About Juan E. Méndez

Juan E. Méndez was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment by the Human Rights Council on October 6, 2010, and began his three year mandate on November 1st, 2010. He is a Visiting Professor of Law at the American University Washington College of Law and the author of various publications including the recent book “Taking A Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights” (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), co-authored with Marjory Wentworth.

A native of Argentina, Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. As a result of his involvement in representing political prisoners, the Argentinean military dictatorship arrested him and subjected him to torture and administrative detention for more than a year.  During this time, Amnesty International adopted him as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” After his expulsion from his country in 1977, Mr. Méndez moved to the United States.

Prior to his appointment as Special Rapporteur, Mr. Méndez acted as Special Advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (2009-2010), and as Co-Chair of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (2010 – 2011).  Until May 2009 he was the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and in the summer of 2009 he was a Scholar-in-Residence at the Ford Foundation in New York.  Concurrent with his duties at ICTJ, the Honorable Kofi Annan named Mr. Méndez his Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, a task he performed from 2004 to 2007.

Between 2000 and 2003 Mr. Méndez was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, and served as its President in 2002.  Between October 1999 and May 2004 he was Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana and, between 1996 and 1999, he served as the Executive Director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica.  Prior to this he worked for 15 years with Human Rights Watch concentrating his efforts on human rights issues in the western hemisphere.  In 1994, he became Human Right Watch general counsel, with worldwide duties in support of the organization’s mission, including responsibility for litigation and standard-setting activities.

He has taught International Human Rights Law at Georgetown Law School and at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and he teaches regularly at the Oxford Masters Program in International Human Rights Law in the United Kingdom. He is the recipient of several human rights awards: the Rafael Lemkin Award for contributions to the prevention of genocide by the Auschwitz Institute on Peace and Reconciliation (2010); the Goler T. Butcher Medal from the American Society of International Law (2010); a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of Quebec in Montreal (2006); the inaugural “Monsignor Oscar A. Romero Award for Leadership in Service to Human Rights,” by the University of Dayton (2000); and the “Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan Award” of the Heartland Alliance (2003).

Mr. Méndez is a member of the bar of Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the District of Columbia, U.S., having earned a J.D. from Stella Maris University in Argentina and a certificate from the American University Washington College of Law.

For a list of selected publications by Juan E. Méndez, please visit our publications page.