Juan Méndez

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Person.png Juan Méndez  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Juan E. Méndez.jpg
BornDecember 11, 1944
Alma materStella Maris University

Juan E. Méndez is an Argentine lawyer, and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,[1]. After being subjected to torture in his native Argentina, he was expelled to the United States, where he in 1982, he launched Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Americas Program. His general career since then has been in the US human rights -academic complex.


Méndez was born in Lomas de Zamora, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.[2]

In 1970, he received his law degree from Stella Maris University in Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires province.[3]

Early in his career, he became involved in representing political prisoners. As a result, he was arrested by the Argentine military dictatorship and subjected to torture and administrative detention for 18 months. During this period, Amnesty International adopted him as a "Prisoner of Conscience," and in 1977, he was expelled from the country and moved to the United States.[4]


Subsequently, Mendez worked for the Catholic Church in Aurora, Illinois, protecting the rights of migrant workers. In 1978, he joined the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under the Law in Washington, D.C., and in 1982, he launched Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Americas Program. He continued to work at Human Rights Watch for 15 years, becoming their general counsel in 1994.[3] He is also a visiting scholar at American University Washington College of Law's Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, a Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at the Washington College of Law, and the Faculty Director of the Anti-Torture Initiative at the law school.

From 1996 to 1999, Mendez was Executive Director of the Inter-American Human Rights Institute, based in Costa Rica.[2] He then worked as a Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame in the United States from October 1999 to 2004.[5]

In 2001, Mendez began working for the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), an international human rights NGO. He worked as its president from 2004 to 2009 and now is its President Emeritus. From November 2010 to October 31, 2016, he was the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.[1]

Mendez has taught human rights law at Georgetown Law School, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and the University of Oxford Masters Program in International Human Rights Law in the UK.

Mendez is on the Steering Committee of The Crimes Against Humanity Initiative, a rule of law project launched in 2008 by the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute to study the need for a comprehensive convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity, analyze the necessary elements of such a convention, and draft a proposed treaty.[6] The proposed treaty is now being debated before the UN International Law Commission.[7][8]

In December of 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Mendez as a member of Racial Justice Body, a new mechanism to examine systemic racism and the excessive use of force against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement worldwide.[9] Mendez will be one of three members along with Yvonne Mokgoro of South Africa and Tracie L. Keesee of the United States.


A Document by Juan Méndez

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)
File:Mendez-Chatham House lecture.pdfreport10 September 2012Torture


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