke University on 22 February.

The award is supported by the Duke Human Rights Center at 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.

Find out more about the book (discount flyer available here)

Find out more about the award