The Duke University Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Human Rights Archive at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library have named María McFarland Sánchez-Moreno’s book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia (Nation Books, 2018) as the winner of the 2018 Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America. McFarland will visit Duke University during spring semester 2019 to accept the award.
There Are No Dead Here is a deep dive into key human rights cases that exposed the murderous nexus between right-wing paramilitaries, drug lords, and Colombia’s military and political establishment. Through dogged reporting, in part as a Human Rights Watch researcher, McFarland unravels the links that led to the murders of Colombian rights investigators by powerful interests that reached as high as military leadership and even the Colombian presidency.
When notified of the award, McFarland stated, “It was a joy and privilege for me to tell the stories of some of the many Colombians who stand up for truth and justice every day. So it’s tremendously satisfying that those stories are now getting the recognition they so deserve, thanks to the Mendez Award, which itself is named after a brave fighter for human rights.”
First awarded in 2008, the Méndez Human Rights Book Award honors the best current, fiction or 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, and public policy circles.
“Colombia is often portrayed as a place where violence is endemic and unstoppable,” said Robin Kirk, the Committee Chair and co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute, “McFarland’s riveting story shows that the truth is much more complex. Again and again, Colombians step up to fight for justice even though they face daunting odds. Their story is well told in her astonishing book.”
Other judges include Holly Ackerman, Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a Studies at Duke University Libraries, who commented, “McFarland’s’ book highlights a fundamental tool in the struggle for justice — people who will not look away. The determination and sacrifice of three individuals moved Colombia toward historical truth and a still-fragile peace. There Are No Dead Here demonstrates a clear linkage between individual courage and the collective awareness that creates the possibility for justice to triumph over impunity.”
James Chappel, Hunt Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, also offered praise: “McFarland does a wonderful job contextualizing the stories of these human rights defenders. As we focus so incessantly on the structure of unequal neoliberal globalization, human rights progress depends on incredibly brave men and women on the front lines.”
Other judges include Kia Caldwell, Associate Professor of African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill; and Kirsten Weld, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of History at Harvard University.
Previous award receipts are:
2017 – Matt Eisenbrandt, Assassination of a Saint, The Plot to Murder Óscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice
2016 – Chad Broughton, Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities
2015 – Kirsten Weld, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala
2014 – Oscar Martínez, The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail
2013 – Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came To Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
2012 – Héctor Abad, Oblivion: A Memoir
2011 – Kathryn Sikkink, The Justice Cascade
2010 – Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, with Jorge Enrique Botero, Hostage Nation
2009 – Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, The Dictator’s Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet
2008 – Francisco Goldman, Who Killed the Bishop: The Art of Political Murder
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is an activist, writer, and lawyer. She is the author of the narrative non-fiction book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia (Nation Books, Feb. 2017). As the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Maria is at the helm of the leading organization in the US fighting to end the war on drugs in the United States and beyond. Previously, Maria held several positions at Human Rights Watch, including as co-director of its US Program, guiding the organization’s work on US criminal justice, immigration, and national security policy; and as deputy Washington director, working on a broad range of US foreign policy issues. She started her career there as the organization’s senior Americas researcher, covering Colombia’s internal armed conflict and working on the extradition and trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Maria grew up in Lima, Peru, and now lives in Brooklyn.
Holly Ackerman, Duke University Libraries