Latin American Families Fighting for Justice and the Forensic Scientists Who Helped Them

Alexa Hagerty’s book wins Duke’s Méndez Human Rights Book Award

Deborah Jakubs, university librarian emerita at Duke, wrote that the book’s “great beauty lies in the many ways Hagerty weaves together the dark histories of the state violence that occurred in Guatemala and Argentina with the complex and touching stories of individuals affected by those crimes, whether victims or survivors, and with her own very personal reflections on mortality, grief and memory.

“With great humility, she candidly details her powerful emotional journey as she takes part in exhumations at multiple sites and in the recovery and reconstruction of human remains encountered there.  This fine book is part indictment, part lamentation and part memoir.”

María McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, a Méndez Award judge and a former winner, said, “These stories aren’t in the past, they’re also shaping the present. Hagerty also treats her subjects with tremendous care, even love, which allows the reader to feel close to them and want to keep reading instead of turning away from the horrors she describes.”

The other judges included James Chappel, a member of the DHRC@FHI executive committee and the Gilhuly Family Associate Professor in the Duke Department of History; and Robin Kirk, the co-director of the DHRC@FHI and professor of the practice of cultural anthropology.

 “I am deeply honored by the judges’ recognition,” Hagerty said. “I share this honor with the families of the missing and the forensic teams whose stories are told in the book. They have taught me, and I hope whoever reads these pages, a profound lesson about human rights: that where there is violence, there is also resistance, the labors of justice, and the invincible human spirit.”

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