WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
25 Apr 2013 | News

The WOLA-Duke Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America

About the WOLA-Duke Book Award

The award is given annually by WOLA and Duke University at an event in Washington, DC. The author of the winning book also gives a reading at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and receives a $1,000 cash prize.


The deadline for submissions has passed. Thank you! We look forward to new submissions in 2016.

To be eligible, books must meet the following criteria:

  • An original, non-fiction book related to issues of human rights, the rule of law, social and/or economic justice, or democracy in contemporary Latin America. Books should pertain to events that took place in roughly the past 25 years.
  • Published in the English language by a commercial, university, or non-profit publishing concern. Books written originally in other languages and translated into English are eligible. Self-published books are not eligible.
  • Books must be published the year before or year of their nomination.
  • Scholarly and popular books are eligible. Edited anthologies are not eligible.


2015 Book Award Winner – Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala by Dr. Kirsten Weld

In 2005, activists from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) of Guatemala accidentally came across a trove of 75 to 80 million half-moldy pages of National Police (PN) records while inspecting police premises for improper storage of explosives in Guatemala City. The police archives, containing key documentation of disappearances and extra-judicial killings during Guatemala’s Civil War, have proven to be one of the most revealing collections of military or police records ever discovered in Latin America.

Paper Cadaversdocuments the heroic effort to rescue and organize the National Police records. Kirsten Weld, Assistant Professor at Harvard University, shows how information once employed by the police state to control society and pursue subversives was put to use by the human rights community to reveal the identity of perpetrators of human rights abuses and to bring many of them to trial. In the words of the author, “Records once used in the service of state terror are repurposed by surviving reformers as building blocks for the rule of law and tools of social reckoning.”

Praise from the WOLA-Duke Book Award Committee: 

  • “[Paper Cadavers] brings alive the world of archives and the political activists that learned to become archivists in the cause of human rights—one of the rare books about the human rights community itself and how it does its work." – Alex Wilde, American University Research Fellow
  • “This well-researched and important book shows how a group of brave researchers used those rediscovered records to document the violence and account for the missing. It is an inspiring story.” – Roger Atwood, Journalist and Author
  • "This is a riveting history of all of the complex—and often dangerous—steps that led to archivists being able to take what was a repository of terror and make it into a well of justice.” – Robin Kirk, faculty co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute


Previous Award Recipients:

2014 – Óscar Martínez, The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail
2013 – Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (Click here to watch the 2013 Book Award presentation and discussion)
2012 – Héctor Abad, Oblivion: A Memoir
2011 – Kathryn Sikkink, The Justice Cascade
2010 – Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, with Jorge Enrique Botero, Hostage Nation
2009 – Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, The Dictator’s Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet
2008 – Francisco Goldman, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?