Juan E. Mendez is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Under a mandate from the General Assembly’s Human Rights Council, Mendez is charged with investigating and reporting on the use of torture throughout the 193 UN member states, as well as issuing recommendations and urgent appeals. In his first annual report, Mendez made headlines among solitary watchers by calling on UN members nations to ban nearly all uses of solitary confinement in prisons, warning that is causes serious mental and physical harm and often amounts to torture.
Juan Mendez was himself a political prisoner and endured torture in his native Argentina in the 1970s. He described his brief stay in solitary confinement as “the three longest days of my life.” During his lifelong career as a lawyer and human rights activist, Mendez worked with Human Rights Watch, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, and the International Center for Transnational Justice, among other organizations. In an interview with Solitary Watch in early November at his office at American University’s Washington College of Law, where he is currently a visiting professor, Mendez discussed his views and his work on solitary confinement.
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