Dr Francesca Lessa

Departmental Lecturer in Latin American Studies and Development

Francesca Lessa specialises in human rights in Latin America, focusing on accountability for past and present instances of human rights violations and the politics behind these processes, which encompass state, regional, and international actors as well as civil society activists.

Francesca has published extensively on these topics, and others relating to impunity and memory in Latin America, in top journals including Human Rights Quarterly, The Journal of Latin American Studies, The International Journal of Transitional Justice, and The Journal of Human Rights Practice.

Her first book, Memory and Transitional Justice in Argentina and Uruguay: Against Impunity was published in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Latin American Studies Association “Best Recent History and Memory Book Contest.” Her second book, The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America was released by Yale University Press in 2022. The book was the unanimous winner of the 2023 Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America and received an honourable mention by the 2022 Bryce Wood Book Award Committee of the Latin American Studies Association.

Francesca has a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and joined the University of Oxford as a Postdoctoral Researcher in 2011 at the Latin American Centre. Between 2016 and 2020, she was the recipient of the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship of the European Commission, to conduct a project on transnational state repression in 1970s South America and contemporary attempts to achieve justice for these cross-border atrocities.

Her research on this topic has been pointed out as one of the main research projects with a high impact within the Social Sciences: the project reached the final shortlist of the Vice Chancellor’s 2020 Innovation Awards and now features as an impact case study on the University webpage. Numerous international news outlets, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The BBC and BBC Brasil, as well as newspapers and radios in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Uruguay and the US have interviewed Francesca about her research.

Francesca frequently collaborates with regional and international organisations and NGOs, having delivered presentations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, The Center for Justice and International Law, The Washington Office on Latin America, and she is the Honorary President of the Observatorio Luz Ibarburu (Uruguay), a network of human rights NGOs devoted to the fight against impunity in that country.

Francesca's research impact was recently recognised in the O2RB Excellence in Impact Awards 2021. Her project "Operation Condor" was highly commended for improving routes to justice for victims of transnational human rights violations in South America.

Access the video in Spanish here.

In the media
From Terror to Justice: Promoting Accountability for Transnational Repression in South America...

Francesca Lessa is the convenor of the Qualitative Research Methods Course for the MPhil in Development Studies at ODID. At the Latin American Centre, she convenes the International Relations of Latin America core course and also co-teaches the optional module on Human Rights in Latin America.

Research Students supervised

Books and monographs

Lessa, Francesca (2014) '¿Justicia o impunidad? Cuentas pendientes en el Uruguay post-dictadura', Montevideo: Penguin Random House Uruguay
Lessa, Francesca (2013) 'Memory and Transitional Justice in Argentina and Uruguay: Against Impunity', New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Lessa, Francesca (with Leigh A. Payne) (eds) (2012) 'Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability: Comparative and International Perspectives', Cambridge University Press
Lessa, Francesca (with Vincent Druliolle) (eds) (2011) 'The Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone: Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay', New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Lessa, Francesca (with Fried, Gabriela) (eds) (2011) 'Luchas contra la impunidad: Uruguay 1985-2011', Montevideo: Trilce

Journal articles and special issues

Lessa, Francesca (2021) 'Remnants of Truth: The Role of Archives in Human Rights Trials for Operation Condor', Latin American Research Review 56 (1) 183-99
Lessa, Francesca (2019) 'Operation Condor on Trial: Justice for Transnational Human Rights Crimes in South America', Journal of Latin American Studies 51(2) 409-439
Lessa, Francesca (2016) '¿Justicia o impunidad? Cuentas pendientes a treinta años del retorno a la democracia', ILCEA - Revue de l’Institut des langues et cultures d'Europe, Amérique, Afrique, Asie et Australie 26
Lessa, Francesca (2015) 'Justice beyond Borders: The Operation Condor Trial and Accountability for Transnational Crimes in South America', International Journal of Transitional Justice 9(3) 494-506
Lessa, Francesca (with Payne, Leigh and Gabriel Pereira. ) (2015) 'Overcoming Barriers to Justice in the Age of Human Rights Accountability', Human Rights Quarterly 37(3) 728-754
Lessa, Francesca (with Cara Levey) (2015) 'From Blanket Impunity to Judicial Opening(s): H.I.J.O.S. and Memory Making in Postdictatorship Argentina', Latin American Perspectives 42(3) 207-225
Lessa, Francesca (with Tricia D. Olsen, Leigh A. Payne, Gabriel Pereira, and Andrew G. Reiter) (2014) 'Overcoming Impunity: Pathways to Accountability in Latin America', International Journal of Transitional Justice 8(1) 75-98
Lessa, Francesca (with Tricia D. Olsen, Leigh A. Payne, Gabriel Pereira, and Andrew G. Reiter) (2014) 'Persistent or Eroding Impunity? The Divergent Effects of Legal Challenges to Amnesty Laws for Past Human Rights Violations', Israel Law Review 47(1) 105-131
Lessa, Francesca (with Burt, Jo-Marie and Gabriela Fried Amilivia) (2013) 'Civil Society and the Resurgent Struggle against Impunity in Uruguay (1986–2012)', International Journal of Transitional Justice 7(2) 306-327
Lessa, Francesca (with Cara Levey) (2012) 'Memories of Violence and Changing Landscapes of Impunity in Uruguay, 1985-2011', Encounters: An International Journal for the Study of Culture and Society 5 149-178


