A man who knows whereof he speaks makes painfully clear the meaning of the abstract term "human rights."
Méndez, currently the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture, was imprisoned in Argentina for 18 months and tortured so severely that he begged his captors to kill him. Released in 1977 on the condition that he leave the country, he now lives in the Washington, D.C., where he has long been an activist, heading several human-rights organizations. With the assistance of activist and poet Wentworth (The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle, 2010, etc.), Méndez examines the uses of arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, rendition and genocide in countries around the world. Along with the usual suspects—Argentina, Bosnia, El Salvador, Rwanda, Sudan (the list is long)—the United States also comes under scrutiny, with the Bush administration getting especially bad marks for policies initiated during what it defined as the War on Terror. Méndez is also disappointed in the Obama administration's reforms, but notes that in America, independent nongovernmental forces such as investigative journalism and organizations like Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union are working to expose and correct violations of human rights. In the chapters on law, justice and accountability, the author traces the development of international agreements, such as the Rome Statute of 1998 establishing the International Criminal Court, and credits the UN for its work in mediation, conflict resolution and peacekeeping missions. What is needed, he argues, is the political will to build mechanisms for detecting and preventing crimes against humanity, and thus far he finds that developed democracies are falling short. His topic is sober, and Méndez treats it as such, writing of horrific events with little emotion, even when he was personally involved.
A fact-filled, well-researched analysis. A good companion to Kathryn Sikkink’s The Justice Cascade (2011).