New book by Francesca Lessa explores transnational terror and struggles for justice in South America

31 May, 2022

Through the voices of survivors and witnesses, human rights activists, judicial actors, journalists, and historians, a new book by Departmental Lecturer Francesca Lessa unravels the secrets of transnational repression perpetrated by South American dictators during the 1970s.

The book, The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America, released today by Yale University Press in the United States, is the main output of Dr Lessa’s ongoing research project exploring Operation Condor and subsequent efforts to bring those responsible to justice, which began in 2013.

Under Operation Condor, violent and oppressive regimes in South America kidnapped, tortured, and murdered hundreds of exiles, or forcibly returned them to the countries from which they had fled. Dr Lessa shows how networks of justice-seekers gradually materialised and effectively transcended national borders to achieve justice for the victims of these horrors.

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.

Brian Loveman, San Diego University, praised the monograph saying that “no other book combines a decade of research on Operation Condor and transnational repression by the South American military regimes with synthesis of the literature on efforts to achieve accountability for human rights violations and analysis of the prosecutions in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Italy.”

Jo-Marie Burt of George Mason University noted how the book “breaks important new ground in our understanding of complex justice processes for grave human rights violations” and that “Lessa's analysis of ‘justice seekers’ highlights the central role of victims in transitional and transnational justice processes.”

John Dinges, author of Hunting Enemies Abroad, notes that “Lessa’s exploration of transnational repression in 1970s’ South America could not be more current in these days of resurgent authoritarianism” and that “her analysis of the Condor period is groundbreaking and documents both the human rights crimes and the efforts of international ‘justice seekers’ to breach – eventually – the dictatorships’ impunity.”

Lessa’s award-winning research on Operation Condor has been funded by, amongst others, -the European Commission under Horizon 2020, the University of Oxford’s John Fell Fund and the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, The British Academy & Leverhulme Trust, and the Open Society Foundations.

The book is scheduled for release in the UK on 26 July.

Francesca Lessa (2022) The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America, Yale University Press