Lessa, Francesca (with Melisa Slatman) (2021) 'Operation Condor Today: Novel Insights from Recent Archival Disclosures and Judicial Processes.'. In Pablo A. Baisotti (ed) Problems and Alternatives in the Modern Americas 215-232 , Routledge
Lessa, Francesca (2021) 'Justice Entrepreneurs and the Struggle for Accountability in South America: Comparative Reflections on Transitional Justice and Operation Condor'. In Cristiano Paixão and Massimo Meccarelli (ed) Comparing Transitions to Democracy. Law and Justice in South America and Europe 111-136 , Springer
Lessa, Francesca (2019) 'Transitional Justice in Latin America: The Enduring Legacy of the Past Three Decades after Democratic Transition'. South America, Central America and the Caribbean 2020 , Abingdon and New York: Routledge
Lessa, Francesca (with Hau, Boris and Hugo Rojas) (2019) 'Registration and Documentation of State Violence as Judicial Evidence in Human Rights Trials'. In Oriana Bernasconi (ed) Resistance to Political Violence in Latin America: Documenting Atrocity , Palgrave Macmillan
Lessa, Francesca (2019) 'El Juicio por la Operación Cóndor en Italia: Buscando verdad y justicia más allá de las fronteras'. In Servicio Paz y Justicia (ed) Derechos Humanos en el Uruguay: Informe 2019 , Montevideo: SERPAJ
Lessa, Francesca (with Cara Levey) (2018) 'Human Rights Activists and Advocacy in South America'. In Pía Riggirozzi and Christopher Wylde (ed) Handbook of South American Governance , Abingdon and New York: Routledge
Lessa, Francesca (2016) 'Justicia sin fronteras: El juicio por el Plan Cóndor'. In Servicio Paz y Justicia (ed) Derechos Humanos en el Uruguay: Informe 2016 , Montevideo: SERPAJ
Lessa, Francesca (with Gabriel Pereira) (2016) 'La complicidad económica en el Uruguay: Perspectivas y desafíos'. El negocio del terrorismo de Estado: Los cómplices económicos de la dictadura uruguaya. , Montevideo: Penguin Random House Uruguay
Lessa, Francesca (with Elin Skaar) (2016) 'Uruguay: Halfway Towards Accountability'. In Elin Skaar, Jemima Garcia-Godos (eds) Transitional Justice in Latin America: The Uneven Road from Impunity towards Accountability , Abingdon and New York: Routledge
Lessa, Francesca (2013) 'Investigative Commission on the Kidnapping and Assassination of Former National Representatives Zelmar Michelini and Héctor Gutiérrez-Ruiz (Uruguay)'. In Lavinia Stan and Nadya Nedelsky (ed) Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice 2 , New Delhi: Cambirdge University Press
23 February, 2023
Francesca Lessa gives expert testimony in case of three victims of Operation Condor
20 January, 2023
The Condor Trials by Francesca Lessa wins Méndez book award
26 October, 2022
New website brings together rich resources relating to transnational repression in Latin America
31 May, 2022
New book by Francesca Lessa explores transnational terror and struggles for justice in South America
05 May, 2022
Francesca Lessa and project partners to develop new online resource on Operation Condor
04 January, 2022
Expert testimony from Francesca Lessa helps secure human rights verdict against Argentina
06 October, 2021
Francesca Lessa highly commended in O2RB Excellence in Impact Awards
17 March, 2021
New article by Francesca Lessa focuses on use of archives in human rights trials in Latin America
20 January, 2021
Francesca Lessa writes opening chapter of Uruguay human rights report
08 Mar, 2023
'Catching the Condor: Bringing to trial the generals who disappeared their enemies'. The Condor Trials by Francesca Lessa is reviewed in the TLS
16 Aug, 2022
'Operation Condor: why victims of the oppression that swept 1970s South America are still fighting for justice'. Francesca Lessa writes for the Conversation
17 Jun, 2022
'Why Russia may be taking Ukrainian children'. Francesca Lessa and Svitlana Chernykh examine precedents from Spain and Argentina in a post for The Monkey Cage blog
Research interests:

Human Rights, Transitional Justice, Impunity, Latin America, Criminal Prosecutions, Transnational Activism, NGOs and Civil Society, Memory, Operation Condor.