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The Justice Cascade Receives WOLA-Duke Book Award

Kathryn Sikkink’s ground-breaking book, The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics (W.W. Norton), won the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)-Duke University Human Rights Book Award for 2011.

Cover of "The Justice Cascade"Around the world, former government and security force officials accused of human rights crimes are facing prosecutions in unprecedented numbers. In Chile, for example, the number of court cases has sharply increased and now involve the highest ranks of the security forces. Prosecutions have also expanded beyond deaths and disappearances to torture and forced exile.

For Sikkink, Chile is part of what she calls “the justice cascade,” a very new development in world politics. “Only 30 years ago, it was virtually unheard of, almost unimaginable, for a national or international tribunal to hold state officials criminally accountable for human rights violations,” Sikkink notes.

The Justice Cascade opens with a look at Sikkink’s own experience living in Uruguay during its brutal military dictatorship in the 1970s, when few could imagine officers ever being held accountable. She explores the political effects of this change in accountability, emphasizing the need to ensure that prosecutions have their intended impact of long-term justice and respect for human rights.

This year’s panel of judges called The Justice Cascade “compelling” and “eye-opening,” recognizing it for its important contribution to the field of human rights, Latin American studies and accountability.

The chair of the WOLA/Duke Book Award judges committee, Leonor Blum, a professor of History and Political Science at Notre Dame of Maryland University, said Sikkink’s work “shows not only the progress made in bringing human rights violators to justice, but also how such progress can impact subsequent governments and even neighboring countries.”

Fellow judge Holly Ackerman praised Sikkink for her excellent application of comparative political theory and detailed case studies, while keeping the book inviting and understandable. Fellow judge Roger Atwood calls it “an important book that will help the reading public understand an issue that we see every day in the news.”

Sikkink is a Regents Professor and the McKnight Presidential Chair in Political Science at the University of Minnesota.  She has a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University.  Her publications include Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America; Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (co-authored with Margaret Keck and awarded the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas for Improving World Order, and the ISA Chadwick Alger Award for Best Book in the area of International Organizations); and The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (co-edited with Thomas Risse and Stephen Ropp).

Started in 2008, the WOLA-Duke Human Rights Book Award is a joint venture of Duke University and WOLA, a leading advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. The 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, and public policy circles.

This year’s judges included:

  • Holly Ackerman, Librarian for Latin America and Iberia, Duke University
  • Roger Atwood, Journalist, Author, and Former Communications Director, WOLA
  • Leonor Blum, WOLA Board Member and Associate Professor, History and Political Science, Notre Dame of Maryland University
  • Robin Kirk, Program Director, Duke Human Rights Center, Duke University
  • Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Previous WOLA-Duke Human Rights Book Award recipients:

  • 2010: Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, with Jorge Enrique Botero, for Hostage Nation: Colombia’s Guerrilla Army and America’s Failed War on Drugs (press release)
  • 2009:Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz for The Dictator’s Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet (event blog post)
  • 2008: Francisco Goldman for The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?

On November 2 at 5:00pm, Sikkink will read from The Justice Cascade in the Rubenstein Library’s Rare Book Room. For more information, visit this blog post about the event.