Juan E. Méndez is President Emeritus of the International Center for Transitional Justice. A native of Lomas de Zamora, 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 release from detention in the late 1970s, Mr. Méndez moved to the United States.
For 15 years, he worked with Human Rights Watch, concentrating his efforts on human rights issues in the western hemisphere. In 1994, he became general counsel of Human Rights Watch, with worldwide duties in support of the organization's mission, including responsibility for the organization's litigation and standard-setting activities. From 1996 to 1999, Mr. Méndez was the executive director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica, and 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. Between 2000 and 2003 he was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, and served as president in 2002. In July 2004, Mr. Méndez was appointed the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, a post that was complementary to his full-time position as the president of the ICTJ. Mr. Méndez served as special adviser until March 31, 2007.
Mr. Méndez is a member of the boards of directors of the Center for Justice and International Law, Global Rights, and the Open Society Justice initiative. He is on the board of advisors of the Social Science Research Council's Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum, and the advisory council of the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights. He has taught International Human Rights Law at Georgetown Law School and at the Johns 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 most recent being the inaugural Monsignor Oscar A. Romero Award for Leadership in Service to Human Rights, presented by the University of Dayton in April 2000, and the Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan Award of the Heartland Alliance in May 2003. Mr. Méndez is a member of the bar of Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the District of Columbia, US. He earned a JD from Stella Maris University in Argentina and a certificate from the American University, Washington College of Law.
In Their Words
"Accountability for abuses of the recent past is very important for transparency, for confidence in institutions, for settling disputes about what has happened and what has not happened."